By Gershom Ndhlovu
Mbita Chitala has burnt his fingers over the issue of the United States of Africa or the Federal Union of African States, whichever way one may want to call it. Chitala may have a point in arguing for the quick implementation of the African government and questioning the apparent procrastination of some African leaders.
“It is unacceptable for African leaders to continue procrastinating or making lame selfish excuses of going to consult their peoples and so on such as has been the case in the last ten years,” writes Chitala.
I have argued before on this column why Africa is not ready for such an undertaking ranging from economic limitations to socio-cultural issues that need to be addressed.
The approach taken by Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, noble as it may be, is ivory tower-ish in which only privileged high-level politicians such as presidents, foreign ministers and jet-set diplomats engage in the discourse.
At the risk of naming countries and places, an exercise that landed Brother Mbita into presidential hot coals, I think that residents of Old Naledi in Gaborone, Medina in Accra, Matonge in Kinshasa, or indeed, Kwacha in Kitwe where I hail from, do not understand much about the African Union in its present form, nor do they have an idea about the proposed federation. What is more is that they do not care much about it as they grapple with issues of food.
This is an idea that the Kwame Nkrumahs, Haile Sellasies, Jomo Kenyattas, Ben Bellas envisaged just under 50 years ago when they founded the Organisation of African Unity. What they probably did not think about is the economic dynamics that have placed African countries at such disparities you would think you are on different planets. Lamentably, even the regional economic organisations such as SADC and COMESA which are supposed to be the building blocks of a successful US of Africa, are at loggerheads with each other.
The same is true on the political sphere where countries, even those that had been stable before are crumbling like Kenya, are still weighed down by undemocratic tendencies. Achieving internal democracy among those countries that wish to ascend to the federation should be uppermost in their minds.
The proponents of the federation also need to go further if they have to achieve anything tangible and they can only do this if they start from a cultural standpoint.
Much as I understand that culture is a dicey issue in that even in Zambia with 73 ethnic groups it is difficult to come up with a “Zambian” cultural blueprint, it can be done through literature, drama, music and sport which easily bring ordinary citizens together who can then be preached to about what binds us rather than what divides us as a continent.
The African Union could start by regularly holding cultural festivals along the lines of the phenomenon Festac ’77, the second Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture held in Nigeria in 1977. In the process, participants could pick up on the positive elements of the federation and eventually the idea would percolate to the ordinary citizens.
Anything to do with the proposed federation couched in the absence of culture will lamentably fail. As Chitala himself points out, there is too much Anglophone vs. Francophone, Mahgreb vs. Sub-Sahara, and Muslim vs. Christian rather than that we are all Africans.
Sadly, at the micro-level there are issues arising of the aLuo vs. the aKikuyu in Kenya. Unfortunately, it is the same elsewhere on the continent where neighbouring ethnic groups are in conflict with one another.
The gargantuan nature of the Federal Union of African States will not help matters considering that economically strong nations will want to dominate the affairs of the government that will be so formed much to the disadvantage of poorer countries or regions.
Colonel Gaddafi and his acolytes should give this issue much thought and permeate all spheres of the continent. It should not just be a question of octogenarian former leaders who were present at the founding of the OAU in 1963 saying they want the US of Africa realised in their lifetime.
The Honourable Minister of Information, Nominated Member of Parliament, Chief Government Spokesman and MMD aspiring presidential candidate Mike Mulongoti has put his foot in it yet again by suggesting that those who wished to watch the Africa Cup of Nations finals should do so from neighbours or from pubs with pay TV.
This is because “It will show if you pay” ZNBC failed to pay K5 billion for the broadcasting rights for CAN Ghana games. Where the extortionate TV licence paid through the equally extortionate ZESCO bill goes, apart from the lack of, not poor, planning by the ZNBC management is not my concern here.
Mulongoti’s statement reminded me of two things. First my origins in Kwacha were as late as the 1980s only very few people had electricity in their homes and we had to watch TV through the drawn curtains of the few neighbours who boasted of black and white TV sets.
If the owners of the house were in a good mood on a particular day they asked us to first go and bath before they allowed us in to watch Roger Ramjet, Flintstones and Maya.
Secondly, he reminded me of journalese, the language of journalists in the newsroom in which we always said someone who claimed to have been misquoted only wished he never said what he was quoted on.
Mulongoti should know that he is not only a policy maker but he is also a news maker such that whatever he says, no matter in what context, falls within the two categories. If he does not mention floods in an interview as the reason why government cannot pay for TV rights, he should not expect the journalist to guess what he means.
The question is where does self-regulation for journalists come in if he is not clear himself? No, Sir, spare us your poor judgement on issues of national importance. Some of the journalists you are trying to denigrate are probably more qualified than you are.