Dr Biko Agozino teaches Social Relations in Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the oldest historically black college in the US. He is the author of Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason (London, Pluto Press, 2003) and Black Women in the Criminal Justice System: Towards the Decolonization of Victimization (Aldershot, Ashgate, 1997) among other publications.
It is ironic that the current national confab in Nigeria is dominated by ethnic agendas whereas Africans abroad tend to be more aware of our shared destiny. I attended a discussion recently by students from West Africa (although at least one identified himself as an American whose parents were born in Nigeria) who are studying in America. Each student presented highlights of his or her country and then there was a general discussion. The first comment came from a female student who said that after listening to all the presentations, she still thinks that her country (not her ethnic group) was the best.
That comment started a brief banter on whose country was really the best and it reminded me of a 'joke' made by a top diplomat during a meeting of some Africans from a particular country in Washington D.C. The comment was that despite all the problems facing that great African country, none of its citizens wishes to exchange his or her nationality for any other nationality. Before you could counter that with examples of Africans who have given up their citizenship in return for dual citizenship in European and North American countries, the speaker clarified that he was referring to the nationality of some of those small countries in Africa that are so small that they do not have an address. Ha-ha-ha, many people laughed.
I asked the students after their banter if there are any lessons that Africans could learn from the United States of America given the way that unity makes America strong economically, culturally, diplomatically and militarily. Is it possible for our people to unite and form one federal republic instead of maintaining the boundaries that serve to weaken us? This question started a heated debate during which the students pointed out the obstacles to unity in the form of language barriers and national pride while others supported the unity project that many of our founding fathers bequeathed to us in their wills.
Some of the students pointed out that countries like the US, Russia, China, India and European countries do not have a single language or culture. Moreover, if the existing African countries already contain multiple languages and cultures, then multiculturalism cannot be used as an excuse to resist greater African unity. Some pointed out that Americans are proud to be from specific states but that such pride in their home states do not detract from their national pride and unity. In the end, the students concluded that the potentials for unity are great but they feared that industrialized countries would block any attempts to unite Africa because they are the ones benefiting from the status quo.
That raised another question: in what way do industrialized countries benefit from the current weakness of the mushroomed African states? The answer came in the form of the cheap supply of raw materials and the suggestion that if Africa is united, it will be able to fix the prices of raw materials like crude oil, coffee, gold, diamonds and cocoa. Therefore, according to some of the students, the industrialized economies would suffer from having to pay higher prices for raw materials. If this is the major reason why any industrialized country would oppose African unity, then it should be clarified to them that a united Africa would not pose a threat to their economy or otherwise. Rather such a strong united republic would be more prosperous and consequently would be better able to buy more from and sell more to the rest of the world. Given the economy of scale, the bigger volume of trade would benefit everyone in the world.
Besides, the prices of raw materials are largely determined by market forces of demand and supply and not dictated by any one country. Thus if a united Africa wishes to continue producing nothing but raw materials, the prices will continue to be cheaper than manufactured goods for obvious reasons. If on the other hand the People's Republic of Africa developes industries and manufactures goods for sale in competition with the industrialized countries, the example of China shows that such will not be a threat to the industrialized countries whose citizens would benefit from better quality and cheaper products contrary to the monopolistic situation where powerful corporations fix prices to the disadvantage of consumers worldwide.
Moreover, Africans should not be motivated by fear in responding to the long overdue project of genuine unity among our people. We should be motivated by the gains that unity would herald for our people. For instance, the masses of our people are voting with their feet across the continent in search of their livelihood. They do not recognize the artificial boundaries drawn by Europeans in the Berlin conference of 1850. They are only frustrated by bureaucrats who insist that Africans who travel to other African countries are illegal aliens to be deported en-masse while North Americans, Europeans and Asians are given almost unrestricted access to all parts of Africa.
What the ordinary people want is the opportunity to sell their groundnuts or textile, their labour power or skills, their cultural artifacts and industrial goods in any part of Africa the way Americans do in America and the way Europeans do in Europe. If my sister who sells yam is allowed to sell yam all over Africa, she would become a billionaire instantly. If my younger brother who is an undergraduate is allowed to apply to any university in Africa without being made to jump through visa hoops, young scholars would be more mobile on the continent and such competition would obviously help to improve the quality of higher education. If my cousin who is unemployed with a PhD is allowed to seek employment in any part of Africa, he would not be unemployed much longer and the employers, no matter in which 'state' they are located in the People's Republic of Africa, would reap the benefits of his neglected skills while giving him the opportunity to actualize his full potentials.
Furthermore, a strong and united Africa would benefit immediately from the elimination of duplication in bureaucratic services. For instance, instead of having 52 armies, 52 air forces, 52 navies that specialize in killing our people in Africa, there will be only one People's Army, etc., that will be more professional and much less expensive but much more effective in defending our people. Instead of having 52 embassies in more than 200 countries around the world, each one of them paying exorbitant rents, Africa will only have one embassy in each country and such a single embassy will be better funded and therefore more effective than the current situation where some of the so-called embassies cannot even afford to pay electricity bills.
All the savings made from the rationalization of the bureaucracies in a united Africa would go into essential social services such as education, infrastructural development, industrialization, health, welfare and agriculture. Such projects would be boosted when a united Africa recognizes the worldwide African Diaspora by offering them dual citizenships and the right to return home if they so-wish. African Americans alone spend more than 600 billion dollars every year and they are also one of the most highly skilled people of African descent alive. Imagine what would happen if they are motivated to invest their cultural, financial and intellectual capital to help a united Africa grow in leaps and bounds while sharing in the profits.
I would like to see every 'state' in Africa take the lead in this project by inserting in the constitution, a unity clause that recognizes the inevitability of the coming peoples republic. 'State' constitutions could also take the lead in canvassing the need for the new republic by championing a call for a constitutional conference and referendum on unity across Africa. Those countries that are ready to unite and move ahead can do so immediately while those that are skeptical can be allowed to join later when they see the immense benefits of unity. 'States' could also constitutionally recognize the right of the African Diaspora to return and grant them dual citizenship to spear-head the unity project on a fast track.
To make this possible, African patriots everywhere should make this demand and organize for it at the grass-roots level in every 'state' in Africa and in the African Diaspora. We should reassure the African elite who want to be heads of state that they could continue to govern'states' in Africa as governors if their people elect them on the basis of their state constitutions while the masses of Africa would be given the opportunity to elect an executive president and a legislature for the Peoples Republic of Africa United Democratically (PRAUD). We should also reassure foreigners that the new republic would pose no threat to anyone but rather would be to the benefit of all.