Burundi crisis not merely an "African thing"

As regional and international attention remains on the Burundi political crisis, the subject of what is likely to happen in the aftermath of last week’s failed coup remains flush in the local and international media.

As regional and international attention remains on the Burundi political crisis, the subject of what is likely to happen in the aftermath of last week’s failed coup remains flush in the local and international media.

Consequently, Burundi has become a subject of idle and serious talk on the street and in bars, even in our homes.

It was, therefore, understandable when, over a drink recently, someone impatiently wondered whether what was happening in the country was not a reflection of us – “an African thing”.

The discussion quickly turned to the notion of the United States of Africa. How practical would it be to have Africa as one country?

If it is not the instability in Somalia, it is the ongoing conflict in South Sudan or the threat of it elsewhere.

Add to these the “resource curse” in the unending conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo and the xenophobia in South Africa we are still smarting from.

The notion of a United States of Africa has often been derided as quixotic and fanciful – the stuff of romantics.

Certainly, many will remember Bob Marley’s song “Africa Unite”. Released in 1979, many of us still nostalgically sing along as he belts the lyrics: “How good and how pleasant it would be, before God and man, to see the unification of all Africans.”

And, for those more historically inclined, they will recall Marcus Garvey’s 1924 poem, “Hail!

United States of Africa,” that gave name to the idea of a united continent spanning Cape Town to Cairo that eventually led to the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Initially constituted of 32 nations on May 25, 1963, the OAU focused mainly on liberating countries on the continent from colonialism.

However, the organisation came under severe scrutiny for its inability to intervene in member states during times of strife, coups or government repression.

But since it became the African Union in 2002, with a renewed focus on solving conflicts, engineering socio-economic development and improving governance, it remains accused of merely being a talking shop lacking in political will to solve recurring Africa’s problems.

One will, therefore, also remember former South African president Thabo Mbeki’s ringing lament of what became of the African dream in 2012 during the commemoration of AU’s tenth anniversary with his recollection of Langston Hughes’ 1951 poem, “Harlem” that still reverberates with its loaded question:

What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun? / Or fester like a sore / And then run? / Does it stink like rotten meat? / Or crust and sugar over / like a syrupy sweet? / Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?

To be fair, the AU has been aware of the continental challenges and tried to do something about it. In 2007, the organisation adopted the Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Highlighting human rights, the rule of law, democratic elections and unconstitutional changes of government, the charter aims to “reinforce commitments to democracy, development and peace in Africa”.

Nevertheless, whether it is the crisis in Burundi or anywhere on the world, it affects us all. What may appear localised and minor has tended to boil over to the global arena.

Instability in one country has tended to destabilise an entire region becoming a breeding ground for terrorism that knows no boundaries across the world.

Burundi is, therefore, not merely an African thing, but a global concern.

We live in a global village, of which I am doubtful a United States of Africa is viable or even necessary.

Still, the African dream must endure “to reclaim our right to be ourselves”.

As Mbeki put it: It is the sacred task of the African Union, acting within the context of the partnership of all motive forces within our Continent, to mobilise us to use our united strength to achieve this dream, not allowing petty conflicts to divide us. If this dream is deferred for much longer, surely, it will explode!

The author is a commentator on local and regional issues

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