I read with a great deal of interest yesterday's opinion piece by Gerald Mpyisi titled; "Visa on arrival and the dream of a union of African states".
While I agree with the utopian idea of a United States of Africa, I think Mpyisi is moving too fast for a slow thinking continent. Most African leaders feel beholden to their former colonial masters who, decades ago, hypnotized them into remaining in a lethargic state of incapables.
To them, only what came from the west was best for Africa; the schools, the products, the language. The leaders did not think outside their little boxes. They exported their unprocessed raw materials only to get them back at exorbitant prices.
Zambia exported copper ore only to import electric copper wires, Gabon and other central African countries bordering the tropical forest devastated their environment by exporting timber in order to get exquisite western furniture.
Nigeria, one of the world's leading oil producers imports most of its refined petroleum products... and the list is endless. So, one would ask; what ails Africa? Would a united Africa be the solution? Possibly, is it a viable idea? Hardly, it's a long shot from the way things stand today.
But if by some miracle it did happen, then it would think as one, defend its interests, jealously guard its resources and prosper and not be held hostage by threats of aid cuts.
Africa lost its chance when it became colonized in the 19th Century. Its social fabric was dismantled. Prior to that, African societies, just like medieval European communities, were held together by alliances, family alliances. That was their power.
In order to gain strength and spread their spheres of influence, chiefs or kings would marry their children to neighbouring kingdoms and a family alliance was built; the same went for Europe. Nearly all members of the royal families in Europe are related in one way or the other through marriage, that was the source of their power that united them during the "scramble for Africa".
Africa had no such united front. The few kingdoms that attempted to resist were crushed by the technological advances of the industrial revolution; spears and arrows were no match to machineguns and bombs.
Scholar and activist Walter Rodney hammered the nail on the head in his book, "How Europe underdeveloped Africa".
"The decisiveness of the short period of colonialism and its negative consequences for Africa spring mainly from the fact that Africa lost power. Power is the ultimate determinant in human society, being basic to the relations within any group and between groups. It implies the ability to defend one's interests and, if necessary, to impose one's will by any means available. In relations between peoples, the question of power determines maneuverability in bargaining, the extent to which a people survive as a physical and cultural entity. When one society finds itself forced to relinquish power entirely to another society, that in itself is a form of underdevelopment," he writes.
Now, back to my utopian African nation. It only has an iota of possibility if it began from the grassroots; family unites with family, tribe with tribe, a country with another... and so on.
Back in our own backyard, the East African integration is a glaring example of how many hurdles (some of them ridiculous, I may say) are holding back the talks. Some member countries are uneasy about free movement or residing within their territories.
The United Republic of Tanzania was a result of a merger between Tanganyika (mainland) and the islands of Zanzibar. But it beats all federation reasons when someone from Tanzania mainland travelling to Zanzibar has to show a passport at the entry point.
Mr. Mpyisi's article rightly brings to light Rwanda's open door policy for all African citizens getting their visas at entry points. He probably forgot to mention that we were also the first to scrap all visas and work permits for east Africans; Kenya reciprocated by removing work permits for Rwandans.
If this trend spreads, then Gerald Mpyisi's dream could come true, but I am skeptical I will live to see it, unless: Beginning this year, I married a Tanzanian leader's daughter, my sister became Jacob Zuma's sixth (what's the number again?) wife, my Tanzanian in-laws, cousins and uncles spread the "marital" message all over Africa.
Then our "extended family" would garner enough power to convince AU member states to unite, even if it meant arm twisting. Mr. Mpyisi's dream of Mungu ibariki Africa would be sung under one flag, but I am, again, afraid to disappoint him, it is only a farfetched dream.