We welcome the opposition of the world, because we are determined to see the battle through.
Africa’s battle-cry is not yet heard -Marcus Garvey.
American politician Sarah Palin was the butt of every joke a few years ago when it was claimed that she asked if South Africa was part of the ‘African country’.
While in Ethiopia earlier this year, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech referred to by the Whitehouse as ‘Remarks by President Obama to the People of Africa’.
These, despite what is believed to consistent messaging that ‘Africa is not a country’ but a continent of 54 diverse, real, and culturally different countries with distinct markets. Smart marketers now know that a ‘one size fits all’ campaign will never work in ‘Africa’. How a product is marketed in South Africa for instance, will not necessarily work Rwanda. Ask SAB Miller, or Nandos or Iway Africa.
But Africa’s firmly drawn borders are perhaps the continent’s largest undoing.
Africa should be a country, after all, weren’t its’ borders drawn up at the Berlin Conference in 1885?
This article, however, is not about a continent with one president or one currency as illusionarily envisaged by Kwame Nkruma, Robert Sobukwe or Muammar Gaddafi. It isn’t about flung Cape Townians dancing off-beat to Lingala tunes from the Congo. It is about what is now becoming a powerful case for Africa to digest global matters facing the continent as a single entity, with a collective voice, a common African position.
The call for a united Africa is not about the utopian one dream, one aspiration, one challenge, and one solution for all.
When South Sudan is facing civil strife, Africa is not in war. A corrupt Kenya isn’t a Corrupt Africa. Criminals terrorising Johannesburg do not cross borders. But we have accepted that the troubles of South Europe are isolated, that Russia is the bully, France the sickman and Italy the schizophrenic patient of Europe without tarring the whole continent with the same brush. We accept India is not China, South Korea is not North Korea, Singapore is not Indonesia. But they are all in Asia.
The sad stereotypical irony is that Africa’s perceived oneness can be paradoxically beneficial and crippling. The advantages are the regional building blocs. In 2007, Thabo Mbeki reminded Gaddafi, who was obsessed about the United State of Africa and himself as president, that you cannot start from the roof. Mbeki told Ghanaian students that regional economic blocs should be strengthened first. In fact, when Africa was at its strongest before the Western plunder, was buttressed by powerful kingdoms at regional level
The formation and strengthening of trade blocks such as the East Africa Community (EAC), The Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a good start for the continent. These power blocs are already breaking borders, negotiating trade agreements, positioning markets and developing infrastructure. A case in point is the Standard Gauge Railway of East Africa, a multi-billion dollar world-class rail project that is in essence a product of the EAC. It is said the sheer size and projected impact to trade of the SGR will lift Kenya’s GDP by 1.5%.
Africa’s fragmented markets do not give big business sleepless nights. But a market of a billion people; will definitely attract the largest corporates in the world, – This is how a poor China [not a continent though] transformed itself into the workshop of the world, and India – under Narend Modi – is trying to position itself as an alternative market.
The world’s ignorant perception of Africa continues to hurt its efforts. Africa’s lack of deliberate marketing efforts and brand positioning continues to cast it as the ‘dark’ continent. The African Union on its part has been lethargic in telling Africa’s new story.
There are currently only fifteen African countries involved in civil war or experiencing post-war conflict. But the world’s image of Africa is a hotbed of war and crime. This image has lasted for almost two centuries even though almost the entire Europe was ravaged by war hardly 60 years ago.
A recent protest letter by angry Africans to the producers of CBS’s 60 Minutes on Africa, a show that partly covered the Ebola crisis accused the media house of being skewed in its coverage by interviewing very few Africans, instead preferring to speak to foreigners. That is, often, how Africa’s story is told. The letter in part said:
‘In a series of recent segments from the continent, 60 Minutes has managed, quite extraordinarily, to render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible.’
When Ebola broke, even the safari lodges perched deep in the East African savannah suffered. Hotels in South Africa thousands of Kilometers away were also hit hard by cancellations.
The world reported on Ebola as an African epidemic, the Economist called it ‘ The ignorance epidemic’. The World Bank reported ‘cumulative losses of more than US$500 million across the (African) region in 2015, outside the three directly affected countries…losses could be closer to the higher end of the estimate at US$6 billion’. By the way, tap water in Johannesburg is more drinkable than in Paris.
Everyday, Africa wakes up to a reminder that the continent needs collectively defend its interests and actively create new perceptions.
With new oil, coal and other natural resource finds, perhaps money can buy respect.
But Africa will need to earn its place on the table by reinforcing Africa’s new position as the fastest growing continent. But growth alone is worthless unless it’s translated into plucking out millions out of poverty and narrowing inequality gap.
Kofi Annan, in July’s edition of The Africa Report called on Africans to approach the December 2015 talks on a new global climate treaty with a single voice, ‘to speak as one, in clear narrative that should reflect the ‘African position”.
The journey has begun. The recent signing of the free trade area by 26 countries across the SADC, EAC and COMESA promises to unite the trade zones into a single new zone by 2017. That’s a market of almost half a million people, strength in numbers is perhaps Africa’s strength, hence; ‘Africa should be a country’.
As the Suthu Proverb goes “A divided pride [of lions] can be defeated by a wounded buffalo.