Sunday, June 9, 2013

African Unity at 50 or the Burden of our Nationalities

It was a very impressive month of May for me this year. I followed the 50th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union.  The round tables, the semi-circles and the plenaries.  Most of the debates are decades old and the same questions that were asked 50 years ago are still on the  table. They have aged but are still alive.

Incidentally, I travelled to Stockholm, Sweden about the same time. Like is the case in many of these gatherings, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and SIDA - The Swedish International Development Agency, the organisers of the Stockholm Internet Forum, had done a great job of  making sure that key Freedom of/on the Internet figures from Africa were there. From East to West, North to South, via Central.. they were folks from all across Africa. There were more Africans there, than we had at the Africa Internet Governance Forum in Cairo, last year.

I met Jacob Akol, from South Sudan, in Stockholm. He gave me a book, with a very provocative title. I committed to reading it and since I have been traveling since then, I have been reading bits and chunks of it.  It turned out to to be not just an impressive book, but also one that came in time. Akol, in his memoirs really did a region by region experience of Africa, recounting very sordid experiences of human suffering, resilience, wickedness and corruption. He has been to almost all 54 countries of Africa.
I am happy I asked for an autograph before even I opened the book to begin reading. I will cherish it. And yes, if you see "Burden of Nationality" anywhere, buy several copies, one for yourself, and for others.

My other May experience was in the visit of a friend. Of Zimbabwean origin, this friend had to visit a Francophone country in West Africa. Granted, that particular country did not have a consular representation in Harare. So my friend asked, and yes, you guessed right, she had to go to the French embassy to get this visa:
For frequent travelers, one can see that this kind of "République Française Visa" was the ones used at about the same time the Organisation of African Unity existed. Before France and other European countries started issuing  the Schengen travel visas.

I asked me several questions:
  1. So in May 2013, an African national still goes to a European embassy to apply for visa to visit another African country?
  2. So after so many years of "Independence", African countries are still being diplomatically represented by "colonial masters"?
  3. What is the meaning of  Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if ECOWAS countries cannot issue visas for sister countries in locations where they do not have consular representations?  In the case of my Swedish visa, it was issued by the Belgian embassy in Abidjan
My other "burden of nationality" story in May 2013 was that of  a Nigerian IT Professional, officer in a Pan-African Foundation for IT, who was booked for the eLearning Africa  Conference in Namibia. After having obtained the Namibian visa, he now had to obtain a transit visa from the Republic of South Africa. The total duration of his transit, going and coming, was not up to 24 hours and he was not going to be stepping out of the airport in Joburg.  He was certain the transit visa was not going to be a problem and packed for the trip, planning to pick it up and head straight to the airport for check in. He was refused the South African transit visa. Yes, the trip was called off.

This one really broke me. While Heads of States are feasting and congratulating each other on the 50th anniversary of African Union, or is Unity.. everyday Africans, like me, are asking questions:
  1. What exactly is African Unity?
  2. Why  do we still go through strenuous and humiliating visa procedures for travel within Africa, after enduring the humiliations inflicted on us by non-African countries?
  3. When will African Union become a union of citizens and not of heads of states?
It is June 9, 2013 today. There is talk for a vision and an African  agenda  for 2063.  What can we say, if we look back from the scramble for Africa in 1884, to the days of the slave trade, the Independence of the 1960s,  and all these years of "freedom"...

The first  50 years are gone and next slate of 50 years is being discussed:
  1. Will you be around and alive in 2063? Many of us will not
  2. Will Africans still  be blaming their colonial masters for everything?
  3. How many African Heads of state will still be battling "imperialists" and "Western neo-colonists"
  4. When can  Africans travel freely, at least in Africa?
Simply put, when are we, in Africa, going to get rid of the burden of our nationalities?

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