The Accident of Birth: Africa’s Greatest Loss
Ogochukwu Nweke laments the death of Africans merely because of who they are and calls for unity.
Hotel Rwanda has been the most difficult movie for me to watch – I dared to watch it again a month ago, and I wept (again) like a baby. Some of the people I know (perhaps including you the reader) do not share the same emotion, but it still makes me weep.
I weep because the Rwandan situation is a replica of over 80% of the crises, civil wars and genocide that Africa has experienced since 1960.
Tutsis were killed because they were Tutsis – Hutus lived because they were Hutus – In 1967, Ibos in Nigeria were killed, pregnant women were killed, their bellies torn open and the helpless babies killed or left to die – Why? Because they were Ibos.
I happened to be in Northern Nigeria during the Jos and Kaduna crises and the corresponding crisis that ensued from Onitsha to Aba, to Owerri (all Ibo speaking parts of Nigeria). Ibos died because they were Ibos and Hausas died because they were Hausas.
No one has ever decided where he was born or the community or tribe he/she will hail from. You can change your region or occupation no matter what family you are born in, but can you change your nationality or your tribe? The accident of birth suggests that there are certain things we are identified with, which accrue to us by virtue of where we are born. This means that I (an Ibo man today) would have been an Hausa man if I was born to an Hausa family. But this does not and cannot change the colour of blood, the texture of my hair, the colour of my skin or the fact that we are all Africans in spite of the tribes we come from and the boundaries that divide us.
A lot of Africans have died like criminals; their crime: being born as a member of a certain ethnic group who in the season of a crisis was on the receiving end. People have lost elections because of where they come from, not particularly because they deserve to win. People go to jail, and others get picked to represent nations in tournaments because of where they come from. Relationships and marriages have been broken because of this same problem which has been the basis of wars and crisis in Africa, from Nigeria, Angola, to Ivory Coat, to DR Congo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Uganda, Algeria, and many others too numerous to mention. I dare say that it is worse even in the political arena, where we vote or affiliate ourselves to parties because of their origin.
Today, we still speak along the side of Ibo, Hausa, Yoruba, Akan, Ga, Hutu, Tutsi.
“…When I travel outside Africa, the description of me as a former president of Tanzania is a fleeting affair. It does not stick. Apart from the ignorant who sometimes ask me whether Tanzania was in Johannesburg, even to those who knew better, what stuck in the minds of my hosts was the fact of my African-ness. So I had to answer questions about the atrocities of the Amins and Bokassas of Africa. Mrs. (Indira) Ghandi did not have to answer questions about the atrocities of the Marcosses of Asia…” – Julius Nyerere
When are we going to start looking at ourselves as one people? When are we going to start referring to ourselves as Africans, not as Northern and Southern Sudan, or as Anglophone and Francophone – African youth beware!
“A genocide begins with the killing of one man, not because of what he has done, but because of who he is” – Kofi Annan.
How did we get here? Where did we go wrong? Since May 25, 1963 we have been trying to see ourselves as a united people standing on a platform where the places we come from will not matter as much as the dreams we have, the things we believe and the factors that bind us together. We have rebranded the company of our unity (OAU – AU) and spent so much money having summits where new ideas are postulated, yet our attitude towards one another has not changed. We must unite, not just on the table, but in our minds and our attitudes. We must see ourselves as one people, if that is truly the reason why we have expended so much energy and resources.
In his most famous speech “I have a dream” Martin Luther King Jr. said
“… I have a dream that my 4 little children will one day live in a country where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character…”
This is my dream – that I live in a country and continent where I will not be marked for the hang-man’s noose because of where I come from; that I will not get locked away merely because I spoke and my accent gave me away; that I be not disqualified or deprived of that which I deserve because of the name I bear or the tribe to which I belong.
I dream of an Africa my children will be proud of; an Africa where men and women will be judged based on the content of their character and the propriety (or otherwise) of their actions; and not because of the tribe or nationality to which they belong.
I agree with Julius Nyerere when he said that we must reject the nonsense of dividing ourselves into Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophones or judging ourselves based on these trappings, when they did not have a say in where they were born. This attempt to divide our peoples according to the language they speak must be rejected with the utter contempt that it richly deserves. The natural owners of those languages and who made divide and rule an African style of governance are busy building a united Europe, so why can we not reject their postulations and unite ourselves in spite of the differences that are based on where we come from.
In independent Africa we are already re-experiencing the instability and frustration which existed under colonial rule. We are fast learning that political independence is not enough to rid us of the consequences of colonial rule. The movement of the masses of the people of Africa for freedom from that kind of rule was not only a revolt against the conditions which it imposed.
Our people supported us in our fight for independence because they believed that African Governments could cure the ills of the past in a way which could never be accomplished under colonial rule.
“If, therefore, now that we are independent we allow the same conditions to exist that existed in colonial days, all the resentment which overthrew colonialism will be mobilized against us. The resources are there. It is for us to marshal them in the active service of our people. Unless we do this by our concerted efforts, within the framework of our combined planning, we shall not progress at the tempo demanded by today’s events and the mood of our people. The symptoms of our troubles will grow, and the troubles themselves become chronic. It will then be too late even for Pan African Unity to secure for us stability and tranquillity in our labours for a continent of social justice and material well-being” – Kwame Nkrumah.
We must establish a unity that pays attention to the aspiration of the people that it seeks to unite, not a unity on paper, which pretends that we are one people when actually we do not even feel that way. African youth beware! Or we shall be victims and martyrs of the same challenge that swallowed our fathers.