Kenya as the epicenter of rising Pan-Africanism

When Raila Odinga shook the hand of his longtime rival President Uhuru Kenyatta, a wave of speculation followed. The stream of partisan interpretations only grew when Odinga received the President’s appointment as the African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure and Development. What does it mean politically? What does it means for 2022?

It is my conviction, however, that the conversation around the handshake and the appointment to the AU is all wrong. Both should be viewed through a different prism altogether: President Kenyatta’s vision of internal and inter-African unity.

Uhuru’s bold vision

An intense series of meetings with foreign leaders that he had held since the start of the year reminds us of President Kenyatta’s bold vision for Africa and his unwavering leadership towards it.

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“The more we meet, the more we interact, the better we integrate as a people”, Uhuru told his Rwandan counterpart President Kagame in Kigali last month, emphasising how much easier it has become for people and goods to move across borders.

In his subsequent meeting with Uganda’s President Museveni, Mr Kenyatta outlined his view of the future of our region: Instead of landlocked African countries, we shall work towards becoming land-linked.

When Museveni took the SGR from Mombasa’s seaport through Nairobi to the new landport, it was a positive sign not only to the two countries, but also to Rwanda, the DRC and the region. If it previously took 21 days to reach Mombasa, soon it will take just two days.

Opening the doors to all

For President Kenyatta, this is part of a consistent and long-standing vision. Immediately following his re-election, he announced that visas will be granted upon arrival to all Africans, explaining that “the free movement of people... has always been a cornerstone of Pan-African brotherhood and fraternity.

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The freer we are to travel and live with one another, the more integrated and appreciative of our diversity we will become”.

Indeed, integration means more political stability, more security and more growth.

First within the EAC, then within African at large. Indeed, with a population of over 1.2 billion, Africa is collectively the world’s single largest market after China and India. We just need to learn to act as one.

Pan-Africanism emerged as an ideology following World War II as a powerful force for African decolonisation. The AU was set up in 1963 as a compromise between federalists and nationalists. Nationalists criticised pan-Africanism, fearing the homogenisation of the many African traditions.

But today, after more than five decades of independent nation building, no one should worry about the loss of Nigerian, Senegalese or Kenyan identity. The historical, cultural and spiritual legacy of individual African states is not going to dissipate because we cooperate.

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Back to the past

At its inception, the Pan-African movement was clearly leftist, echoing Cold-War politics, anti-imperialist and socialist discourse. In fact, this was the most unacceptable aspect of Pan-Africanism to the President’s father, Jomo Kenyatta.

The older Kenyatta supported breaking away from oppression collectively as Africans, but he never aligned with the Soviet Union, choosing instead to cooperate with the West.

Nowadays, the international political landscape is very different. From the right versus left dichotomy, we are resettling along the lines of extremist versus moderate parties.

Those tensions also push many of the old liberal democracies towards a more isolationist stance. Kenyatta’s refreshing 2.0 version of Pan-Africanism doesn’t place Kenya on the right or the left, but puts it at the head of global moderation and cooperation.

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Some of our allies may prefer to deal with us separately, but we must explain that it is also in their interest to see a more united African front.

While they are losing themselves to internal divisions, both American and European leaders know that a more united Africa would be a more effective partner to address global challenges such as irregular migration, the rise of ISIS and climate change.

Of course there are hurdles on the way to African integration. Free trade is often impeded not by an anti-federalist ideology, but by narrow and corrupt economic interests of selected families in some African nations.

Territorial integrity is another example. Somalia’s outrageous claims over our sea borders, potentially rendering our country landlocked, are some of the roadblocks we face on the path to African unity.

In the spirit of Easter, let’s recall the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “If a person had even the smallest amount of genuine faith, he would be able to tell a mountain to pick itself up and cast itself into the sea, and it would obey him” In other words, if there’s a will there’s a way.

 Mr Maore is the Igembe North Member of Parliament

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Raila OdingaPresident Uhuru Kenyatta