In the last few months several articles on Sahara Reporters have raised the issue of a Sovereign National Conference and some others have called for greater unity of Nigerians.
We are all becoming more and more aware of the problems due specifically to our colonial past and the need to address issues that have been swept under the carpet for decades. Instead of a pan-Nigeria “Sovereign National Conference” I have chosen to take the pan-Africanist position of greater unity amongst Africans with a union government, but one that grants greater autonomy to the numerous ethnic nations within their colonial boundaries. I am very much against any form of secession and the production of any more “countries” (such as Eritrea and South Sudan) out of Africa. This article only scratches the surface of the subject matter of a book (Remember Me: A LETTER TO BARACK OBAMA on why America’s foreign policy for Africa must be centred on the accelerated political unification of the continent). Obama urges Africans to “stop blaming colonialism of the past for the problems of the present” and according to him “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” Fine, but Africa’s future is up to which Africans? The extremely incompetent, psychopathically corrupt and self-serving Mugabes, Abachas, Gaddafis, Gbagbos, Mobutus, and other indigenous neo-colonialists of Africa who will never leave the political scene peacefully, or the genuine and meek Africans such as those in Diaspora exemplified by the (estimated) 5000 Nigerian doctors in the UK alone? With the power of incumbency and psychopathic corruption, the future of Africa is not up to the voiceless people, but to the incumbent indigenous neo-colonialists who were fortunate enough to be handed the geographical real estates of their erstwhile colonial masters. For our future to be up to us (the genuine peoples and masses of Africa), we must creatively rebuild ourselves and the whole of Africa away from incumbents and the status quo. An opportunity to do this is what a pan-African superstate offers.
The idea of a pan-African superstate with a union government is not at all new. Indeed, the debate at the July 2007 AU summit held in Ghana, focused on the creation of a Union Government and a United States of Africa. The fact that it has so far not been seriously considered is due to the power of incumbency. Why would any sitting despot such as Robert Mugabe or Obiang Nguema (sadly the current chairperson of the AU) agree to a vision that would mean his end? Without careful consideration, the idea of a Pan-African superstate is easily dismissed by the small-minded as impractical imitation of the EU and even undesirable from Africa’s unique socio-cultural standpoint. Yet, we cannot run away from the basic notion of united we stand, divided we fall: Africa remains the best place on earth to exploit people and their states because the people are divided. In the Savannahs of Africa, we see clearly how the lion preys more easily on the individual animal separated from the pack. China is now the new lion preying on separated African buffalos. So why can’t Nigerians (talk less of Africans as a whole) unite? Are we too fundamentally different and bigoted to ever unite for a common purpose (for example to prevent our collective exploitation)? My answer is NO! All of mankind can unite for a common purpose if the goal is shared and well defined. Perhaps as individuals, we find it hard to really appreciate and accept the value or indispensability of another person who is not very much like us. This is the weakness of the bigot and small-minded. There is no point in paying lip service to concepts such as “there is strength in diversity” when most of us do not really appreciate what the underlying strength of diversity really entails. If we did, then no group of persons in Nigeria will ever imagine killing youths whose stated purpose was to unite the country. This is evidence of Nigeria’s deep-seated bigotry and ignorance of what diversity really entails. A shared purpose is the underlying ingredient that strengthens a diverse group of anything including humans in an ecosystem or machine components! The problem with Nigerians and indeed Africans as a whole is that our (fake or basically incompetent) leaders and technocrats do not share our purpose (they have their own selfish agendas, very much like the imperialists did pre-independence) or understand diversity as explained above. If the technocrats that fly with our leaders to AU meetings understood the benefits of diversity, then a union government would have been in place by now. Agreed, leadership has been identified as a critical factor for Africa’s current underdevelopment (and this was why Ghana and not Nigeria was chosen for Obama’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa), but it is Africa’s history that gave birth to rulers (non-leaders) as leaders who do not have it within their intellectual capacity to have a true vision for diverse peoples. This is a serious matter and it is clear that Africa has had illiterate and half-educated “leaders” who just cannot be expected to see beyond ethnic, tribal and other parochial agendas. If we had genuinely visionary leaders, then a Union Government will be top of the AU’s agenda at each annual meeting until such a meeting transforms itself into the Union Government’s facilitation of an annual “grand joint congressional meeting” instead of the current annual heads of state jamboree. We cannot turn back the hands of time, but those Africans (especially technocrats) who now claim to be educated and enlightened enough to see the bigger picture and the strength in diversity, must now use their intellectual prowess and creativity to create a new future for Africa that specifically excludes our current psychopathically corrupt and usually incompetent “leaders” by building a pan-African superstate big and diverse enough to be above racism, tribalism, and nepotism; strong enough to eliminate the demon of psychopathic corruption and self-serving rulers; sophisticated and intellectually challenging enough to exclude half-educated politicians from government and united in spirit, truth and purpose enough to actually work in practice to ensure economic growth for the people. Yes, it is a challenge, but not for all Africans; just those who claim to understand African affairs.
One look at how the existing AU is constituted at the moment shows a government in evolution. This is not surprising to those familiar with the history of modern Africa, as Kwame Nkrumah the first president of Ghana and others such as Patrice Lumumba and Jomo Kenyatta as far back as the 1940s saw the image of a truly united Africa just like Marcus Garvey saw in the 1920s. The creation of a union government has stalled, and the current AU “parliament” composed of 265 representatives from all 53 AU states is of course anything but a parliament. The predecessor to the AU, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), proved itself for a long time (1963 – 2002) to be not just impotent, but as a club of dictators. The AU as it is at the moment could be regarded as different from the OAU only in name and has proved itself useless in the arena of conflict resolution and the fight against corruption as we are right now, still relying on our erstwhile colonial masters to tackle our serious conflicts (Libya and Ivory Coast), prosecute our thieves (James Ibori in London) and murderers (Charles Taylor at The Hague) in government. Events in the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and virtually everywhere the AU is expected to be useful demonstrates its impotence. Yet, it is a strong pan-African superstate with one army that will obviate the need for foreign intervention in African affairs. Yes, one professional 21st century army and not the useless armies across Africa that recurrently seize the (colonial-boundary) state in unnecessary coups, make themselves instruments of despots, kill their own people and rape the women.
United we stand and divided we fall, needs no explanation as African peoples (not states) are weakened and left economically impotent at least in part, by remaining cut off from their natural parts – contiguous borders and natural markets! We all know why companies merge. It is for their mutual economic interests. The practical benefits of merging to companies such as cost savings and sharing of expertise are no different from those to states; but Africa’s regional economic integration and their inefficiency reflects the incompetence of policy makers who simply copy others, but don’t know why others have done what they did. The practicalities of uniting Africa’s markets will not be as challenging as uniting its thousands of tribal nationalities. First uniting the 54 post-colonial “countries” will seem like the most practicable way to proceed, but if all the ethnic nationalities genuinely have a common aspiration (purpose) such as genuine economic advancement with no false starts, and not how to defeat a neighbouring tribe or region, then we will unite underneath our colonial boundaries – with strategic economic policies and accountability left to the continental government. I know that most African governments will not push for unity due to basic incompetence and lack of intelligent vision that will transform into political will, but the people can and will, if the international community invests in the people and not their governments. So how can we unite the people without uniting their governments? Simple: By investing in people and not governments. For example, wherever there is free migration to a prosperous place, the economically viable people tend to naturally emigrate and then unite in such a place for the sake of their own economic benefits which filter into the economy of the collective. This is the story of the USA. Therefore, I have proposed Special Administrative Areas (SAAs) or Special Economic Zones (SEZs) with free migration across Africa based on manpower needs alone, under AU administration. This will unite people from all over the continent. If these SAAs and SEZs are dotted across the continent and controlled by a stronger and more visionary AU, then the people will unite without the involvement of their useless or elite-serving governments. The question left is how to ensure that these special areas or zones become prosperous. This is where the international community and aid providers come in (this is explained in detail in the book referred to earlier). The practical aspects of uniting Africa should begin by investing in the peoples of Africa: The continent’s social order needs a complete overhaul. This cannot be done with Africa’s current governments and institutions that have dug in (covertly or “mind-wise”) to protect the interests of a few elite whose economic and political survival depends on the unfairness and injustices of the status quo. It is therefore a mistake for the international community or foreign governments’ policies for Africa to attempt to strengthen institutions with very bad foundations. We need to rebuild Africa’s institutions from scratch with appropriate foundations; and in the last half millennium there has never been a better opportunity to do this than in what the baby AU offers at the moment if transformed into a superstate.
Politics (according to Will Durant) is not, as one might suppose, the art and science of capturing and keeping office, but the study of ideal social organisation. Africa’s current social organisation or politics is far from ideal for its unique circumstances and explains all the continent’s problems. Indeed, Africa needs social re-engineering and the formation of its own original political philosophy appropriate for 21st century living. Therefore, a true African Union Government with an appropriate political philosophy (and manifesto) for the whole continent, will naturally hold the sustainable solutions for the problems. This should lead to the putting aside of indigenous neo-colonialists and a rebirth of the authentic (truly emancipated) African. Delusions such as the “Nigerian” would be put in appropriate context without a “Sovereign National Conference.” I believe this context should be better defined by a sovereign pan-African congress and not a so-called Sovereign National Conference in individual “countries” such as Nigeria. The problems faced by Nigeria are also faced by other Europe-created “states” that will never be true nations. I am not a tribalist and wish for a “de-tribalisation” of Africa, yet I cannot deny the reality facing us; that is, the nations that the Europeans met in the middle of the 19th century are very much alive today. Therefore, to correct the delusional nationhood of most African “states,” their tribal or ethnic nationalities must be the federating units at the pan-African level. This way, an Itsekiri man will not dishonestly or ignorantly seat at an international conference claiming to be speaking on behalf of Hausa people or vice versa. A tribal congress may seem impracticable, due to the sheer number of tribes or ethnic groups in Africa, but if these smaller nations are given their rightful sovereignty no one will blame colonialism any more for their backwardness. There is also the problem of some ethnic groups or tribes not having contiguous boundaries and live outside their supposed historical boundaries, but in today’s world historical boundaries of nations are just their base. The modern nation has no physical boundaries and its people who have allegiance to the nation, support the nation from wherever they are in the world. This is why Australia and Canada continue to support the UK and have the queen as head of state. The empire is still alive! This is why the African Diaspora sent back over $40 billion (official figures) to the continent last year. A tribal congress as the parliament that decides finally on the future of all African peoples with the basic human aim of self-determination, will have authenticity on its side. Authenticity makes issues-based discussions to flow effortlessly and therefore the great number of diverse groups will be united by issues and celebrated culturally in a FESTAC-type permanent base (details in the book referred to earlier).
With this congress that is founded on the right of self-determination of all members, why will any tribe or people take up arms to fight against marginalisation and oppression by a neighbouring tribe or even a despot, when “big brother African tribal congress” will always be on your side - the side of peace and self-determination? It should be the house superior to the African Senate made up of 200 seats (100 population-based seats, 54 country-based seats and 46 GDP and other important factor-based seats). The senate would of course legislate on all matters, but can have any of its laws overturned by the tribal house. The tribal house should also have the power to direct the executive on any continental issue. At this point the concept of a tribal house from a distance must (once again) look impracticable, until we genuinely realise that there is strength in diversity (not just as a cliché or food for lip service), and more so if the strength is built on authentic identities; first at the local “wards” or street level then onto towns, regions, countries and finally the continent. This of course, takes us to the issue of unreliable data and corrupted population figures for the sake of political manipulations; but pan-African institutions such as Office for Statistics, Census Commission, Continental Electoral Commission and Social Security will help transform local politics for good. The tribal parliament will be a wonderful opportunity to democratise exiting African traditional institutions where if a dunce is the king, too bad for his followers. All that needs to be done is to copy the UK democracy by leaving hereditary monarchies as they are, but insist that they have largely traditional and ceremonial roles and that only an elected tribal prime minister can represent the people at the African Tribal House and the Federal Houses of Representatives in their existing colonial states. This will do the Swazi people a lot of good. The election should be conducted by an African Continental Electoral Commission (ACEC). Undoubtedly, if an African Electoral Commission free of the influence of despots conducts elections from the ward or street level to the continental level, using appropriate technology and centrally-secure data (population data matched to the electoral and social security registers), sham elections will be a thing of the past. We should also expect swift and credible judicial reviews if required, as well as immediate military intervention to kick out bad losers (the Ratsirakas and Gbagbos of Africa) by force. This takes us straight back to the need to invest in the people and not the existing states of Africa. The people’s social security will be a good start for such an investment.
A pan-African superstate is all about finding an ideal social organisation for Africa’s unique circumstances. The late 19th century Europeanization of Africa agenda seemed to offer such an ideal social organisation to begin with, but with political changes elsewhere in the world, imperialism had to give way to independence and neo-colonialism. Some supposedly prepared people fought for, and took over the colonial master’s place post-independence and some simply had it given to them. Both would go on to demonstrate incompetence and commit worse exploitation and wickedness to the people than the colonial masters did. This was the beginning of the manifestation of Africa’s political and economic schizophrenia! With the colonial “countries” lacking depth in terms of political and economic philosophy, democracy was the obvious choice as a philosophical operating system. In Nigeria democracy post-independence immediately turned to “Demo-Crazy” that soon led to the genocide of the Biafran war. According to the Nigerian philosopher-musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, if it is not “craze,” why is it in Africa? This is not to say that democracy is not suitable for Africa (for example some pundits talk about a “benevolent dictatorship”), but how can you democratise or change a country without first changing (educating) its people’s beliefs and mind set? May we politely ask what kind of political philosophy is currently being genuinely applied in Nigeria or let’s say by Nigeria’s ruling PDP politicians? Well, it is not difficult to see that we have no specific philosophy, but we are masters of the art and science of capturing and keeping office. This is the very opposite of a good political philosophy which is about ideal social organisation. With a so-called (fake) giant of Africa having no real political philosophy what can we expect from the rest of the continent? Martin Meredith quoted Ferhat Abbas’s 1936 statement as follows:
If I had discovered an Algerian nation, I would be a nationalist and I would not blush for it as though it were a crime. Men who die for a patriotic ideal are daily honoured and regarded. My life is worth no more than theirs. Yet I will not die for the Algerian homeland, because such a homeland does not exist. I have not found it. I have questioned history, I have asked the living and the dead, I have visited cemeteries: no one told me of it . . . One does not build on the wind.
Martin Meredith went further to quote Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Obafemi Awolowo, two prominent pre- and post-independence “Nigerians”.
“. . . Nigerian unity is only a British intention” Said the one and . . . “There are no “Nigerians” in the same sense as there are “English”, Welsh”, or “French” said the other.
Nonetheless, despite these observations no one took note of Ferhat Abbas’s 1936 statement that “ . . . One does not build on the wind,” and a mere geographical expression (to quote Obafemi Awolowo) called Nigeria that officially came into existence as a geo-political entity in 1914, with the long term vision to be part of an empire, had in just less than 50 years after (1960), the original purpose and vision abandoned; and “independence” was offered to over 250 small nations (ethnic groups) that had been forcibly bound by their erstwhile colonial masters. Naturally, with the unnoticed building on the wind, the tendency was that individuals and individual ethnic groups (the real political entities) would seek self-determination without a specific new vision beyond “survival first” as there was hardly a new and true common aspiration that the collective had after the colonial masters handed over. Besides, prior to colonisation, these groups had political and religious systems in place and these continued with a blend of what colonisation had brought in. It was this mix of pre-colonial tribal, political and religious agendas and post-colonial survival goals mixed with neo-colonisation (which included despots re-colonising the people and the cold war in Africa) that formed the faulty foundations of a lot of the newly “independent” schizophrenic African “countries.” Indeed the civil wars in Africa were highly predictable (in retrospect) and the one that resulted in the brutal Nigeria civil war (1967 -1970), was the direct result of attempted self-determination by the Igbos gone awry. When I make the statement “I am not really a Nigerian, but an Itsekiri and an African,” even supposedly educated but in reality ignorant “Nigerians” fail to see the significance of such a truthful statement. Some genuinely talk about a “de-tribalised Nigeria,” which is a good thing, if it had deep enough roots. “You mentally unemancipated slave, it is enough that you answer your master’s name for you, but you should at least know who you really are!” I have said angrily in debates. I cannot reasonably expect anyone living outside Nigeria to know about the Itsekiri people as they know about the Welsh, but it is a continental insult, and perhaps one to the entire black race to have a place in the 21st century and in Africa called “the slaves”. This place proudly, but ignorantly called “Escravos” happens to be my ancestral home town and centre of massive petroleum exploitation. How sad, for any black person of understanding? Should the multi-national oil company Chevron care about the symbolism of having a projected $8.4 billon “The Slaves Gas To Liquid” or Escravos Gas To Liquid (EGTL) project? This is part of the issues-based foundations of the current African “countries” that needs rebuilding. It just cannot be ignored like Westerners including president Obama seems to advocate with statements such as “Africans should stop blaming colonialism of the past for the problems of the present.” We need to be assisted in rebuilding our foundations if our own future will be up to us (Africans). “Africa’s future is up to Africans” was president Obama stated position in his lecturing of Ghanaians in 2009, but now we understand that it is tough luck to Africans, if they will not unite as advised by Bob Marley (in his 1979 album).
From time to time we see African “patriots” (and despots) on television talking about the unity of their “countries” and are quick to spew out statements against “neo-colonialism” whilst benefiting from the spoils of colonialism (mere geographical expressions with huge bank accounts meant for countries run by a few indigenous families and cabals). This is an act of wickedness and not ignorance, for such individuals are quick to jump back to their tribal, sectarian or religious roots in times of trouble because they were never interested in true federalism in the first place. To conclude, I will maintain that true federalism in Africa can only be offered by a pan-African superstate – big and diverse enough to be above racism, tribalism, and nepotism; strong enough to eliminate the demon of psychopathic corruption and self-serving rulers; issues-based, sophisticated and intellectually challenging enough to exclude half-educated politicians from government and united in spirit, truth and purpose enough to actually work in practice to ensure economic growth for the people.
Dr Temi Metseagharun