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Africa Day reminds us to unite across boundaries

The rapid spread of Covid-19 has heightened our consciousness to the value of life and of its fragility. For most people, the current environment has evoked a desire to live in harmony. It is thus apt that the importance of silencing the guns in Africa, in this year, should form an intrinsic part of the celebration of Africa Day on May 25.

The outcry for peace is a challenge to the current war mongers, whose conduct mocks those who founded the Organisation of African Unity on this day in 1963. The prevalence of civil war and political instability plaguing many countries on the continent undermines the great aspirations of the likes of Presidents Nkrumah, Bella and Nyerere, who were part of a visionary leadership that successfully led our struggles against colonialism; promising that freedom will result in the welfare and well-being of the continent’s peoples.

But separatist tendencies increase as people coalesce around commonalities due to frustrations caused by rising poverty and perceived or real biases in the distribution of social and economic resources and activities. Anger and hatred arise as the sources of suffering are attributed to a demonised “other”.

The noble, historical suppression of the importance of ethnicity, race and religion in the interest of nation-building and social cohesion is eroding as that which individuals regard as key to their identity, regardless of how porous and variable such constructs might be, resurfaces, forcing governments to embrace and promote cultural pluralism in order to maintain peace and stability and to manage the rise in ethnic-related demands and religious extremism.

The establishment of the OAU championed a pan-Africanism, which, as stated in the founding charter, sought to “promote understanding among our peoples and cooperation among our states in response to the aspirations of our peoples for brotherhood and solidarity, in a larger unity transcending ethnic and national differences”. This vision of a unified African people experienced a renaissance in 2002 as it transformed into the African Union, with institutional vehicles such as the Pan-African Parliament and the African Peer Review Mechanism and programmatic expressions through its specialised technical committees and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, amongst others.

In 2018 we witnessed the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area with South Africa assuming the head of its secretariat in March 2020; the objective of which is to advance an integrated market in Africa. Currently we are noticing a remarkable cohesion across the continent to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in scientifically sound, culturally tailored, public health actions and innovative, effective preventative interventions.

But the dreams of our forbearers become more and more distant when governments promote narrow nationalism through, among others, imposing regulations that restrict the employment of legal foreign nationals. The selective distribution of social support services, especially food parcels, to only those that can demonstrate citizenship, is cold-heartedly cruel and anti-African.

The African humanism or Ubuntu, driven by the sentiment “I am what I am because of who we all are” cannot be restored when the peoples of this continent hoard resources and label those who come from outside their colonially imposed nation-state borders, as the enemy.

A foundation for peace requires a redirecting of focus from a quest for personal comfort to that of addressing the socio-economic needs of citizens on the continent in a non-partisan and participatory manner. This requires the creation of enabling conditions based on values, attitudes and behaviours that reflect and inspire a spirit of generosity imbued with the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. Citizens that are driven by ethical values and mutual respect; who champion creativity and cultural inventiveness; and engage in unhindered spaces of dialogue, are the engines of development, and accordingly are the most capable enablers of peace.

Fundamental too, is the importance of transcending ethnicism and narrow nationalism; for our collective aspirations as a continent cannot be achieved if we are obsessed with protecting resources that are within the borders that define nation-states. The culture of individualism and materialism should be replaced with the reignition of the more communal cultural practices that are intrinsically African.

A sustainable culture of peace in Africa must be built on partnerships within and beyond borders. It must draw on the experiences and wisdom accumulated over centuries, to lay the foundation for establishing peace today. As Africans we share a history of the embodiment of the values of dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding. Our approach has been one that calls for a sense of identity and openness to embracing the diversities and richness of all cultures. The significance of the value of Africa’s social and human capital cannot be undermined.

We must strive to build bridges between and within societies; we must strive to build bridges amongst people, and we must strive to build partnership across institutions - academic institutions, civil society, labour and the private sector. Together, by embracing the beauty of what it means to be African, and by drawing on a diversity of views and a multiplicity of energies, we can launch a powerful springboard for resilient and lasting peace.

* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security.

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