Building Africa’s Moral Capital – diversity and unity

OPINION – God was so generous that he gave mankind dominion over the earth. It is difficult to imagine what would happen if anyone of us were to play God even for a limited duration.

What kind of choices would we make? I have no doubt that many would want the world to belong only to people who look like them. We all know that, for example, minerals are God given and constructively do not belong to any living person. They are hidden and our job is to find them and not to produce them.

Once exposed, minerals are then extracted and processed but at no stage are they created by mankind.

If this is true, then how do we explain the typical behaviour by many of us that minerals and, indeed, resources found in a particular geographical setting only truly belong to the native people and not to the creator.

There is no dispute that Africa is well endowed with rich mineral and natural resources. However, the relationship between God’s creation and the majority of native Africans has produced its own challenges and opportunities.

South Africa made Africa proud in this historic year. Why South Africa? South Africa is the youngest African state and yet it boasts of a diversified and sophisticated agricultural, mining, financial and industrial economy. More significantly, it has been described as a "rainbow nation" because of its diverse population.

As we come to the end of this historic and defining year, people of Zimbabwean heritage find themselves as the first class of inhabitants of South Africa to be profiled and compelled to regularise their documents. No other class of South African residents has yet been exposed to this profiling. At face value, who would argue against foreign born nationals needing to be documented and stay in legitimately in their adopted home?

One must, however, accept that implicit in the decision to document Zimbabwean born national in South Africa is an acknowledgement of a fundamental problem in the construction of the post-colonial African project.

In as much as one would like to believe that Africa belongs to all who live in it, we must accept that each African nation state is founded on a worldview that is nationalistic in outlook.

Thus South African must and should belong to South Africans and equally, for example, Nigeria must necessarily belong to Nigerians.

The majority of the inhabitants in Sub-Saharan Africa are black and in our understanding of what it means to be African we have no choice but to frame such understanding using a black prism.

It is, therefore, not unnatural that to many, being African is synonymous with being black yet being black may not be sufficient to be accepted as a South African, for example.

If God was generous in creating the earth, how then can we place the concept of nation states in the overall scheme of human progress?

To be citizen of one or another state must necessarily be a consequence of one’s choice and yet people who are born in a certain geographical setting would want it to belong only to them. Is this attitude good for the stability and progress of Africa?

Can African ever be united? The stability and progress of Africa must depend on unity founded on diversity.

To the extent that the complexion of Africa is diverse, it is important that we begin to focus as Africans on key foundational issues of any nation that seeks to advance its cause like protection of fundamental rights, the rule of law, governance and respects of contracts and agreements.

We must accept that it was easier for colonialism to take root in the manner it did because our African civilization was not founded on the values that informed Western civilizations.

Land was not commoditised and there we did not have a Deeds registry and, therefore, it was easy for any visitor to appropriate what was thought to be God’s gift to them as long as the natives were allocated some if not marginal lands.

To the extent that the post-colonial state was a product of a mixed heritage, it is important that we appreciate the positive and negative aspects of the imported value system.

Although black people are in the majority in Africa, the dominant culture that underpins the establishment of the post-colonial nation states is Eurocentric.

If we are against imperialism then we must acknowledge the consequences. Do we want an Africa that does not respect property rights? Do we want an Africa where there is no rule of law? Do we want an Africa where only leaders have the monopoly of wisdom?

Surely we must want an Africa that is inclusive and benefits from the contribution of all.

Why is that leaders of most post-colonial African states act as if their choices are manipulated by external forces?

When we make choices to buy goods and services, for example, from people we don’t trust we must accept responsibility.

When we make choices to deport black people from one African state we also must accept the consequences. The kind of Africa we want to see is ultimately defined by our actions and choices.

In the case of South Africa, the need to document illegal aliens cannot be overstated. However, it must be obvious that if South Africa belongs to all who live in it as enshrined in the Freedom Charter then the face of a South African may not be any different from that of a Zimbabwean.

Although Zimbabwe, for example, belongs to all who live in it, it must be accepted that no all Zimbabwean look the same and yet the tragedy is that the profile of a Zimbabwean illegal alien in South Africa is that of a black person.

It then becomes absurd that only black people in an African state are now being told that they need to be profiled and documented by another African state.

What then should be the values that must inform the post-colonial African state? It must be founded on acceptance that unity in diversity is healthy and desirable for Africa’s stability and progress.

If I were to play God, I have often wondered what choices I would make on complex issues like identity and citizenship. Would it be desirable to create a homogenous class of people? In creating nation states, how should the issue of identity be handled? In the case of minerals, who should have access?

When we create nation states, we inherently have to look at the viability of such entities. Viability is determined by the ability of the state to collect income from the sweat of citizens and residents. It cannot be the case that the viability of the state is premised on force.

Human beings make choices and are mobile. The foundation of any state that hopes to effectively and efficiently capture the imagination of human beings and harness their creativity and skills must premised on freedom of choice and respect of the sovereignty of human beings.

We now know that South Africa’s strength lies in its ability to accommodate a diverse class of people. Its ability to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup must be located in the country’s diversity.

If sports can unite a nation, a common and shared future ought to make us realise the futility of misplaced notions of nationalism.

If God could give up resources with no invoices, why are human beings more selfish in respect of assets that they played no part in creating? The selfishness exhibited by many poor states makes progress elusive compelling us to re-evaluate our purpose in life. Surely the purpose of humanity cannot be to make choices that God should and has already made.

It is only when we accept the limitations of human beings that we can appreciate the benefit of investing in a social contract that allows for unity in diversity.