A recent statement by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that, “multiculturalism has failed in Germany” caused a lot of controversy and got me thinking about the concepts of multiculturalism, nationalism and Pan Africanism. In a globalised world that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent, the twenty first century was supposed to usher in an unprecedented period of cultural, ethnic and racial tolerance with traditional boundaries being done away with and the free flow of goods and human capital between countries being promoted. We have seen moves for greater unity and co-operation in the different regions of the world with the European Union and the mooted African Union being primary examples of this “New World order” where different countries would band together in order to create stronger economic blocs with traditional geographic boundaries being of secondary significance. This would be founded on greater solidarity and co-operation amongst peoples of different ethnicities, cultures and races. Germany with its frontline role in the push for European unity and its diverse, multicultural society, with immigrants from Eastern Europe and countries such as Turkey was supposed to be a shining example of this “new way” of operating and relating in the twenty first century. So when Chancellor Merkel categorically states that “multiculturalism has failed in Germany” it raises a lot of questions about where the world is going in the new century. Chancellor Merkel’s statement simply expressed a sentiment that most German’s agree with and reveals a trend that has become increasingly common in Europe as a rising nationalism in the different Euro zone countries threatens to roll back the hard-earned work that has been put in to create a strong, united Europe. Ordinary German citizens, facing economic hardships and uncertainties have become increasingly agitated with immigrants from other countries who they claim take away economic opportunities from them and are an unnecessary burden on German society. This is a phenomenon that has been witnessed in different countries such as Russia, France and even Britain which is changing its immigration laws in order to cut down on the number of immigrants that come into that country on an annual basis. So is the world going to be dominated by strong, united political and economic blocs like the EU and the AU with more open flows of goods, services and human capital between these countries or will the rising nationalism, ethnic consciousness and battle for resources take us back to the era of independent, sovereign nation-states? What does that mean for Africa and its push for an African Union and the ideal of Pan Africanism? These are all questions that I began to ask myself as I pondered Chancellor Merkel’s statement. In an African continent where different ethnic groups in the individual countries are battling to get along and to work together to create successful, prosperous nation-states, is it realistic to expect the whole continent to co-operate and work together to create a strong, unified African Union based on the ideal of Pan Africanism? Is Pan Africanism even genuine? At a time when the Sudan is considering splitting up because of ethnic and religious tensions, Somaliland is looking for its own independence, the Buganda tribe is looking for greater autonomy in Uganda and there are secessionist movements and ethnic tensions right across the continent, is it not naïve to be promoting Pan Africanism when Africans are battling to get along even within their individual states? I began to question Pan Africanism as an ideology. Does this Pan Africanist attitude even exist amongst ordinary Africans? I remembered a story that a friend of mine recently told me which caused me to doubt and question Pan Africanism even more. My friend who is Ghanaian-South African was raised in South Africa, went to South African schools and received his higher education in South Africa and also now works in South Africa. His family moved to South Africa many years ago, became South African citizens and have raised their children as South Africans but when my friend developed a romantic interest in a South African girl of Zulu heritage, the family made it clear that it would be unacceptable for him to marry a South African lass and instead preferred that he marry a woman of Ghanaian heritage. For them this was non-negotiable. So my friend was faced with a choice: either marry the South African girl and rebel against his family or let go of the relationship and find a Ghanaian girl. A Ugandan-South African friend of mine also told me how his family and the Ugandan-South African community that he grew up in also held similar attitudes and often showed condescending attitudes towards black South Africans even though they themselves had lived in South Africa for a long time and raised their children as South Africans. These kinds of attitudes can be found all around the continent, with different ethnic groups and tribal factions betraying similar attitudes and in my books this calls into question the concept of Pan Africanism. Maybe we have deceived ourselves into believing that Africans are for one another when the reality on the ground is that we battle to get along with and respect each other in our tribal groups within the different countries? If that is so why is Pan Africanism so favoured by African intellectuals and academics? If different ethnic groups are battling to unite and work together in order to build successful countries in the individual countries how realistic is it to hold Nkrumahist expectations of a united, prosperous Africa? It could just be that nationalism, ethnicism and tribalism will derail all these grandiose unity and co-operation plans because that seems to be the default nature of not just Africans, but humans right across the spectrum as evidenced by the fledgling European Union. With all this in mind, the question that I couldn’t answer was: what does that mean for Africa and the world in the twenty first century? Will it be greater co-operation, unity, solidarity and interdependence based on the reality of globalisation or will the greater forces of nationalism and ethnicism prevail and leave us with a world of fiercely independent, proud nation-states that battle to co-operate and compete aggressively with each other in the battle to improve the quality of life and the standards of living of their particular citizens? Maybe Arthur Schopenhauer was right in stating that, “national character is only another name for the particular form which the littleness, perversity and baseness of mankind take in every country. Every nation mocks at other nations and all are right.”
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- Universal Declaration of Human Rights