On May 25, we celebrated Africa Day. This day was created to commemorate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963. Over the years, it has evolved to become a day to celebrate Africa’s culture and history, decolonisation and African unity.
The critical question is whether we should celebrate or critically reflect on these themes, because celebration without introspection is akin to joyous celebration in a fool’s paradise.
What culture and history do we celebrate, and which do we critic and learn from? Was decolonisation an end in itself or one step on a much longer journey? Are we any closer to achieving national unity, let alone African unity?
If we use Africa Day to honestly reflect on these questions, we will also be outlining a roadmap for our renaissance and defining a paradigm for African renewal.
Tragically, for the most part, the day has been hijacked by cultural nationalists of various shades to become a day of uncritical celebration. For instance, what African unity are we celebrating when many countries on the continent teeter on the brink of disintegrating into ethnic nations? Some, over the past couple of years have actually — justly or unjustly — seceded to form new nations: Eritrea from Ethiopia, South Sudan from Sudan. Somalia has broken into clan-based states.
There are, to various degrees of seriousness, secessionist rumblings in Cameroon, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya. What political history do we celebrate when our post-independence history has been one of oppression and exploitation?
Eastern Congo periodically erupts into bloodletting. In 1994 in Rwanda, a genocide left close to a million Tutsi dead. Countries like Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, still live under the yoke of murderous dictatorships.
Our post-colonial history is dominated by monsters like Mobutu, Idi Amin, Bokassa, Kamuzu Banda. Recently, militias have rained death and mayhem on many parts of Africa.
In many African countries, reports by auditors-general indicate that theft of public funds remains the single-most important cause of poverty. For instance, Kenya loses one-third of its annual budget to theft.
Just this week, the Daily Nation carried a report about the creation of special multibillion funds by past and current presidents, ostensibly to tackle socioeconomic challenges, but which mainly end up in people’s pockets. Yes, corruption has become sophisticated. We just put it in the budget!
We can continue to abstract African reality into a nice romantic poem to recite during Africa Day. We can continue to rationalise our reality in emotive cultural nationalist ideologies. We have done that for the past 60 years.
However, a more profitable and destiny-changing alternative is to use days like Africa Day to self-criticise and introspect. What have we got right and what have we got wrong? In that direction lies Africa’s salvation.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.