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Resisting the politics of estrangement.

About a decade ago, a young Kenyan man showed up in Cape Town, South Africa. Dressed in the traditional red shuka of the Maasai, he claimed to have trekked south from his Nakuru home in the Rift Valley, a distance of 5,400km. He was on a spiritual mission, he said, to raise African consciousness against borders and boundaries. Using the analogy of colonial pass laws, he declared that the new enemies of African freedom were the very people who had liberated the continent from colonial rule--and who had now imprisoned the collective African consciousness inside an absurd system of colonial-era national boundaries.

His mission was greeted with scepticism (which organisation did he represent?); and his credentials were called into question (how had he obtained an entry visa?). And then something strange happened. Word spread that a real-life African Warrior had come to Cape Town. He suddenly became the victim of his own exotification. Installed in a museum, he became the spectacle of bemused crowds--finger-pointing schoolchildren from the townships, weeping mamas, camera-wielding American tourists, vegan Capetonian housewives--touched his bracelets and anklets, his dreadlocks, shuka and his enkamoga as if to confirm that he was not a figment of their overheated imaginations.

The politics of estrangement are alive and well in Africa. The flip-side of exotification is the anti-immigrant mobs in Pretoria baying for the blood of the amakwerekwere. In the decade since the first wave of anti-immigrant violence in the townships--in the era, that is, when "Afrophobia" has become normalised--it is disingenuous to pose in expressions of shock and disbelief.

Violence against the other in Africa is not just part and parcel of the political discourse, it is the grey matter of political interaction. The original sin, if we are correctly to ascribe blame, was committed in Addis Ababa at the founding of the Organisation of African Unity. While not a soul among those leaders gathered in Addis challenged the rhetoric of pan-African unity, the spectre of a United States of Africa challenged their personal ambitions. The existing colonial borders were thus recast as necessary for the survival of the anti-colonial nationalists.

At the national level, those L'Etat, c'est moi politics were deployed ethnically for precisely the same purpose: the survival of Mtukufu the President and his coterie of elite cheerleaders. Few nations escaped this process of atomisation: not only was a pan-African ideal systematically dismantled and effectively rendered unrealistic, in the face of ethnic chauvinism, even the nation-state project became a blur.

The result is that generations later, African citizens continue to proclaim the rhetoric of continental unity while remaining strangers to each other. The collective ignorance is structural and conditioned, which is to say that it has an economic logic organised around colonial-era relations that have never been overturned because it is not in the interest of the owners of the nation-state project to do so.

We live in national silos because those continue to be the basic units of our own exploitation. The curriculum is designed to cultivate mutual and collective ignorance; students in Africa know less about each other's existence, history and cultures than an undergraduate student of African studies in a Western university. Why? First, because it is not necessary; vertical relations with your former colonial metropolis continue to be more economically useful than horizontal relations--no pun intended!--with your African counterparts.

The spectre of Afrophobia began to emerge with the loss of citizen-control: state failure in whichever form and degree it took, loosened what we may call the post-colonial pass laws. Unable to effectively meet their end of the burden--or to even enforce controls at the exit points--the authorities were helpless as citizens voted with their feet.

The South African township and its "black-on-black violence" is merely the manifestation of these failures.

It is laudable that the AU has now committed itself to a borderless Africa. It would be far more effective if it also committed itself to correcting the mis-education of the African child. NA
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Title Annotation:From the Editor
Author:Kantai, Parselelo
Publication:New African
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Mar 1, 2017
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