I am an African first

voicesofafrica.co.za

By Keith Mundangepfupfu
Thu 27 Mar 2014

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(Pic: Flickr / Pali_Nalu)

“Hi my name is Keith and I am African.”

This is how I choose to identify myself. Although I am Zimbabwean, Shona, black and Christian, I am an African first. I see myself as an intersecting set inside a Venn diagram.  I am too diverse to be an isolated set.

As people, we have an innate desire to belong. First we belong to our families, then our friends, our religion for some, our tribes, and our countries. When Africa was first colonised it was divided and land was shared like pieces of cake. A people who had been living together without any borders were now separated. They were separated in an attempt to keep them from communicating and standing together against the coloniser. Today, after decades of claiming our independence, we still cling on to the physical and superficial boundaries that were meant to divide and conquer our ancestors.

The colonisers did not only divide us by physical boundaries, they separated us with anything that made us different. The Rwandese were separated by skin complexion, the Zimbabweans by language, the Kenyans by tribe, and the Nigerians by religion. Our differences were used against us as a method of oppressing us.  We focused on identifying with our tribes and took pride in our own language. Because of that we did not have time to stand as one and say, “Hey brother, let’s kick out the oppressor!”

I fear is that my generation has not broken free of the chains of the oppressor. If a Nigerian and Kenyan are having a conversation in which the Kenyan says he likes to swim and the Nigerian asks if the Kenyan likes to run as well, the conversation tends to end with an air of animosity. People take offence or suddenly feel the urge to stand up and be patriotic when another African comments about stereotypes related to their country. We feel we have to represent our people.

I recently asked one of my Kenyan friends: “Would you be offended if I commented about the tribal violence that occurred during the post-election period?” He said yes – without even hearing my comment. However, if a non-Zimbabwean had asked me about Robert Mugabe and the situation in Zimbabwe, I would have reacted with equal hostility. But why? Are we all not Africans? Do we not all go through difficulties? Why would I feel a sense of hostility towards someone who wanted to share their opinion with a fellow African? I smiled and realised that our underlying problem as a community and as a people in society is that we want to hang on to the very things that hold us captive.

When I meet someone from Africa, they must tell me what country they come from. I would rather meet you and know your name and that you are African. The rest is irrelevant because by being African I know you understand how our parents will not hesitate to scold us, I know you understand the value of storytelling and vibrant African music. I know you understand the rot of corruption. Because you are African we become one. We are like puzzle pieces – different yet complementary.

I really hope people let go of mental barriers and borders because we will honestly never reach where we aspire to be if we keep reciting our passport nationalities. Tribes, languages and religions should not separate us. Instead, as Africans we should unite behind our diversity.

The more we keep fighting among ourselves the more easily those from outside can come and loot.

After reading Kwame Nkrumah’s Africa Must Unite, I believe his message showed true Pan-Africanism. Although his plan could have been improved, his fundamental aim of unity was nothing short of visionary. I was surprised when I heard my peers say how they hated the idea of a borderless Africa. The very people who wanted to change Africa and make a positive impact did not want free travel and trade in Africa. If we think as Tunisians, South Africans and Ivoirians then we will never be completely free. The day the white man convinced us that him being of a fairer skin meant that he was superior is the day black people became slaves.

We need to realise that by virtue of us being African, we ride in the same boat. GDPs may be different but as far as I know all countries on the African continent are developing countries. If we worked and traded more among ourselves maybe we would stop being beggars of aid, maybe we could actually put together our resources and pay our debts. The issue is that we have fallen into the trap of a ‘crab bucket mentality’.

Crabs are caught from the sea alive and put into buckets by fishermen. The fishermen do not bother closing the buckets or killing the crabs because if one crab tries to climb to the top and escape, the other crabs will pull it back in. Africans are like crabs in a bucket. We will forever be in a perpetual cycle of poverty if we keep pulling each other back instead of lifting each other up.

The economists and the realists will then step in and say that if we focus on improving ourselves we will inevitably improve the continent as a whole. Improving ourselves does not mean keeping what is ours tightly clenched in our fists, because ultimately we complement each other. I am proud of being a Zimbabwean, but I am African first. My roots stretch from Cape to Cairo.

Keith Tinotenda Simbarashe Mundangepfupfu is a student at the African Leadership Academy. He blogs attheblogwithnopurpose.wordpress.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @whiplash16


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