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Kaunda: Lessons on pan-Africanism


THIS is probably my most favourite quote in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s protest play, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi: “There are people, my child, with blessed blood. And when something happens to them, the wind and the rain and the sun will tell. Even hyenas! Their death can shake mountains and give life to the volcanoes long thought to be dormant”.

The words are spoken by the Woman to the Boy.

We were reminded of the pertinence of these words again, as we received the news of the passing on of one of the last of Africa’s greats of the liberation era. Many remember Kenneth Kaunda (KK) for various reasons. Today, I choose to remember Kaunda for the pan-Africanism he stood for.

There is little debate, that for the average African of today, ideology in all its variations does not occupy pride of place; instead, most driving Africa towards its upward and forwards trajectory simply chooses pragmatism that brings measurable results. But I believe pan-Africanism remains a cornerstone ideology with real value.

Pan-Africanism, the belief that African people share not merely a common history, but a common destiny, is beyond glorified intellectual conceptualism, but a function of basic humanism, which Kaunda himself stood for.

When KK, a name which he was fondly referred to, died, naturally, a string of messages from African leaders were channelled to Lusaka, paying tribute to him. The irony is that many of the leaders celebrate the man, but cannot bring themselves to live by his virtues and values.

For KK, “Tiyende pamodzi ndi mtima umo” (“Let’s walk together with one heart”), was beyond rhetoric. So convinced was he of this philosophy that at some point he housed up to five liberation movements in Lusaka, inviting the wrath of the apartheid establishment.

Lusaka effectively became the capital of southern Africa’s liberation. It would be interesting for someone to give us an insight into the economic cost of that action to Zambia. I mention this simply to illustrate the sacrifice. That pan-Africanism was brotherhood; a profound belief that one cannot be free when others are in bondage.

Regrettably, it does appear that most talk of pan-Africanism on the political stage suffers sincerity and commitment defects. This manifests even at regional endeavours. I submit that it is for this reason that we see many structured initiatives driven under the banner of pan-Africanism facing significant struggles.

The African Union (AU) has not fully stepped up to its full potential in taking Africa to the next stage beyond political liberation. Closer to home, Sadc has performed much worse.

Regional initiatives around free-trade and free-movement of people and labour, remain elusive. Aliko Dangote tells the story of how, as one of the first test recipients of the mooted African passport, he would be asked of a visa in an African country, having produced the African passport!

The development trajectory of the region on the political, economic and social fronts is difficult to imagine without Africans moving together.

It is a matter of practical realisation of this fact that ought to propel African harmony and a shared desire for that which is good and honourable.

It is that which the founding fathers had visionary perception of. It is that which we ought to carry forward, lest the work of Kaunda, Kwame Nkrumah and others remain unfinished business.

So when some are stealing elections, pan-African means we recognise that this is bad for the advancement of Africa, and we provide a check on each other. When there is unconstitutional change of government, we recognise that this is bad for the advancement of Africa, and we stop it. When there is abuse of the fellow African by another, more reprehensibly so if coming from a government or governments and their functionaries, we intervene and put a halt to that.

This is, to me, the highest strand of pan-Africanism — the belief that our destiny as Africans is tied, not just by accident of geographical connection, but also by aspirational destiny. As it was then, so it should be now: we cannot all be free when some among us have assumed the role of oppressor and subjugated the fellow African to second-class citizenship.

Ironically, many of our leaders of today still speak the rhetoric of pan-Africanism, and all the language of the liberation struggle, yet the true substance and essence of it seem lost.

Unless, we revert to the pan-Africanism of Kaunda and his class, what was the brotherhood of freedom in Africa may quickly be turned into the brotherhood of oppression and power protectionism, a far cry from the ethos of the pan-Africanism and humanism that Kaunda and those of his class, like Nkrumah, pioneered and championed.

The spirit of pan-Africanism of the Kaunda strand ought to manifest in African leaders and Africans more broadly, being brothers’ keepers, which include channelling each other towards the paths of freedom, justice, equality and dignity.

That would be a living memory to the fallen greats, beyond naming roads after them, which we have mastered. Africans in general and African leaders in particular, must take this moment to renew the commitment to reverse the damage done to our shared destiny by pseudo-democrats, autocrats and despots, in the full knowledge that the destructive and nefarious acts of these have consequences far beyond what the geographic boundaries of the nation state can contain.

As a Zimbabwean, I, of course, say this with some self-absorbed intent: I desire to see pan-Africanism manifesting in Africans in general and African leaders in particular, calling out man-made democratic regression and constitutional crisis within our borders caused by an insatiable desire to amass and maintain political power, to the detriment of the country’s future. The peer checks appear absent, as indeed, Zimbabwe’s checks on regression elsewhere on the continent.

Rest now Kenneth Kaunda, an unmatched pan-Africanist. May your spirit awaken in Africa’s young!

Kika is a human rights and constitutional lawyer. He is the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

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