The Inescapable Tasks Africa's Leaders Try to Ignore
by Mark P. Fancher
"The continent will be unable to address its many problems and take its place in the world as long as it is broken into 53 little pieces."
From the Mediterranean to The Cape of Good Hope, Africans face "refugee crises" that would not exist if the continent were politically unified, without borders. "For example, if state boundaries were erased in Africa, Algeria would be no more likely to have an ‘immigration crisis' than would the state of New York if large numbers of New Jersey residents were to cross the river in search of job opportunities in The Big Apple." Establishment of a "continent-wide socialist national structure" would go far toward providing "a solution to the problems that prompt neighbors to cross borders in the first place."
There was a time when the mere mention of the word "Algeria" triggered euphoric intoxication for many revolutionaries and would-be revolutionaries throughout Africa and the African Diaspora. This was due in no small part to the fact that in the 1960s, Martinique-born psychiatrist Frantz Fanon fired the imaginations of many by enlisting in the armed struggle for Algeria's independence, and then recording his observations and analyses in a series of books. The best known of his works, Wretched of the Earth, became a Bible of sorts for the Black Panther Party, and required reading for all other self-styled "Black militants." To top it all off, when Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver went into exile, he found in Algeria a sanctuary for freedom fighters from throughout the world.
Nearly five decades later, and after a series of government shake-ups, the Algeria of revolutionary dreams has been supplanted by a country that like so many other former colonies struggles in quiet desperation to cope with colonialism's seemingly unshakeable legacy. Not long ago, a BBC periodical reported that Algeria's economy, which is powered by oil and gas production, is booming. It has made it possible for the country to reduce its foreign debt by $23 billion over the last nine years. However, it is not possible for Algeria, or any African country to exist as an island, and the economic woes of the country's neighbors have a considerable impact on efforts to maintain domestic stability and continuing growth. A reported 30,000 Africans from neighboring countries attempt to migrate into Algeria each year in search of opportunities to work there or to book passage to Europe. The population influx has reportedly strained not only the economy, but also relations between Algerians and immigrants who are perceived to be taking limited jobs. On the other end of the continent, rampant xenophobic attacks have reportedly caused thousands of immigrants from Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other neighboring states to flee South Africa and return en masse to their home countries.
Although African countries have made valiant attempts since the defeat of colonialism to go it alone, parochialism does not fit Africa well. Not only does it retard economic growth, it also creates problems that would otherwise not exist. For example, if state boundaries were erased in Africa, Algeria would be no more likely to have an "immigration crisis" than would the state of New York if large numbers of New Jersey residents were to cross the river in search of job opportunities in The Big Apple. Whatever issues that might arise from such temporary population shifts would become very manageable concerns of a larger sovereign rather than the overwhelming headache of a relatively small micro-state. When African countries can't avoid the spillover problems of their neighbors, national borders are often an impediment to efficient resolution of those problems.
"Rampant xenophobic attacks have reportedly caused thousands of immigrants from Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other neighboring states to flee South Africa."
Since at least 1945, progressive African leaders have urged the dissolution of these borders and extolled the virtues and benefits of their vision of a united Africa. It is difficult to forget their analysis because in all likelihood, on each and every day, in every corner of the continent, the recorded voice of Bob Marley can be heard demanding: "Africa unite for the benefit of your people! Unite for it's later than you think!" Nevertheless, African unity has proven to be a most elusive objective. This is likely a source of great frustration for much of Africa's mass population because there is a growing awareness that the continent will be unable to address its many problems and take its place in the world as long as it is broken into 53 little pieces that are easily managed, manipulated and exploited by multi-national corporations and western states.
Many were encouraged when the African Union was established several years ago. The announced plans for a continent-wide parliament, a unified currency, relaxed border restrictions, and other projects appeared to be movement in the right direction. At least one of the African Union's planning documents designated the year 2025 as the target date for completion of "continental integration." The African Union has even included the African Diaspora in its plan. However, if the African Union has recognized that genuine continental integration will require complete and total nationalization of Africa's valuable natural resources, some of its publications suggest otherwise. An African Union document promoting an economic development forum that was scheduled for earlier this year stated: "As a means of fast-tracking Africa's economic integration, growth and development, the African Union has made private sector development a priority area. This is in line with strategies adopted in most parts of the continent, recognizing the private sector as the engine of growth, while the public sector takes on the role of greasing the engine and ensuring an enabling environment for the engine to effectively run."
This is not the path to the type of total economic independence that will allow genuine African unity. History makes plain that the mere presence of foreign and private corporations that dominate major resources creates not only division and wholesale leeching of national wealth, but also economic imbalances among the people of Africa that are the source of destabilizing class tension. A so-called "free market" permits foreigners to make mischief, facilitates the loss of Africans' control of their natural resources, and encourages heads of state to feed their greed at the expense of the mass population. Many neo-colonial puppet leaders are quite delighted with being big fish (with big Swiss bank accounts) in their little micro-state ponds. There is no way that they will lift even a finger to expel foreign corporations from their countries.
"A so-called ‘free market' permits foreigners to make mischief, facilitates the loss of Africans' control of their natural resources, and encourages heads of state to feed their greed."
The challenge doesn't end there. Among much of Africa's mass population, there is considerable national pride and jealous protection of local tradition and culture that, in the absence of an informed, comprehensive, continent-wide analysis likely causes a reluctance to surrender identification with micro-states. And then in the Diaspora, there are legions of Africans who don't buy the suggestion that, even if they feel no connection to Africa, much of the rest of the world presumes the intimate connection of all Black people everywhere to what is widely perceived to be a powerless, hopeless continent. When that is the perception, it is much easier to target African descended people for abuse and discrimination. Why not? Nobody who should presumably care about these people - including an entire continent - has the power to retaliate. Ignorance and confusion account for a lack of readiness by Africans at every level to see that a continent-wide socialist national structure and political unity do not require cultural homogenization or social disruption.
Ultimately, a new united Africa can be a place where the people of Algeria, South Africa and other African countries will not only open wide their arms to visitors from neighboring states, but also play an active role in developing a solution to the problems that prompt their neighbors to cross borders in the first place. The solution to the poverty, unemployment, illness and internecine violence that cause mass migrations can be found in a combination of both unity and socialism. Unfortunately, there are no significant signs that most African governments are anywhere close to embracing both elements of the solution.
Mark P. Fancher is a human rights lawyer, writer and member of the All-African People's Revolutionary Party. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org