African Unity: Reality & Illusion

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Africans have not de-colonized their minds enough. We are still trapped in the colonial condition. We are still refusing to cut the colonial umbilical cord. We despise everything African. Can you believe that Africans still import water from Paris, London and New York?

COMMENTARY



On May 25 this week, Africa celebrates the 44th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union.

African leaders will also meet in Accra, Ghana for the AU summit in the coming week or so to discuss and share ideas on the challenges facing the continent.

But is Africa making any meaningful headway when it comes to African unity? How far have we gone towards integrating our economies and scrapping visas that prohibit the free movement of our people?

I will tell how disappointing it is that I myself as a Zimbabwean still need to get a visa to travel across the Limpopo River to South Africa and to our neighbor in the east, Mozambique, despite the common historical struggles that our countries share.

Many Zimbabwean women who cross the border to trade their wares in South Africa sleep on a line at the South African embassy in Harare to get visas. In addition to this, they have to meet stringent visa requirements which are very costly and cumbersome. They have to struggle for their families and sell wares in the giant South African economy.

Only recently, comrades in the African National Congress and freedom fighters from the Zimbabwe African National Union and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Patriotic Fronts) fought together in the trenches against colonialism.

It’s now more than 27 years that Zimbabwe has been independent while South Africa celebrated 13 years of majority rule. It is very disappointing that there is no free movement between people in South Africa and Zimbabwe despite the pledge to the ideals of African unity and economic integration.

This plays out across the continent. Most African countries have diplomatic posts in Europe and America but yet back here in their homeland, they have none in some African countries. For one to travel from Ghana to Cameroon, one needs a visa. Isn't it puzzling that Europeans and white Americans can freely move from one African country to the other much more than Africans themselves can?

As Africans we are still suspicious of each other, we are still more connected to the Metropoles -London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Lisbon than we are connected to Kigali, Bujumbura, Ouagadougou, Harare, Kampala and Lusaka.

In 2005, Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature was detained at Johannesburg airport, now the Oliver Tambo International Airport, for arriving without a visa. Lamented Cameron Duodu, a veteran London-based African journalist: "In Africa, then, we preach unity without doing anything concrete about it. It's like marrying a woman and not being willing to touch her. I have a strong desire to greet the African leaders who come to Accra with a one-man demonstration urging them to stop uttering empty words about African unity and to, instead, abolish the need for visas when moving between their countries immediately.�

Africans have not de-colonized their minds enough. We are still trapped in the colonial condition. We are still refusing to cut the colonial umbilical cord. We despise everything African. Can you believe that Africans still import water from Paris, London and New York?

Where is the unity we always talk about? What are we doing to build common ground on many pressing issues in Africa? What are we as Africans doing to harmonize trade policies and remove trade barriers between African countries? Are we speaking with one voice as the European Union?

"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery—None but ourselves can free our minds," Bob Marley, the music legend implored. If he could only see us now.

Until we as Africans fully decolonize our minds, we will never be able  to remove barriers to movement, trade and culture. 

Tsiko is The Black Star News’ Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare


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