National interests, protectionism and xenophobia obstacles to Pan-Africanism?

National interests, protectionism and xenophobia obstacles to Pan-Africanism?

(Reporting from Abidjan, Ivory Coast). Unless your country has some kind of visa arrangements with Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), if you are not an ECOWAS citizen, you will need a visa to enter the country of Didier Drogba. And that visa will cost you 100 euros (65 000 FCFA, US$113, around R1000).

ECOWAS is the Economic Community for West African States, a regional bloc of 15 countries whose citizens are free to enter each other’s countries with only an identity card.

If you are in Kinshasa, DRC, and you wish to enter South Africa, a visa will cost you about US$450 (around R4500) in the black market, whereby middlemen get their share and pay the rest to the embassy employee to quickly process your visa. You are likely to be met with a barrage of sophisticated conditions if you try the ‘direct’ route.

In other African countries, it is almost impossible to enter as visa conditions for fellow Africans are too complicated to meet, while in others an African traveller could be refused entry if he/she cannot answer ‘satisfactorily’ a long list of ‘boring’ questions asked by an immigation officer.

Other countries, such as South Africa, where the current African Union Commission chair is originated from, are just not interested to deliver a visa to Nigerian passport holders, regardless of their social status.

While West Africa seems friendly and welcoming, Southern Africa and North Africa look like fortresses, and appear hostile, racist and xenophobic. Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Libya and Morocco are just a few examples.

Moving from one African country to another is much more problematic and complicated than getting a job or even putting food on the table.

Free movement of people and goods in Africa is still a big problem 50 years after independence from Europe’s colonial masters.

Many analysts would agree that these few case studies constitute a tangible proof and solid argument that Pan-Africanism and its twin brother African Renaissance are nothing but empty words based on rhetoric which will miserably fail as long as these ideologies are still clouded by national interests, protectionism, xenophobia and blind nationalism.

And if you ask anyone in the streets of African cities and villages, nobody seems to understand the real meaning and impact of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.

African political leaders that continue to cry out loud that Pan-Africanism is the way to go to unite Africa are either drunk or just ignore what Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah had in mind when he invented this ideology.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) recently hit the jackpot when it said that some debates about Pan-Africanism have often bordered on idealistic expediency with no clear and concrete methodology towards that vision.

“Is Pan-Africanism achievable? If it is, what concrete steps should be taken to move the continent towards that desired unity? ” Emmanuel Kisiangani, ISS senior researcher for conflict prevention and risk analysis division, asks in AU and Pan-Africanism: Beyond rhetoric.

Nairobi-based Kisiangani suggests that the unity of Africans must be rooted in the mobilisation of the African masses across the continent’s artificial borders.

“The power of African citizenship can be harnessed through the free movement of people, goods and services, obviously within agreed-upon rules.

“Unfortunately, today the majority of African countries have put in place impediments to uniting African people with expensive visas and strict immigration rules.

“Sometimes there is genuine fear that the free movement of people, goods and services might result in job losses and increased pressure on housing and infrastructure, among others, in recipient countries. ”

It is often heard in the streets of South Africa that African foreigners are taking locals’ jobs and houses, and putting so much pressure on the country’s  public healthcare system.

Overall, Kisiangani continues, if pan-Africanism is a socio-political world view/movement that encourages the solidarity and economic progress of Africans, it remains difficult to reconcile the rhetoric about Pan-Africanism with the ambivalence with which African leaders seem to regard building genuine African unity.

“This means that the Pan-Africanist project must focus on African people, rather than African states, ” he advises.

Photo: AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

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