HomeOpinionThe tragedy of African brotherhood

The tragedy of African brotherhood

By Edmore Munongo

SEVERAL brotherhood associations have occurred throughout the history of mankind and some have even risen to cultist levels. All this has occurred as a result of the strong human belief that your brother is the closest person to your natural existence.


In the environment that I grew up in at the University of Zimbabwe, brotherhood defined a relationship where you can share virtually everything — and I mean everything. For fear of being labelled as a feminist, the reference to the word brotherhood in this article will also refer to sisterhood.
Some of the most known brotherhoods include the Catholic Marist Brotherhood which left a mark in the education systems in our country. Remember the ever popular Marist brothers of Nyanga and the infallible Marist brothers of Kutama. And even the great Gokomere High School is a product of this mighty brotherhood.

The African American blood brotherhood epitomises a different level of brotherhood. This is a brotherhood which led to the union called the Crusader whose purpose was to assert the rights of the African Americans and defend them against lynching and racist attacks.

After Ghana got its independence in 1957, its leader Kwame Nkrumah became a champion of African brotherhood. He preached the gospel of neocolonialism and to his intelligence was born the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU).

Neo-colonialism, according to Nkrumah, was that concept where the former colonial masters were now putting on a different jacket of aid  and  this was supposed to be reciprocated with “democracy and the rule of law” in those countries that had to receive the aid. This is the concept that brought us the Bretton Woods institutions like the IMF and the World Bank.

Nkrumah’s African brotherhood dream has become a “see no evil hear no evil” organisation when the other brother’s actions are at question. The biggest victims of the brotherhood have been those people of Africa who are in the troubled areas.

When Kenya had its problems after the elections of 2007 and many were killed, the AU that Nkrumah gave birth to could not say anything for fear of offending the African brother. This marked a tragedy of the African brotherhood. Here we had a brotherhood of the few who are in a position of authority, who use their close network to protect each other in the name of guarding against neo-colonialism.

When Zimbabwe went through the same process, the AU had to go against the report of their observer team which was led by the former Nigerian leader  Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo declared that the elections were not free and fair. But for fear of offending their fellow brother who was under siege, he was accused of being influenced by Tony Blair. At the end of the day, the people of Zimbabwe suffered.

The economy was put under sanctions and hundreds of thousands were driven into the diaspora where they have to live as second class citizens. They had to be hosted by other African brothers who view them as a cowardly bunch that failed to rise against their own leadership. But, what can the ordinary people do to break such a powerful brotherhood?

Thabo Mbeki, the recalled former President of South Africa, will be noted in history for his commitment to the legacy of the African brotherhood. This he confirmed when he first delivered his famous “I am an African” speech to the South African Parliament when he was still deputy president. On May 18 1996, Mbeki delivered what others have called the best speech of his life.

Part of the speech reads:

“My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert…

“I have seen our country torn asunder as … my people, engaged one another in a titanic battle, the one redress a wrong that had been caused by one to another and the other, to defend the indefensible. I have seen what happens when one person has superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image.”

One wonders if “The African” really remembered these great words when he said there was no crisis in Zimbabwe. After being tasked by fellow brothers to help fellow Africans at the crossroads, Mbeki went to Harare. The one-time Jewel of Africa and bread basket of Sadc was reeling under inflation of more than one billion, and the currency was worthless.

Supermarkets which used to be awash with food and clothes were selling firewood. Still he came out and said there was no crisis in Zimbabwe. How exactly does this man define a crisis? Probably to him a crisis was only going to be an earthquake or a volcanic eruption with lava flowing through the streets of the once great city of Harare. All this was done to try and protect the African brother whose survival was under threat.

The same Mbeki was sent by the group of African brothers to Sudan to help the suffering people of Darfur, and to the amazement of those who are being woken up by the sounds of machine guns every day, those whose relative walk through the land mines day and night and those whose permanent homes have become the refugee tents, the man said there was no war in Sudan!

Do we have to sink so low to defend our brothers? How do we define our brothers? African Brotherhood is a betrayal like the Ibgo community that betrayed Okonko, the hero of the great African novel Things Fall Apart written by Chinua Achebe.

According to Achebe, when Okonko took the first step to fight for his fatherland, he looked around and from the responses of his fellow countrymen, he realised they were not going to war, and he went away to commit suicide. This was betrayal and the climax of a tragedy.

Edmore Munongo is a former UZ student working in Botswana. — newzimbabwe.com.

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