A Friday night chill-out at Chillax Lounge in the leafy Nyarutarama suburb provided the perfect metaphor to the recent productive African Union summit here in Kigali that culminated into the signing by 44 countries, the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).
There were three DJs playing different music genres, on the same dance floor, for the same crowd, at the same time and everyone was happily dancing to the music of their choice.
But each of the over 300 patrons sported a hi-tech music headset handed out at the entrance; equipped with control panels to toggle the channels and control the volume. Each of the three DJs had a dedicated channel and roisterers toggled through depending on what was playing.
As usual, rather than have fun, my mind wandered off to the ongoing efforts by African leaders to integrate their respective countries. One can say there is a new continent-wide momentum that has seen African leaders, lately, dancing to some kind of music.
In many ways, African leaders are tuned into different channels but there are two common factors; one fact being that, all channels are playing music and the second being, everyone is dancing, happily.
At Chillax, friends that came in groups immediately separated the moment they wore their headsets; separated by the genre of music they wanted to dance to. To the three DJs, it was a sweet competition as they aimed to have the majority of carousers on their channel.
Three colours, green, pink and blue represented the three DJs. It was therefore a colour clash of sorts as each DJ had followers in the crowd, all dancing.
Gradually, people started forming groups based on the channels. In the end, you had cocoons of blue, green and pink, assemblies of like-music-lovers that had formed, to dance to the same beat and maximize the fun.
As a flagship project of the African Union’s 2063 Agenda, African leaders want to fast track the continent’s economic growth and development by creating a single market of more than 1.2billion people with a combined GDP of US$2.19 trillion.
Currently, the continent has made considerable progress at the level of regional integration in form of COMESA, SADAC, ECOWAS and the EAC; these are regional cocoons who are already dancing to integration music albeiton different beats.
Back at Chillax, at some point, carousers on the pink and green channels noticed hyper energy and fun among their counterparts on the blue channel who were dancing with arms in the air and jumping like they had red ants in their pants.
Out of curiosity, the pink and green channel carousers switched to the blue channel to find out what was sending guys there into a frenzy.
They found it was an Arsenal football club fans’ anthem! Instantly, the madness spread across the dancehall with the exception of a few irked patrons whom, it was safe to assume were supporters of rival clubs such as Manchester United and Chelsea.
As AU pursues the dream of African integration, the African Union will need to find a popular song that somehow gets everyone to tune into the same channel and dance to the same beat.
In some cases, it will involve the direct persuasion of individual countries, to give them a good reason why they needed to change channels.
For most of the night, I was tuned into the green channel which was playing Hip-hop and RnB, the kind of music I like to bob to in a gentle way without having to dance like one undergoing a military drill. But the lady in my company was on a pink channel, which was playing Afropop.
It took gentle cajoling for couples to reach a consensus and settle on a single channel at least for a song or two, to enable them dance to the same beat. That is also true to our integration efforts.
There are times all countries will agree to implement a decision for the benefit of their respective citizens. There will also be a time when countries/regional blocs switch to different channels.
SADAC vs Ecowas or East African interests, for instance, could be barriers at some point, for a fair reason. Indeed, this seasonal change of music channels has in the past hampered faster progress within regional integration blocs.
For instance, there was a time a couple of years ago when Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda had agreed to dance to the same beat on a couple of crucial infrastructural projects along the Northern corridor.
Unfortunately, as Kenya got embroiled in local political brawls, it lost the dance rhythm and Uganda wandered-off to another channel leaving Rwanda alone on the beat; what was a dance has become a stampede and a few apolitical civilians have already been hurt. But there is hope.
Towards 2am, whether by plan or coincidence, all three Chillax DJs played the same song at the same time and roisterers on all channels started dancing on the same beat with their moves matching; for a moment, everyone was amazed.
Albeit their channel differences, the roisterers had finally found a beat that united their dance steps; albeit their differences, in the CFTA, 44 African countries have found a cause that unites them and as long as they continue dancing with joy and energy, others will be wooed in.
The views expressed in this article are of the authors.