Old Italian lessons for a New Africa

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This week would be as good a time as any to acquaint and reacquaint each other with the words of an Italian politician called Massimo d'Azeglio.

In particular, we recall his perceptive declaration: “We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.”

Some historians attribute this nationalist rallying call to the year 1867. At that time, the big rage in Italy was what was being called “Risorgimento”, or in English, “Resurgence”.

Italy was in the process of trying to remake itself, redefine itself, and set itself on a new social, political and economic trajectory.

Other historians say d’Azeglio’s call to arms was made in 1871, when Italy officially achieved its reunification.

It is not our job here to assess whether or not Italy fully understood what d’Azeglio envisioned for Italy and Italians. That is something we will leave to the good folk of that country.

Our concern is Africa and Africans.

We are sure the Italians will not mind if we borrow the words of d’Azeglio and adapt them to our continent: “We have made Africa. Now we must make Africans.”

Or rather, we will slightly edit this statement and put it in question form: “Having made Africa, have we made Africans?”

To answer that question, we would need to be in agreement, or at least have some basic consensual understanding, as to what is Africa and what is an African?

The first is easy to answer; geographical boundaries define what Africa is.

The second appears easy to answer, but it is a rather deceptive proposition.

The quick response - informed by centuries of struggle and moulded by the ideas of the likes of Garvey, du Bois, Nkurumah, Nyerere and Pan-Africanism, among other related personalities and their ideas – would be to define an African as anyone indigenous to this continent.

But that does not quite work. The fluidity of human migration, the reality of foreign settlement, and the beauty and horror of the mingling of peoples because of love and war mean being African can no longer be merely defined within racial parameters.

Which would mean we can answer the question (What is an African?”) by saying, “An African is anyone who lives in Africa, whether they are black, white, yellow, red or green.”

That answer would be closer to the truth, but again we would not have fully answered the question.

After all, merely living in Africa – whether or not one was born on the continent, migrated recently, came with the colonialists, or traces his or roots back to the dawn of the Stone Age – cannot fully make one an African.

We contend, as others before us have and shall continue to do, that what makes one an African is where one’s heart lies.

To paraphrase an age-old saying, home is where the heart is.

This means for one to be an African, Africa must be their first love.

In other words, an African will not act in manner that is detrimental to the livelihoods of his fellow man/woman.

Yes, to err is human. People make mistakes and their mistakes result in other people getting hurt. Mistakes happen. They are often excusable.

What is inexcusable is deliberate, wilful, self-driven intent that results in the hurting of a fellow man/woman.

To be African is to be mindful, to be considerate, to be selfless in action and intent.

Others prefer to call this principle “Ubuntu”, and we have no problem in thus saying “being an African means Ubuntu”.

Ubuntu is the cultural bedrock from which we grow our societies, our economies and our polities.

Readers of Antonio Gramsci (we once more ask for the indulgence of the Italians) will appreciate the importance of a cultural foundation to nation-building and by extension, continent-building.

The cultural underpinnings of our economics and politics speak to the norms and mores of how we do business, how we run our countries, how we treat each other.

That said, what then can we say about the merchants of death who are profiteering from the misery of humanity by overcharging for protective personal equipment and other health-related items?

Hundreds of thousands of Africans have been infected with COVID-19 and scores have died. People are losing jobs on a daily basis, disposable incomes are being eroded, productivity is at its lowest since the liberation struggle era.

In short, people are suffering.

Then we get people in South Africa, Zimbabwe and other places taking advantage of the desperation wrought by the novel coronavirus to loot taxpayers’ money.

And the looting is apparently happening with the full consent, nay, with the active participation, of elected officials who go into office on the back of promises to serve the people.

Surely, we cannot call such people Africans!

When criminality is not only unchecked but is indeed promoted we are not being African.

We are being mercenaries who want to build bloody fortunes on the bones of the dead and on the backs of the dying.

The people of Africa must demand accountability and transparency not only from their governments, but also from the private sector players who collude with corrupt politicians to pile misery upon misfortune just so that they make another million dollars for themselves.

We demand responsible government, and we demand responsible business.

Africans people should simply vote out corrupt politicians. Africans should simply boycott the establishments and services of corrupt businesspeople.

The old Italians talked of “Risorgimento/Resurgence”. For Africa, Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa has talked of “Renaissance/Rebirth”.

Africa needs a renaissance.

It cannot be business as usual when crooked politicians and crooked businesspersons are sucking us dry!

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