In the wake of the coerced ouster of President R.G Mugabe, the debate between Africans on either side of the fence of Pan Africanism has come to the fore once more. Though the sources and causes of the confusion aren’t that simple, and might take a little more spilling of ink in order to bring the point home, allow me to attempt some form of explanation here.
There’s a thin line, or if you like lines, dividing perspectives on such matters, though we often make it appear rather mammoth than it actually is; and I must admit most Pan- Africanists, and those Africans who are not so enamored with that title, both get it twisted many times. It appears both sides seem to be serving beautiful shots from different sides of two separate tennis courts, but hoping to win the game against each other eventually.
I will like to think the source of the confusion between the parties hinges on three cardinal matters:
a. RESOURCES – Though by no means a definition of a Pan Africanist, usually the Pan -African seeks a leader who takes absolute charge of both the human and material resources of their country. Any leader who doesn’t do this in absolute terms, or doesn’t attempt to do so, is perceived to have betrayed the cause – that is where the charge against Mandela may be emanating from, I believe. Here, the Pan Africanist sees Mugabe and Qaddafi as heroes.
b. SOVEREIGNTY: If a leader always seems to be taking cues from external powers, or if the country’s economy is largely controlled by alien interests, rather than indigenous ones, then such a leader has failed in the books of the Pan Africanist. Here again, Mugabe and Qaddafi pass the test for the Pan Africanist.
c. DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE and RULE OF LAW: Here, it is believed the Pan Africanist doesn’t appear a happy camper, though that may not really be the case. However, this is where those who are not keen on Pan Africanism seem to often pitch their tent. They seem to have the perception that once there’s democratic governance and rule of law, the above two wishes of the Pan Africanist will automatically avail themselves.
But history has shown that this is not so. On this score as well, most Pan Africanists come across playing the ostrich, quickly discarding, without notice, the loudly trumpeted slogans of egalitarianism and social justice. You will find that some of our Pan African heroes, either consciously or inadvertently, deserted, in practice, the social circumstances within which their struggle began, and have amassed wealth and powers which eventually results in a ‘god complex’. Thus they discard the principles that led them to respect the people as equals in practice, but continue to sloganeer such beliefs only in public. The matter of rule of law therefore becomes quite an anathema to keeping the masses quiet on the obvious change in their social status and inclinations, or those of their cohorts; in clear contrast with their openly parroted rhetoric, which in effect gets reduced to nothing but sheer populism.
But sadly, many Pan- Africanists, being so hooked onto the two earlier achievements above, are genuinely blinded to all these, or conveniently so; and will immediately tag anyone who seeks to bring to the fore such contradictions the enemy – a rather unfortunate development, I must say.
Having said this, it is important to disambiguate my submission above, on Pan African leaders who lose touch with the people, from the situation where most pro-democracy, and non-Pan African Africans, seem to see multi party democracy as the only expression of democratic tenets. As such, though a Pan African leader may be governing within the dictates of the rule of law and the constitution as upheld by their society, he is automatically considered a dictator by this group; once the country isn’t practicing their choice of democratic rule. This also throws another spanner in the works, as far as this debate is concerned.Thus, no matter the dedication and successes chocked by an African Leader, once he or she doesn’t submit to the approach of keeping the conveyor belt moving for quick substitution of leaders, they are seen as an enemy of democracy and the rule of law.
So if you ask me, I’d say the whole matter emanates from the respective world views these groups of Africans grew up with, but most importantly, it hinges on the lack of appreciation of nuance, and our impatience in interrogating the real foundation of matters in their particular contexts, before taking a decisive stand. This has created many confusions in the minds of otherwise very intelligent persons on the continent, who nevertheless believe they are very clear on their positions.
Written by: Jason Tutu