Geography, not Marx, made me a pan-African

Tuesday January 8 2019

Dancers perform on a map of Africa

Dancers perform on a map of Africa during an Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) final match at the Stade de l'Amitie in Libreville, Gabon on February 12, 2012. The United States of Africa is a dream I can get behind. PHOTO | AFP 

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So: History. Don’t tell anyone but I think I have made the turn. The United States of Africa is a dream I can get behind.

Every so often, it is nice to revisit the East African Community project just to test how it is. Still think political federation is a terrible idea, except maybe for the smaller territories, kind of.

Still rooting for the freedoms of movement, speech and physical safety along with justice for people, anti-tribalism combined with pride in identity, inter-country animal and environmental preservation projects, Kenyan drive, Rwandese innovation, Tanzanian stability, Ugandan smarts and Sudanese… um… Sudanese peace?

Yet I have not committed to reading or thinking about what foundations lie behind these dreams of a united East Africa forging the way for a united Africa in a deeper sense.

To be fair, when you are Tanzanian, you are raised on a passel of tangled ideals that don’t always make sense but sound fantastic.

Uhuru na Umoja (freedom and unity) is our motto: Who can even begin to argue against that? We’ve even got the gender equality locked up because our coat of arms has a dude and a lady.

So keep this in mind when I admit that I started my semi-education in African history with Heart of Darkness and ended with Mbeki’s African Renaissance concept.

Okay, not really. There may have been a period of obsession with Dogon cosmology accompanying an intense Shaka Zulu phase and a deep Sundiata fascination. But apart from that, and the ongoing interest in the social and political fate of pygmies living in the Congo or the social and political positioning of South African Coloureds (yes, it’s an actual correct term for a particular cultural grouping of people and if you try to say it’s a racist term, you already don’t get it) I didn’t bother much with African history. Because who does.

Did you know that the royal family of Ethiopia claims to be able to trace its ancestry to King Solomon (Suleiman) and that they have the oldest churches and possibly the deepest, most unadulterated forms of the Old Religions of the Book that still exist? Jesus is never a white man in Ethiopian iconography, something I find comforting.

But, we are talking history here. My formal education lost me at the part where somebody was trying to invade Russia (again) in the middle of winter and I switched immediately to geography instead. We studied whelks, it is true. But we also counted people at crossroads and debated the politics of environmentalism and of course studied maps.

Turns out when you can read a contour map, borders become a bit silly. Geography, not Marx or neoliberalism, made the dream of a borderless Africa more tangible than anything since. With its strictures on respecting all life, with a little help from biology, and respecting cultures, with a little help from history, it made sense. And like much academia, it was intrinsically pacific. I was ruined.

…Gosh, this was supposed to be about history and its role in unifying Africa? Forgive. Come again next week.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]