Life was not all rosy in the pre-colonial Africa

Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Published Mar 21, 2024


Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Pan-Africanist adherents deliberately mislead the world by creating an impression that pre-colonial Africa was a united society living together harmoniously. That is wrong and they know it. When these lovers of Africa call for the unity of the continent, what does it look like? Do they have the modalities worked out on how that is going to work out?

While it could be true that there were no physical borders dividing nations, there were borders that were acknowledged amongst various kingdoms and queendoms. Each was characterised by the king or queen who acted on behalf of his or her people who spoke a particular language and had a distinguished way in which they arranged their economy, social life, and religious and political affairs.

Of course, the scramble for Africa by powerful Western countries in 1884 as they met in Berlin certainly worsened the interrelations and interconnectedness amongst Africans. We can see that in the East African conflicts (DRC and Sudan).

At times, during the pre-colonial era, conflicts forced those who were weaker to abandon their land and livelihoods to run for their lives. Africans were therefore not living a luxurious life. It is clear against this backdrop that there has never been one Africa.

Pan-African conferences were organised in the diaspora to react to oppression against black people around the world. It was meant to encourage the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere, and others to act as a united force to liberate their own countries from colonial rule. That was achieved through the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor of the African Union (AU) which was launched in 2002 in South Africa.

The unity as espoused by the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism was not to annex all 54 states into one big country with one political and economic system. The grand plan was to establish political, economic, and social co-operation for mutual benefit. The AU has acknowledged and recognised the partitioning of Africa where every country is deemed to have its sovereignty.

Julius Malema, the EFF leader, should remember that there are more than 1.4 billion people in Africa with varying cultures, languages, identities, values and aspirations. Instead of being dogmatic, he should detail his utopian ideas of how his united Africa will work out. Besides him, how many African governments support the idea of having a united Africa?

It is worthwhile to remind Malema and those who support his idealistic plan that the formation of the OAU in 1963 was a consequence of a compromise reached between the leftist Casablanca and the Monrovia bloc. The Casablanca, which consisted of Nkrumah and 6 other countries, wanted to do away with borders but Monrovia felt that African countries should remain independent but co-operate and exist in harmony.

These Pan-Africanists refuse to see ethnic tensions in many African countries where minority ethnic groups are disillusioned and they believe that the government does not distribute resources evenly to all its citizens.

In Zimbabwe, it is known that the second-biggest ethnic group, Ndebeles, is disillusioned by the Zanu-PF, which is predominantly led by Shona-speaking people, because they allege that the government discriminates against them. These are some of the things that Malema should take into cognisance before he attempts to unite people from a completely different background and futures.

The unity from the perspective of Pan-Africanists is to co-operate on economic terms which is to work together towards growing and developing our economies as we are seeing in the European Union (EU). The EU has about 27 member states but all of them have maintained their sovereignty. Its purpose was to create a big single market to help them trade globally and amongst its 27 members.

There is a concern that I want to clarify. EU citizens may not be required to carry a passport while travelling within the EU but there is still a stricter and more effective integrated management of borders to control external migration and security threats. EU member states are at an advanced developmental stage where they can provide security and surveillance on who goes to which country for what reasons.

South Africa, which is regarded as the most industrialised country in Africa, is still unable to control its porous borders. Besides overstretching the public services, the Department of Home Affairs said it deports about 20 000 illegal foreigners each year. How much does that cost the taxpayer?

South Africa should use its influence to pursue poor African countries that are mismanaged by dictatorial tendencies to democratise their governments and introduce working economic policies so that their citizens don't have to go to South Africa to look for greener pastures. If South Africa helps to stabilise Zimbabwe, there won’t be the need for the Zimbabweans to risk their lives by jumping into the crocodile-infested Limpopo River.

Mokgatlhe is a political writer and columnist.

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