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Francis Anekwe Oborji: Pan-Africanism and Today’s Self-determination Struggle (Part 2) [MUST READ]

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Continued from Pan-Africanism and Today’s Self-determination Struggle [MUST READ]

“Yet, true unity cannot be achieved by force, and Africa may have to concede the legitimacy of major secessionist movements as one of the ways to resolve conflicts on the continent and guarantee equality and justice for oppressed and neglected groups. Such a concession is a first step towards conflict resolution, which entails: conflict management, containment, reduction, and finally, resolution. One of the best ways to resolve conflict is to address the grievances of the people who want to secede, and therefore prevent secession. Trying to force them to remain in a country from which they want to secede will only exacerbate and perpetuate conflict and lead to national instability.” – Julius Nyerere on “Why Tanzania Recognizes Biafra” (See, Godfrey Mwakikagile, Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era, New Africa Press, March 2010 (Chapter Nine: Tanzania Recognizes Biafra).

Going further, the former Tanzanian President Nyerere, says:

“If people are abused, oppressed, and discriminated against by their fellow countrymen, that’s grounds for secession, unless the injustices are stopped. Otherwise, there is no reason why they should not be allowed to secede, and if that is the only way they can live in peace and security in their own independent state. If you don’t want them to secede, stop oppressing them and denying them equal rights. And if the right to self-determination has to be enshrined in the constitution of every African country as one of the best ways to guarantee equal treatment of oppressed groups, by threatening secession, so be it. “Treat us fairly. Or else, we are gone.” – Julius Nyerere on “Why Tanzania Recognizes Biafra” (See, above).

Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania, remains the most credible powerful voice among the first generation African heads of states of his days and of today’s African leaders on this most important issue of granting self-determination and political independence to aggrieved and oppressed peoples or groups in our post-colonial African nation states with dangerous ethnic, religious and cultural diversities. To the present-day, the stance of Julius Nyerere on this matter as our quotations above testify, remains the only best option towards resolving the perennial problem of instability and conflicts in different countries of Africa.

It is high time the African leadership takes up once more those historic speeches of Julius Nyerere on self-determination and independence of the aggrieved and oppressed ethnic nationalities or groups in Africa today and act on them. Don’t forget also that self-determination of the indigenous ethnic nationalities and oppressed peoples are also recognized by the United Nations’ Conventions and the African Union’s Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Moreover, as Nyerere rightly said, ‘self-determination is a legitimate way of resolving conflicts and of guaranteeing equal treatment of oppressed people.’

The Present Reality

The concern of majority of the aggrieved and oppressed indigenous ethnic-nationalities or geopolitical regions agitating for self-determination and ‘second-independence’ from the domineering ethnic and religious groups in their respective African countries where they found themselves today, is about their survival and preservation as distinct indigenous ethnic nationality or people. Ethnic-nationality or geopolitical region facing threats of ethnic-cleansings and extermination as a people at the hands of their own fellow countrymen and women and supposedly central government and security operatives, are today asking that they be granted their self-determination, a kind of ‘second independence’ from the domineering ethnic group/groups.

The central argument is that the oppressed or aggrieved ethnic-nationalities or geopolitical regions agitating for self-determination, a second independence from the domineering ethnic and religious groups in their colonial inherited African country where they found themselves today, want to be alive first. They want to live in freedom and dignity as a people – human beings created in the image, and likeness of God, in their own ancestral land and sovereign independent state, so that the “Pan-Africanism” could make sense to them. Only a freed person or people living in freedom, justice, equity and peace in their own local, concrete context and reality can talk of promoting the ideals of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism makes no sense to the oppressed groups or ethnic nationalities and persons. It is only when people are free, have security of their lives and property, self-rule, and feel secured, security-wise in their own independent nation and ancestral land as a people that the ‘Pan-Africanism’ could begin to make sense to them.

People must be alive first, living in freedom, dignity, justice, peace, equity and fair-play in their own concrete, local context and self-rule as a people. Only then will the whole talk or discourse about ‘Pan-Africanism’ begin to make sense to them. Otherwise, ‘Pan-Africanism’ will continue to remain as a ‘bogus’ and utopian, an intellectual discourse without any concrete relevance to the African people who are trapped and oppressed because of their ethnicity or religion by the domineering ethnic and religious groups who control the central government in the country they found themselves today. In other words, you need first to secure your ancestral-land and identity as a people, enthrone your own self-rule government, and live in peace and freedom in your local setting in order to be able to participate fully in living and promoting the values of the ‘Pan-Africanism’ at all levels.

That means that Africa must first resolve the present problem of political instability of African countries caused by the arbitrary partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 by the European colonial powers. The infamous Berlin Conference, which arbitrarily partitioned Africa without any regard to the natural boundaries of the different indigenous African ethnic nationalities must be addressed and resolved first, for Pan-Africanism to take a realistic and concrete root. This is because the colonial partitioning of Africa in the present façade of artificial nation states never considered the basic differences and, the often conflicting value systems, philosophy of life, different cultures, religions and worldviews, of the different ethnic nationalities that they forcefully and arbitrarily merged together as one nation state.

Thus, the present façade of European colonial and arbitrarily created African nation states born out of the powerful European nations’ Berlin Conference of 1884-85, do not represent or respect the true natural boundaries of different indigenous ethnic nationalities of the African peoples dumped together in most of those colonial created today’s African nation states. They do not respect the African peoples’ diversities and basic differences in ethnicity, cultures, religions, value systems, worldviews, and philosophy of life. Which are the basic ingredients required for stability, nation-building, and especially, for the founding of any modern nation states. And which are the necessary things that can assure or guarantee political and economic stability, as well as the security of lives and property and freedom of each and every one of the indigenous peoples, groups or ethnic nationalities in most of those colonial created African nation states.

Today, we are experiencing chronic, perennial problems of political and economic instability in most of the post-colonial African nation states, principally because of this particular issue of the colonial arbitrary partitioning of Africa. Political and economic instability and all kinds of violence have continued to engulf most of the post-colonial African countries, principally because of this: The problem of dangerous diversity brought about as a result of those European arbitrarily colonial created African nation states. The colonial arbitrarily partitioning of Africa by European colonial powers that did not take into account the African peoples’ diverse and different natural boundaries and basic cultural, ethnic and religious divisions and sensibilities. That is, they did not respect the African people’s fundamental differences in culture, language, ethnicity, religion, worldview, value system and philosophy of life. Which are basic elements that are essential ingredients for any nation state or country worth its name to thrive and serve its citizens creditably as well as provide them with the needed enabling environment for good governance, security of lives and property, and for them to live in harmony, justice and peace with one another.

Typical example is Nigeria. Today, as never before, citizens of those short-changed and oppressed indigenous ethnic nationalities, logged together in this British contraption, called Nigeria, are facing one major problem, namely, ‘the struggle for survival’ as a people seeking self-determination and freedom, to secure the lives and property of their people, trapped in this colonial, arbitrarily created Nigerian state. This is the major problem disturbing the heart and soul of any relatively conscious citizen of most of the African countries with similar history and reality as Nigeria. The fact remains that each indigenous ethnic-nationality or rather major geopolitical region has its own value system, religion, language, philosophy of life, worldview, civilization and cultural identity to guard and protect, and their ancestral homeland to defend and preserve for their future generations. Each one of them is always concerned about the security of lives and property of their people. Since most of the times, the central government and its often ‘selected/imposed’ states or regional governors/administrators – spinoffs, who are only interested in enriching themselves at the expense of their own people they are supposed to serve, are not capable of providing good governance and security and welfare of the people.

Again, some of today’s agitating ethnic groups or geopolitical regions (marginalized, oppressed and short-changed by the government at the center), have been under constant attacks and threats of extermination by those other ethnic or religious groups who dominate and control the central government. Thus, the reason for the continued agitation and clamoring for self-determination through referendum by those oppressed, short-changed or aggrieved indigenous ethnic nationalities, regions or groups in the country where they found themselves today.

Limitations of Pan-Africanism vis-à-vis Self-Determination

This is why we should be wary of anybody, projecting be it Pan-Africanism of the old or the ‘bogus’ slogan of ‘multiculturalism’, diversity as strength, or even of restructuring or rotational-presidency, as a way forward for example, for such a failed African nation-state like Nigeria. The fact remains that the present political impasse in Nigeria, for example, is beyond the jargons of Pan-Africanism of the old, as well as the so-called multiculturalism. And the slogans such as ‘diversity as strength’, constitutional review, restructuring or rotational-presidency, and what have you. Succumbing to any of these political trappings and jargons in a failed African nation-state like Nigeria, in order to sound politically correct, will only amount to postponing the doomsday!

Furthermore, if after over sixty years of political independence from the European colonial powers, most of the African nation states like Nigeria, have not been able to come to terms with a viable political system and structure, as a way forward, it means that something is wrong fundamentally somewhere with the foundation of those African nation states. It means that what we call nation states in most parts of Africa today have very faulty foundations, fraudulent political systems or structures and fake constitutions. This is the naked truth: members of the ruling class and elites in most African countries, who benefit from such fraudulent, corrupt systems and faulty foundations, are afraid to confront, or tell themselves. That is, the truth about the fundamental problem with their colonial inherited nation-state or country!

Again, if after sixty years of political independence, most African countries like Nigeria, are still living under the theatre of bloodletting, ethnic-cleansings, Islamists insurgency and herdsmen terrorism, political instability, economic meltdown, and general insecurity of lives and property, it means that the solution to Africa’s problem must be sought elsewhere other than the Pan-Africanism of the old. The solution to the problem with Africa must begin with the granting of referendum for self-determination and independence to the aggrieved and oppressed indigenous ethnic nationalities/geopolitical regions in different African countries.

Only those who have something to gain from the present system, which is the abnormal, colonial political foundation of those artificial, present-day African nation states, are the ones pushing for political restructuring, rotational-presidency, and constitutional review. They are also the ones marketing the ‘deceptive’ slogans of the ‘Pan-Africanism’ of the old, projecting ‘multiculturalism and diversity as strength’, as a way forward for the dysfunctional and failed African nation states like Nigeria. That is, instead of them pushing for a referendum for self-determination of the aggrieved and oppressed groups/ethnic nationalities, which is the most viable solution to the problem. Such people, who shun referendum for self-determination, however, know, within themselves, that they are not sincere, but rather are playing to the gallery, for their selfish ends. Some of them, simply, want only to sound politically correct! Because, in the long run, everyone knows that only a referendum for self-determination as a conflict-resolution strategy is the best way to go on this matter!

This is because, if truth be told, be it pan-Africanism, multiculturalism or diversity, can only be a strength, under one condition. Namely, where independent nation states, for example, which may emerge through referendum for self-determination, may choose freely, as economic, geopolitical, continental or regional bloc, to cooperate among themselves as neighboring sovereign independent nation states. That is, after peaceful separation as independent nation states, freely, decide on their own accord, to relate among themselves, as an “economic-community” of neighboring African nation states, within the African Union at the continental level and/or at the regional level, like the ECOWAS in West African sub-region, for example. It is only in such a situation that the talk about promoting Pan-Africanism, multiculturalism and diversity as strength, makes sense. Again, an example is the European Union and the ECOWAS itself. Although the existing colonial trappings propelling ECOWAS’ member-states, just as the Nigerian case, is the major reason that the West African sub-regional economic community is yet to function properly. This too, justifies the call for referendum for self-determination of those aggrieved and oppressed ethnic nationalities or groups within each member-state country.

All this implies that Pan-Africanism, multiculturalism and diversity as strength can only function as desired, within the context of economic-community of regional or continental neighboring independent nation states, like European Union or ECOWAS, and not Africa becoming ‘one-nation-state’ as suggested by the Pan-Africanism of the old. Rather, Pan-Africanism in the new dispensation would mean, that the neighboring nation states (e.g., ECOWAS), decide, on their own accord to cooperate among themselves, purely for reasons of promoting economic cooperation, movements of persons and goods within their region, but always, as separate independent nation states. Not as one nation-state!

This is the real meaning of Pan-Africanism and diversity as strength in its original sense. First, in the context of economic regional cooperation of neighboring independent nation states. It is from there, we can deduce the true meaning of Pan-Africanism and diversity as strength in the context of each independent nation state. As the saying goes, ‘charity begins at home.’ You must have a secured nation-state at the grassroots level to call a home before you can talk or rather participate at the regional/continental levels of Pan-Africanism.

In this latter case, for example, Pan-Africanism and diversity as strength as it applies to an independent nation state, could be explained further, as follows. Each independent nation state, even if a member state of an economic community like ECOWAS, in this case, continues to maintain its territorial integrity, and protect its interest as an independent nation state without the interference of the others. Each nation state protects its own frontiers, welfare and security of its citizens, and has its own constitution and laws of the land, binding on its citizens and on any foreigner or visitor coming to live in that country. Any foreigner or visitor coming to stay or live in any independent nation state has to follow and obey the law of that state. Those seeking citizenship swear allegiance to the constitution of such a state.

The constitutional provisions  and the laws of an independent nation state, which  governs how it treats  foreigners living or visiting that country,  is what defines how open such a nation state is to Pan-Africanism, multiculturalism and diversity as strength. It is not the other way round. Pan-Africanism, multiculturalism and diversity as strengths are never about how the citizens of the same nation, who constitute the majority population of their nation state as one people, relate among themselves. Rather it is about how open the social system operative in such a nation state is, accommodating or accepting foreigners coming to live or visit the country.

This is the real meaning of Pan-Africanism and diversity as strength which Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania whom we cited at the opening paragraphs of the article, was advocating for Africa. Firstly, as it applies to nation states at the level of a regional economic-community. Secondly, as it applies to an independent nation state, founded on the shared common value system and philosophy of life of the majority of the people that constitute that particular nation state. This is because, each independent nation state is supposed to be founded on the shared cultural affinity, worldview, value system, philosophy of life, religious beliefs, language and culture, which majority of the people who constitute such a nation state are indigenous to it and share as a distinct people.

In Conclusion

Pan-Africanism is about the liberty for self-determination of each definable indigenous African people, major geopolitical regions or ethnic nationalities in different parts of Africa. It is from that grassroots level that Pan-Africanism (or African Unity/Union), will begin to make sense to the African people.  Overlooking this basic, grassroots, local level of ‘Pan-Africanism’, which today’s African reality beckons on all of us, to jump into the ‘utopian’, non-realistic ‘Pan-Africanism’ of the old, the ‘top-bottom’ strategy – from continental level to the grassroots level, will be making the biggest mistake of this third millennium in the continent. Because as experience has shown, under the top-bottom strategy of the Pan-Africanism of the old, even the grassroots, local levels are often trampled upon.  The top-bottom model of Pan-Africanism makes Pan-Africanism itself work against the very objective it sets out to achieve.

Pan-Africanism as the name implies, is supposed to be rooted and constructed, first and foremost, on and from the local context level. The concrete reality of each group, ethnic-nationality/major geopolitical region of Africa, and from there, to the regional and continental levels. So, as to begin to protect and advance the well-being of the people, each group of the African people in their own concrete reality, geopolitical region, ancestral-land and local context. And from there, advance the common objective of the whole African people and continent as a whole at the international level. As an Igbo wisdom saying puts it, “Ana esi n’ulo amara mma.” Which loosely translates, “Your beauty begins from your home.”

This is what Pan-Africanism is all about, and which Julius Nyerere was advocating for in his speeches we cited earlier on. Pan-Africanism is meant to be at the service of the liberty of the African people from the grassroots level, to the regional, continental and international levels, and not the other way round. Its objective is to promote the self-determination, independence, self-rule, freedom, justice and equity as well as security of lives and property and the welfare of the people, at the local and grassroots levels. And from there, move on to the regional, continental and international levels. And not the other way round. Pan-Africanism must move from “bottom-top”, and not from “top-bottom.”

Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He runs a column on The Trent. He can be reached by email HERE.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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