“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 African. I see myself as an intersecting set inside a Venn diagram. I am too diverse to be an isolated set.
Generally 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. People 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 lets kick out the oppressor!
However, what I fear is that my generation have not broken free the chains of the oppressor. The very fact that if a Nigerian and Kenyan are having a conversation, where 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 offense 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.
Today I walked up to a Kenyan friend of mine and I asked them “would you be offended if I commented about the tribal violence that occurred during the post-election period?” and they said yes. I had not even posed a specific question and they did not know what exact comment I was going to pass. However if someone had asked me about 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. Ideals that we have grown upon and refuse to see past.
When I meet someone they feel they must tell me what country they come from because they are proud of their country. 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 or beat us up with a belt or anything close by. I know you understand the rot of corruption. I know you appreciate good food and want to see your country prosper. Because you are African we become one. We are like puzzle pieces different but 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 religion should not separate us. Instead as Africans we should unite behind our diversity.
The more we keep fighting amongst ourselves the more easily those from outside can come and loot.
When I read Kwame Nkrumah Africa Must Unite I honestly thought that was a good message. 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 we were told that because I am lighter and fairer I am superior is the day we became slaves.
The only way to change this is to start knowing that by virtue of you being African then we ride the same boat. GDPs maybe different but as far as I know all countries on the African continent are developing countries. If we worked and traded more amongst 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. The Economists and the realists will then come in and say that if we focus on improving ourselves we will inevitably improve the continent and motivate others. Yes I agree but improving ourselves does not mean we should keep what is our tightly clenched in our fists because ultimately we complement each other.
Do not get me wrong. I am proud of being who I am, a Zimbabwean but I am more in tune with my African roots. So the next time you introduce yourself to a guest or a stranger I hope you say “Hi my name is and I am an African from…”