Writing the Struggle – Nyerere’s elusive dream: African unity

The slain Libyan leader Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi spoke passionately about African unity in the form of creating a United States of Africa. Most recently, President Robert Mugabe also hinted on the same. Unsurprisingly, the late Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere spoke about it 47 years ago saying his fear was that Africa would fail to realise this dream.
The late Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, was one of the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and he spent his entire life pushing for the attainment of this goal.
He died before this goal was achieved and until today, this goal is just as elusive as it was then.
In his speech delivered in Zambia in 1966 when former president Kenneth Kaunda became the University of Zambia chancellor, Nyerere expressed his great concern about the failure by African leaders to foster unity and move the continent.
In short, Nyerere spoke about how various African nationalisms conflicted with pan-Africanism.
He pointed out that while Africa had by then achieved much, the road ahead was still long and that he believed “there is a danger that we might now voluntarily surrender our greatest dream of all”.
“For it was as Africans that we dreamed of freedom; and we thought of it for Africa. Our real ambition was African freedom and African government.
“The fact that we fought area by area was merely a tactical necessity. We organised ourselves into the Convention People’s Party, the Tanganyika African National Union, the United National Independence Party, and so on, simply because each local colonial government had to be dealt with separately,” he explained.
Nyerere asked whether “Africa shall maintain this internal separation”, if at all we are to proudly stand up and declare that “I am an African”.  
“It is not a reality now. For the truth is that there are now 36 different nationalities in free Africa, one for each of the 36 independent states – to say nothing of the still under colonial or alien domination.
“Each state is separate from the others – each is a sovereign entity.
“And this means that each state has a government which is responsible to the people of its own area – and to them only; it must work for their particular well-being or invite chaos within its territory,” he said.
According to Nyerere, while pan-Africanism demands African consciousness and loyalty, the fact that pan-Africanists have to contend with developing their nations even by joining hands with erstwhile colonisers brings an element of conflict.
“In one sense, of course, the development of part of Africa can only help Africa as a whole.
The establishment of a University College in Dar es Salaam, and of a University in Lusaka, means that Africa has two extra centres of higher education for its 250 million people.
“Every extra hospital means more health facilities for Africa; every extra road, railway or telephone line means that Africa is pulled closer together.
And who can doubt but that the railway from Zambia to Tanzania, which we are determined to build, will serve African unity, as well as being to the direct interest of our two countries?
“Unfortunately, however, that is not the whole story. Schools and universities are part of an educational system – a national educational system.
“They promote, and they must promote, a national outlook among the students. Lessons are given on the government, the geography, and the history, of Tanzania, or of Zambia.
“Loyalty to the national constitution, to the elected leaders, to the symbols of nationhood – all these things are encouraged by every device,” he further explained.
While all this was inevitable, Nyerere said, the colonial boundaries are a hindrance and make it impossible for those from other countries to access all these facilities.
“Our present boundaries are – as has been said many times – the result of European decisions at the time of the Scramble for Africa.
“They are senseless; they cut across ethnic groups, often disregard natural physical divisions, and result in many different language groups being encompassed within a state.
“If the present states are not to disintegrate it is essential that deliberate steps be taken to foster a feeling of nationhood.
“Otherwise our present multitude of small countries – almost all of us too small to sustain a self-sufficient modern economy – could break up into even smaller units – perhaps based on tribalism. Then a further period of foreign domination would be inevitable.
Our recent struggles would be wasted,” he said. (to be continued)

July 2013
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