Think National but Act Continental (by Babatunde Fagbayibo)

Posted: March 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

The American poet, Countee Cullen, in his famous poem, “Heritage”, quizzed, “What is Africa to me?” This loaded question continues to dominate the pattern of thought in both the diaspora and on the African continent. Answering this question will require a quantum of philosophical engagement, a matter that is outside the scope of this short piece. Rather, this piece is concerned with the intrinsic link between the national and the continental. In other words, I will premise my answer to Cullen’s question on the imperative of not sacrificing a continental consciousness on the altar of myopic nationalistic agenda. So, you are a South African, Nigerian or Tanzanian, good for you, but to what extent does this national badge make you a good and useful African?
To think national is simple. In fact that is what we do daily. We have been socialised into the colonial constructs we call states. We carry national passports and identity cards, eke out a living within these “states”, support the national team, mouth patriotic slogans, and even exhibit xenophobic tendencies against those who come from other post-colonies. National emblems and insignias continue to reinforce our national identities. So we are quick to operate on stereotypical views. We attribute habits and behaviours to people from other countries, and invariably think that we are better than them. This is us thinking national. Let me be clear, I am not saying that it is necessarily bad to think national; there are indeed positive elements to it. What I am trying to emphasise is that when we build our national inclination on negative, and sometime violent, paradigms, we incrementally destroy the basis of acting continental. How can you act continental when you allow yourself to be shaped by a nationalistic prism that detests the other? Our so called leaders have not been helpful in this regard. They gather in Addis Ababa, or wherever they have an African Union summit, annually to discuss the essence of acting continental, yet they fail to implement policies that stimulate and enhance a truly continental behaviour. For example no serious effort has been put into ensuring free movement of persons across the continent or strengthening the AU, a body that has the potential of enhancing and entrenching a continental behaviour.

Some would argue that the mere fact that we all consider ourselves as Africans is a strong indication that we are already acting continental. This is only true to the extent that it has laid some foundation of some sort. The fact that we refer to ourselves as Africans is only the beginning of the journey. It is in no manner the composite definition of “acting continental”. It is at the very best symptomatic. To act continental is broader and more substantive than just a mere consciousness of an African identity.

What then does it mean to act continental? To act continental begins with the burning passion to contribute to the measures that underline African unity. We are not all millionaires that can contribute to projects, but we can individually and collectively engage in advocacy measures. The reality of a state-centric global order means that a national identity cannot be easily discarded. Our national identity should be engaged through a continental prism. Put Africa first. Treat fellow Africans with respect and dignity. Some of us live in countries that have express and/or implied xenophobic policies; this should not be an excuse to get sucked into such system. Engage your governments on the need to eliminate such policies. Start or join organisations that advocate tolerance and respect for immigrants. Be part of projects which highlight not only an African identity but also the benefits of such identity. Emphasise on our common and shared values rather than reinforcing nonsensical stereotypes. Engage with the private sector on the need to fund continental structures and projects. Such structures could include online networks, funding transnational civic organisations, exchange programmes and internships in other African countries. If you are a scientist or innovator, invent products that are sub-regional and/or continental in outlook and implementation.

Do not allow the sluggishness and inaction of our political elites to limit your thoughts and action. Start, and hope that your action will inspire them to eventually move their clay feet. Even better still, be resolute in the conviction that your contribution(s) will culminate in something solid and substantial. Ours is a continent that requires serious attention, and it is your duty to kick-start and consolidate such approach. It is your duty to think national but act continental. Only through this can we realise the cherished dream of continental unity.


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