• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Yes to Africa, no to Pan Africanism

Yes to Africa, no to Pan Africanism

Almost 2 years ago to the day, I wrote in this column, an article that undressed the ever-present personality cult around a certain East African strongman. What happened next was completely predictable, as the acolytes and PR assets of the fellow in question went into character assassination overdrive. Death threats, harassment, phone calls to everyone around me – you name it. My crime? According to the gospel of Pan Africanism, I had done the journalistic equivalent of crossing the picket line to criticize a respected, no, revered African leader.

For this heinous crime, I was to be cancelled. Literally cancelled that is, I mean with blood and police reports and everything, not the social media ‘cancelling.’ Of course, I never back away from a challenge, so thus ensued one of the more comical story arcs of my career to date. It is a story arch that includes obsessive avoidance of Rwandair flights for whatever reason, as well as periodic changing of my mobile devices and computers, which always seem to conveniently end up attacked by some mysterious malware or the other. Funny, that. And then there are the social media stalkers. These guys are just the worst.

The optics of Pan-Africanism are awful

What these angry birds who have faithfully stalked me around the internet for the past 2 years never seem to realise is that they are going after someone who himself used to be one of the most unapologetic advocates of Nkrumah-style Pan-Africanist signalling. Just 6 years ago, I would never have written such an article criticising someone perceived as one of Africa’s leading lights. What changed, however, between then and now was the experience of actually living in Africa as a full-grown man, as against interacting with a fictionalised, romanticised notion of the continent from the comfort of Europe or North America as I once did.

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I learned two important things about Pan-Africanism between 2013 and now. First, I learned from firsthand experience that in its signature loud, “Hotep” form, it is cringe-worthy, annoying, visibly insincere, and agonisingly ignorant. Also, it wins very few friends or supporters when it takes on this obnoxious, unlikeable form. Second and more importantly, the Nkrumah version of Pan Africanism simply doesn’t work. It is a romantic, emotional idea-driven primarily by feelings, as against realities. There is about half a century of evidence showing us that performative Pan Africanism only ends up being a cover for rapacious dictatorships, economic brigandage, illiterate leadership, and encroachment on social and political freedoms by an ever-expanding incompetent state.

Can the cat catch mice

Former Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping once famously remarked “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” He made these comments in the context of Chinese foreign policy in the era before China opened itself up and launched an economic phenomenon. There is a lesson in that sentiment for us. As I previously mentioned, classic Pan-Africanists are not so much bothered about achieving positive results for Africa as they are about being seen to go after these results a certain way. The Marxist language, the form, the signals are the goal in themselves. I have no use for this.

My idea of an economically integrated and connected Africa comes without the baggage of the “Pan Africanist” vision of Nkrumah and his contemporaries, which was based on Soviet economics and has recorded nothing but miserable, consistent, and predictable failure after half a century of “it will work this time” attempts. As I have pointed out elsewhere, every other region on earth enjoys high levels of trade integration, including Asia with its many geopolitical conflicts. They do this without “Pan-Asianism,” which is proof that Africa does not in fact need to share a singular conceptual vision for trade and development to take place.

Just build the damn roads, rails, ports, and airports, empower democratic institutions to do their job, and let go.

I promise it’s really not rocket science.