What does an Integrated Africa mean to you?
This question stared me in the face as I was preparing to register for a conference. An integrated Africa? I answered this question with what seemed like an obvious answer to me. An integrated Africa is an Africa where there is freedom of movement between borders, An Africa where a person from one part of the continent is free to do business in another part of the country with no obstacles whatsoever. An integrated Africa was not only an Africa that was united economically and perhaps politically (Under my able dictatorial rule of course) but an Africa united in purpose, An Africa that leverages the strategic advantages it has in different areas to become a leader in world affairs. My tone might sound idealistic but this is what I do imagine an integrated Africa to be like.
Africa already has some form of loose economic integration in the form of regional bodies and of course the political talk shop known as the African Union. The African Union which succeeded the Organization of African Unity has failed for the most part in its attempt to foster greater economic integration of the continent. The group called the African Union wields little influence of what goes on in its member states. Do you seek examples? Take your pick of crises that have occurred over the years on the continent and tell me where the African Union took a decisive lead in helping to end the crises or conflict. For the most part the African Union makes communiques and issues statements but does little by way of action. I speak of course from the vantage point of a layman. Maybe they are doing big things in secret and are actually integrating the continent and helping to solve crises from behind the shadows. I highly doubt that.
What stops an integration of Africa? This question has many answers. You could blame colonialism or a neo-colonialism (The Chinese invasion of Africa is also a form of neo-colonialism, many people have not just figured it out yet), you could blame the francophone, anglophone, lusophone, North African/Sub Saharan divide, another reason is the ego of the leaders who feel that an integrated Africa will reduce their power. Another culprit is nationalism, people feel threatened by the presence of others who they feel are foreigners in their territory even if they are people of different ethnicity or people from another country within Africa. Examples of these are when Nigerians sent Ghanians back to their country en masse in 1983, Another example is the xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa in 2008.
You see the lack of love for one’s fellow African can be attributed to a strong feeling of nationalism, a sense of this is our land and we don’t want so and so people invading our territory. There is also the case of immense national pride where one country feels it is better than the others. A key example of people like this are Nigerians.
We Nigerians are blessed with such a large amount of pride about our country that sometimes it borders on the aggressive and downright insensitive. Yes we have the largest black and African population on earth. Yes we are blessed with an abundance of resources, chief of which is petroleum. We even christened ourselves, “The giant of Africa”. The reality is however that while we thump our chests and proclaim how great we are, We are really the “less-endowed” giant of Africa. If Nigeria were a man and you were on a date with him, Nigeria would be that man that keeps talking about himself and boasting about what he has when in reality he has little or nothing. I had to bury my head in shame at an African conference when a Nigerian asked a panelist, “How Nigeria can be a super power?” Really Negro? When the theme is “An integrated Africa” your selfish ass wants us to discuss Nigeria. Sorry boo, go to a Nigerian conference with yourself. With that said, whenever “typical” Nigerians are asked about the prospect of an integrated West Africa or even Africa, they seem to be vehemently opposed to it. Why? They dont want to lose their Nigerian-ness, they dont want foreigners to come and take their jobs. Really? This is the tunnel vision I am alluding to in the topic heading. I got asked about my opinion of an integrated Africa by an Ivorian and apparently my answer surprised him. He had asked many Nigerians during the conference the same question and they had answered to the negative. Some sighting that an integrated Africa/West Africa will bring our economy down. I don’t hold a degree in economics but I beg to differ, an integrated or even open border Africa with no restrictions holds great potential for the Nigerian. We are very entrepreneurial people, think about it for a second? If they opened the borders and my stereotypical Igbo brother can go and do his business anywhere he wants. Nna, the man will be making millions and of course will repatriate it to his people back in Nigeria. More Range Rovers for everybody! You see regional and continental integration can only be good for Nigeria but many people including our leaders at independence did not see this and hence disagreed with those who were in favor of African integration.
You see Nigeria was part of the Monrovia Group back then and we were in favor of a limited economic integration while countries such as Egypt and Ghana were in the Casablanca group and were in favor of a more comprehensive integration. Leaders like Nasser and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah were in favor of this integration of Africa. Eventually the Monrovia Group won the day with the secret backing of colonial masters who felt that a united Africa was threat. This is still the case. Dont be deceived, the words of great men like Nkrumah.
Nkrumah led Gold Coast as it was called then to independence. Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan African Country to gain independence and coincidentally its first leader was a true Pan-African he believed in the unity of Africa and the threat of Neo-Colonialism. I have read some of his work and hold great respect for him. Ghana has come a long way from the time when Nigeria sent its citizens away from our country and the made use of “Ghana must go” bags. I hear they now have oil as well. Lets hope they make good use of it. In recognizing Ghana, I would be amiss to not mention my primary school Ghanaian Math Teacher. Today, I am an Engineer and of course Mr Halidu had a lot to do with that. It is in this spirit of Pan-Africanism and recognizing the significance of Ghana being the first Sub-Saharan country to gain independence that I wish all my “Chales” a happy independence day.
So folk, What does an Integrated Africa mean to you? Is an integrated Africa something to be strived towards or is it a pipe dream that men like Nkrumah, Nyerere, Sekou Toure and eventually even Gaddaffi had?
In other news, Nigeria and South Africa are denying each other’s citizens entry. It has become a diplomatic row. Cant we all hold hands and sing kumbaya?