COLLECTING FIRE AND SEEDS: THE AFRICAN UNION AND ITS DIASPORA
Ato Dënham Ikemefuna Fassett
Deputy General Secretary
Director of Cultural Affairs
African Unification Front (AUF)
Fire and Seeds
The flames that rose from the scattered timbers of the African Diaspora dispersed burning embers flying on the winds of change, in and throughout the souls of black folk everywhere. It was the passion of 20th Century Pan-Africanism. The passion that would captivate and inspire the hearts and minds of Africans to stand up to, speak out against, and fight off the vexatious yoke of colonialism and mental slavery. Those days were the experience of great momentum and tremendous progress. However, our delirious dreams were promptly met with the subversive and covert aggressiveness of mutated colonial aspirations, dampening the raging fire in our hardened hearts.
Yet those who toiled in that fertile soil of progress and self-determination managed to plant viable seeds into the minds of those who founded that old glimmer of hope, the Organization of African Unity. Those seeds grew under harsh conditions and were stunted in their quest to produce good fruit for the great masses of Africans, who thus suffered a brand new second hand version of the old dogged colonial regime. Nonetheless, each seed matured within its own sphere of influence, bearing their fruit and bringing forth new seed and spreading their ideals and principles of nationality and sovereignty. Fifty-four nations on one continent, all of them split under artificial and foreign influence.
Now is the time for 21st Century Farmers of African Unity to plant these seeds under the dawning Sun of the African Union (AU), carefully nurturing them to produce fine fruits and viable seeds for our children’s future. African Family, we have great work ahead of us to secure peace and prosperity for the people of our precious Motherland. On this cusp of great change we have an excellent opportunity to fulfill the dreams of our ancestors and our children; a unified, peaceful and prosperous Africa for the World to marvel. Here are the seeds in our hands:
One: The Birth of the African Union
Dissolving the OAU into fertilizer, the AU is working diligently to build a new infrastructure for the people of Africa. Within this governing framework fourteen correlating organs will administer the African continent. Most prominent and unique within this framework are: 1. The Assembly of the African Union; 2. The Pan-African Parliament; 3. The Commission of the African Union; 4. The Pan-African Central Bank, managing one currency for all of Africa; 5. The Executive Council of the African Union; 6. The Pan-African Defense Forces; and 7. The Pan-African Court of Justice. These historical modifications will positively alter the manner in which Africa manages its internal and international affairs, assuring integrity and advancement.
Two: The African Renaissance
The 21st Century has been dubbed by some as the century for Africa. So true is this declaration! It must be inaugurated throughout the World with a Cultural Renaissance. An active and vibrant Cultural Renaissance will provide an occasion of introspection. It will force us all to look into our past as we look to reclaim our lost and/or degraded identities. For culture is the backbone of our livelihood; and Africa has been blessed with such ornamental and creative diversity that has and continues to inspired the World. There are several practical steps to activate this Cultural Renaissance that must be emphasized here. The AU must commence by mandating the official and widespread use of indigenous scripts, languages, medicines, social morals and values, establishing various place names, festivals, monuments, cultural institutions and organizations, affirming the traditional style and spontaneity of African Art and Architecture, and supporting the self-realization and celebration of our kinship. It is therefore pertinent for us all to promote and advance this Cultural Renaissance, signaling the defiant, yet humble, demand for respect and honor within the international community. Africans, as andennya fëtarioch of the World, must take their rightful place as the leaders and innovators within the human family.
Three: The African Diaspora
The AU is currently embarking on an exhausting campaign to promote and popularize its agenda throughout the World. Top on its agenda is to invite and officially integrate the African Diaspora into its affairs. This highly laudable and progressive overture yearns to correct the mistakes of the past and harness the great intellectual and financial capacity of the “Double Diaspora”, those Africans who have either migrated willingly to the West or were forced to the West by way of slavery. Surely, the voice of these dispersed burning embers deserved to be heard and acted upon accordingly. Moreover, as previously alluded, it was the African Diaspora from whom the first blaze of Pan-African Unity was sparked!
This timely plan of action by the AU is a sign of significant change for Africa. The AU recently acted upon this agenda at the historical First AU-Western Hemisphere Diaspora Forum at Howard University in Washington D.C. Present at the forum were senior officials from the AU including His Excellency Amara Essy and various ambassadors from AU Member States. In concert with the AU, the Foundation for Democracy in Africa organized the forum and invited members of the African Diaspora from the vicinity and far away as Brazil to develop a compendium of recommendations and chart a path forward for cooperation and integration. At this juncture, it would be appropriate to divulge some of the most commendable and progressive proposals presented by the working groups of the forum.
Seeds and Fire: The AU-Diaspora at Work
The AU-Western Diaspora Forum, izzih laiy*(AUWDF), organized itself into seven prominent working groups: 1. Democracy, Governance, and the Rule of Law; 2. Health and Environment; 3. Trade and Economic Development; 4. Peace and Security; 5. Science Research and Technology; 6. Education, Information Exchange and Marketing; 7. Arts and Culture. I should like to highlight the most compelling proposals from each working group and follow up with personal comments.
Working Group on Democracy, Governance, and the Rule of Law (WG1)
The most unique and provocative issue discussed by WG1 was on the subject of citizenship for members of the African Diaspora. Three “non-exclusive models” were discussed extensively:
Each Member State legislate the right of citizenship to members of the Diaspora,
The African Union accords certain legal, civil, and economic rights to members of the Diaspora,
The Africa Union and Member States declare all Africans in the Diaspora as citizens of the New African Nation created for the purpose of providing citizenship to the people of African descent. Through this process, members of the Diaspora will be accorded citizenship to the African Union, following the European Union model.
My initial hypothesis is that this matter will become an object of great controversy; however, it will gain support as the purpose, rationale, and benefits of ratifying such legislation is made clear to all. Moreover, it remains an initiative of the AU to establish a single citizenship for all Africans currently within the Member States of the AU; therefore, if the purpose is to integrate the Diaspora, then equal rights, responsibilities, and privileges must apply. Furthermore, there are many Africans from the Diaspora, those with home countries and those wishing to be adopted by a Member State, who wish to repatriate or have already done so. Surely, as proven in the Ghanaian “Right to Return” model, these Africans from the Diaspora have a strong desire to return to their roots and play a pivotal role in the rebuilding of Africa. This idea of citizenship-repatriation once again offers us an opportunity to revisit the ideals and principles of the founders of Pan-African Unity. To crystallize these proposals, I must make mention of His Excelllency Amara Essy’s official proposal to establish the Diaspora as a sixth region of the African Union. This, should it be ratified by all Member States, would create profound and extremely positive changes in the ways interact with each other.
Health and Environment (WG2)
The Working Group devised three major recommendations that are persuasive to the AU, again exemplifying practical ways in which the Diaspora would be highly effective in the affairs of the AU: 1. To establish an AU Health Research and Development Council, which should include within its structure and ethics board; 2. To establish a Global/AU Fund, generated by continental taxation, “to allow for the eventual attainment of global [health] insurance for all”; 3. To establish AU-Diaspora Health Professional Associations throughout the Americas to coordinate various activities and identify expertise in the various health-related fields.
All three proposals are excellent ideas. I would add two important suggestions: One, that there must be a pursuit towards the research, development, and protection of our traditional medicinal practices as well as the integration of sustainable technologies and the upgrading of medical facilities throughout the continent; and two, that the AU must take a strong position against the advertisement of harmful products, in particular tobacco and other carcinogenic products that are hazardous to human health. The recent deliberations within the World Health Organization in Geneva are critical indicators of the appalling industry policy of “profits over people”. The AU must not allow other Nations to dictate how it should handle its affairs especially with regard to the health and well-being of its citizens.
Trade and Economic Development (WG3)
Working Group 3 organized its proposals into two distinct segments; recommendations to the AU, and the responsibilities that the Diaspora must accept.
Fundamental Recommendation 1.c. states that “The AU should issue a common visa or eliminate visas for the business purposes of the Diaspora for all Member States”.
AGOA Recommendation 2.d. states that the AU should “Promote and advocate the change of mandatory criteria, which states that African countries must adopt free-market economic policies before they are allowed full participation in AGOA. African countries should protect their markets as much as possible from this form of foreign exploitation.”
Capital Market Development Recommendation 2.g. states that the AU should “Adopt and implement the use of a universal African currency with an expansion plan to all of Africa.”
WG3 finalized that the Diaspora should establish a Western Hemisphere Diaspora Trade and Economic Development Committee to coordinate and facilitate the follow-up process with the AU, set up a Western Hemisphere Diaspora Secretariat in Africa, and establish a voluntary $5 USD per annum tax deductible contribution to the AU Trade and Economic Development Fund.
The recommendations and responsibilities outlined above are equally strong and discerning. It is a fact that the Diaspora has been the missing link in the endeavor for peace and prosperity in Africa; and the accomplishments of this Working Group is substantial evidence of this. I should like to remind the reader that there is a great amount of financial wealth that is simply wasted from the Diaspora. If the AU can convince the masses of Africans within the Diaspora that it seeks to utilize all contributions in an equitable and transparent manner, then the AU will be relieved of its significant financial problems. A small monthly contribution, such as $.50 USD, can make profound changes at Home and in the Diaspora. This can only be achieved after a mass educational campaign is successfully completed.
Peace and Security (WG4)
WG4 was clear and concise with regard to its recommendations to the AU and how the Diaspora could successfully facilitate those recommendations. Most significantly was the recommendation for the AU to work with Member States and CSOs, and “facilitate the development of sound judiciary systems as well as a continental judiciary body.” It followed this recommendation with a directive to the Diaspora to “provide assistance and inputs via judiciary and legal experts, which could help establish and enhance the African Court of Justice”.
One of the major impediments to peace and security is the frequency of tribal and ethnic conflicts on the continent. And how peculiar it is to find this characteristic within the Diaspora, only referred to as “gang warfare”. The fundamental problem lies in our lack of respect for our differences, stemming from a long history of manipulation, discrimination, and bigotry. I would suggest here that the AU initiate a strong educational campaign to educate the Diaspora about the history of conflicts on the continent while simultaneously recruiting members from the Diaspora to educate those on the continent about the familial conflicts experienced elsewhere. In addition, the AU must actively involve itself in the affairs of tribal conflicts by initiating truth and reconciliation programs and peace treaties to quell the violence. Furthermore, the must initiate educational programs to elucidate our common social norms and cultural identities. Lastly, and most obviously, the AU must, without further delay, establish the Pan-African Defense Force, which will be comprised of one-third of every Member States’ military forces. This Defense Force must be immediately activated to begin its peace operations throughout the Continent.
Science Research and Technology (WG5)
WG5 devised a brief yet informative proposal on policy and program recommendations with regard to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Biotechnology, and Scientific Research. Its policy statement on Infrastructural Projects and Programs asserts that the AU should give preference to project bids “containing a minimum of 20% of contractual participation from the African Diaspora.” Further, it expressed the need to “develop an ongoing inventory of existing expertise in the African Diaspora”; requesting the Diaspora to be responsible for mobilizing all funds to implement the development of an inventory database, and for the AU to be held accountable for its proper implementation.
Regarding Biotechnology and Scientific Research, WG5 recommended that the AU promote and enhance joint research initiatives between individuals and institutions within Diaspora and their counterparts at Home. It specifically advised the AU to designate a Diaspora institution to manage a repository of expired patents.
The Diaspora has made many vital contributions to the development of science and technology. Having pioneered hundreds of medicines, formulas, computations, and technologies, it should be of great interest to ensure that our Motherland benefits from the great work of her children. However, Africans on the continent continue to lack the immediate and widespread access to new technologies. The AU and the Diaspora must work together to bridge this gap of technological exchange. For example, the free access and availability of the internet is so common in the Diaspora through various institutions such as public libraries; the Diaspora can assist in the building and wiring of such libraries, abolishing expensive internet cafes and the like. Currently, every major city in Africa is wired to the internet, yet we remain second or third in obtaining new technologies as they emerge. The Diaspora must also work in concert with her counterparts on the continent to ensure a free flowing and simultaneous exchange of new technologies.
WG6 completed a comprehensive proposal focusing on “self-reliance and sustainable development”. Members of the group indicated that extensive education must take place in the Diaspora in concert with our continent. Six distinctive points were articulated: Increase the literacy and official presence of African languages, Expand Curriculum Development, Strengthen Technology and Capacity Building, Expand Educational Opportunities, Encourage Inter-University Collaboration, and Harness Funding. In addition, several concrete directives were given to the AU, namely: Establish an African Curriculum Council or African Union Board of Education, Establish a Sister/Brother School Program between Diaspora and Continental Secondary and Collegiate Schools, and Establish a Diaspora Endowment Fund for African Education.
With regard to our indigenous languages, first and foremost, consider it paramount for the AU to establish one indigenous African script (my recommendation: Amharic) as an official operational language in all affairs. Africa must embrace its glorious heritage, and Gë’ez is certainly an ancient script of African origin that must be venerated and preserved. Secondly, as we understand the consequence of cultural renaissance, it will clarify the significance of decolonizing our minds and behavior. Furthermore, ancient scripts should be taught in schools throughout the Diaspora and on the Continent.
Curriculum Development is part of the decolonizing process, the unfinished work of the OAU, to completely restructure the colonial educational curriculum that our children are currently under. Bäf*rr*tt yalä declared, we must put the knowledge of our own history and culture first, we must teach our children that it is acceptable and venerable to speak yënate qwanqwa, and we must appreciate the fact that it is both suitable and pleasing to be taught under a tree. Our major difficulty is forgetting to be proud of what we have and respecting that the way we do things is beneficial and appropriate for our own unique developmental patterns.
Finally, I must stress the importance of cross-current collaboration between the Diaspora and Continental secondary schools and higher educational institutions. As I will elaborate further later, our youth have superficial knowledge of their siblings across the oceans; therefore, it is our duty to educate them about the realities from each experience. Programs such as pen-pal letter writing, information exchanges, project cooperatives, and joint institutional development are several ideas to commence immediately. Needless to say, all this work will put the infamous ‘brain drain’ in check.
Arts and Culture (WG7)
As the Working Group declared in its Preamble, “Art and Culture are central to the life of all Africans”. Indeed, it is the backbone of our livelihood. It is what keeps us cheerful in times of sadness and great difficulty. It is what perpetuates our growth and sustains our spirit. Through the voracious and malicious work to eliminate it, our art and culture remains vibrant in and throughout the Continent and the Diaspora. At certain segments, we witness surges in its development and exhibition; and now, it is wise to officially launch the African Renaissance of the 21st Century. Before I divulge the definition of this Renaissance, allow first a briefing of the Working Groups findings and recommendations.
WG7 proposed twelve significant recommendations that should be immediately taken into serious consideration, they are as follows:
Establish a Cultural Foundation which straddles the Continent and the Diaspora
Promote and Develop cultural exchanges amongst artists and organizations
Promote and Develop iconic festivals and other gatherings that celebrate African Traditions
Ensure the sustainability of our cultures by initiating or nurturing special ceremonies and rites
Recognition of Haiti’s insatiable and historical commitment to the vision of a unified Africa
Establish an International Day of Expiation to support the Reparations Movement and for the Remembrance of those who perished in slavery in and throughout the Continent and the Diaspora
Establish direct routes and thoroughfares, affordable rates for travel to facilitate improved interaction between the Diaspora and the Continent. WG7 stress in particular this in reference to the youth
Recognize a commitment to aid in the protection of our indigenous intellectual property
Recognize the importance of technology in the service of promoting, sharing, and propagating information
Promote a culture of healthy living, as with our culture in living with nature
Assist the Diaspora in learning one of the major African languages
Learn from the experiences of the Human Genome Project
In addition to these recommendations I must make several important adjunct suggestions. First, the AU must formulate an official petition that calls for the return of all stolen artifacts from our Continent. The successful work by certain scholars and artists in this regard must be supported as it gains momentum and progress. We must commend those who are working to return the Great Axumite Obelisk and those who are working to secure the stolen artifacts of Great Zimbabwe. Second, I must reiterate the importance of establishing an AU Committee on Art and Culture. It is of paramount importance for this Committee to maintain the integrity of our cultural morals and values, promote and expand our culture, and establish a network of museums and other cultural institutions. The media, bë especially television, radio, and various graphic advertisements bëkkul, must adhere to the principles and declarations by the AU Committee on Art and Culture. To be prepared and disciplined in order to protect our integrity and well-being is exceptionally pertinent in this age of cultural imperialism.
Now, I shall like to concisely define Cultural Renaissance. For, it is necessary at this juncture of our collective progress because we must understand the tremendous undertaking this will require to achieve success and gratification. A Cultural Renaissance can be defined in three major components. Yämä*ämäriya and foremost, it is a process of assessment and reflection: acceptance and rejection, whereby there is a collective movement to assess the character and content of members of a common society. Everyone, including prominent organizations and cultural troupes, must participate in this assessment in a succession of forums, films, exhibitions, and festivals. This aspect of the Cultural Renaissance is similar to a collective meditation embracing a reflection into the past and an inspection into the future. All of us will learn through looking deep into the displays and deliberations of our heritage. Hulättä**ya, the Cultural Renaissance is a time of truth and reconciliation. Elders of the various tribes from all six regions of the AU must frame a compendium of general agreements that should be articulated to the AU Committee on Art and Culture, first to establish a treaty of peace and respect for each other, and secondly to understand and appreciate the solidarity and camaraderie among them. These agreements should be comprehensive and binding to prevent any violent action between the tribes of Africa; thus, fortifying our extraordinary concept of African Unity. Bämäçärräša, gën bäfYssum, the Cultural Renaissance is a celebration of the great work, that which was accomplished through the assessments and treaties. It is a time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. It is time of pageantry and fulfillment, satisfying our hunger with delicious African cuisine and the equanimity of peace, while enjoying the exciting exhibitions and performances throughout the African Union. A special and exceedingly vibrant celebration should take place at the Headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
As for the African Diaspora, the 21st Century initiated a remarkable upsurge and expansion of traditional beliefs and practices and a renewed inspection into the problems of our Continent. Lä mYssale, in and throughout the Diaspora, youths are learning the traditional rhythms of Senegalese drumming and dancing and others are finding their roots by traveling to Ghana and Nigeria; Yndihu, our migrant portion is searching for ways to reinvest in their home countries. In various ways, we find ourselves reaching back to Africa, wanting for positive change and to make a difference in our lifetime. Nägär gYn, the youth on the Continent and in the Diaspora are also subject to obtaining superficial and oftentimes misleading perspectives of each other. There is a great deal of interest and authentic admiration, yet these youth must be taught the realities of their existence. SYläzzih, is important for the two constituents of the Diaspora to work closely together, strengthening their communication by finding ways to assist each other.
The recommendations by the Working Groups of the AUWDF propose abundant ways in which to collectively solve our common problems. Let us not allow the momentum of that historic forum to subside. The AU must act accordingly and follow up on the work completed and facilitate a vibrant working relationship with all members of the Diaspora. On the same token, the Diaspora must accept its responsibility and increase its efforts to build and maintain these new aspirations for a unified Africa. With this manner of communication and support among the African Family, we will, Y läYgg täyayzäw, secure the peace and prosperity of the African Union.
*Note: The author wishes to emphasize the practical and proactive approach in promoting and propagating culture. Instead of conforming to the Western standard of using Latin for various adverbs, nouns, and the like, the author has chosen to replace this rule by utilizing Amharic, though not written in its original script of Feedel. The definitions are as follows:
izzih laiy: herein
BäfYrrYtt yalä: Forthrightly
yënate qwanqwa: mother language
gën bäfYssum: but not in the least
Lä mYssale: For example
Nägär gYn: However
Y läYgg täyayzäw: hand in hand