Africa continent. Picture: THINKSTOCK
THE African continent is a continuous landmass with outlying islands such as Madagascar, Zanzibar and Cape Verde. It is vast; if it were a separate country, it would be the largest nation in the world.
One could put Russia (17-million square kilometres) and Canada (10-million square kilometres) inside the continent, which measures 30.2-million square kilometres. Canada, the second-largest country in the world, and the US, the third largest, can also fit comfortably inside Africa. You could place the US, India and all of Europe, including the UK, inside Africa and have territory left over.
Put another way, a United States of Africa would be the world’s largest nation in terms of territory, and the third largest in terms of population after China and India.
The continent is not poor, although its people are often in poverty. Africa has enough arable land to feed the entire world, yet in some countries people regularly confront hunger. This is what others have called the paradox of Africa: the richest land and the poorest people. Even taking into consideration the Sahara and Kalahari deserts, the continent can easily be supported by the massive savannas, deep forest resources and great arable regions. It is a matter of organisation of resources, not a lack of possibilities.
Africa’s mineral resources are fabulous. In some ways it is the richest continent on Earth. Desert minerals, grazing animals, oils for industries, petroleum and futuristic minerals for information technologies are abundant. More types of wood can be found in Africa than on all the other continents combined. Half of the world’s diamonds are here.
So how can Africa take advantage of its strengths? I believe that Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah understood the potential for creating a powerhouse by uniting Africa.
Almost all of the continent’s problems can be traced to economic exploitation and cultural degradation. The declines in agricultural production in Africa over the past 30 years have in most instances been tied directly to how Western nations provided, prohibited or reduced the natural competitive exporting behaviour of African nations.
Even today African exports have been sanctioned, and where they are not sanctioned, they are heavily taxed. Consequently, in areas such as cotton production, the European and American nations have supported their own farmers and stifled competition from African farmers supported by their governments.
There is no lack of energy, capability or technical know-how on the part of Africa; it is strictly a lack of organisational and political power to see the continent’s economic interests protected.
There is a history for African leadership with regard to nation building.
The first nation on Earth was in Africa, extending beyond the aggregation of people under a kingship or queenship. The ancient south Egyptian state of Kemet comprised 42 ethnic groups with spiritual, mathematical, philosophical and agricultural similarities. Their response to nature and to human relations was something to be envied and emulated by others.
When the pharaoh Menes came down from Kemet to unite 42 sepats — regional divisions called nomes by the Greeks — he achieved something that would have been criticised in the same way that people criticise the discussion of a united Africa.
Each sepat had its own emblem, its own name for the supreme deity, its own variation on the language of the Nile Valley, its own ethnic history and its own capital city with its own shrines — yet Menes the Great was able to achieve national status.
In contemporary times we see the giants of pan-Africanism as Marcus Garvey, WEB Du Bois, Cheikh Anta Diop and Nkrumah. Garvey believed in one aim, one destiny and one god. Diop wrote constantly about an African renaissance with cultural unity. Nkrumah saw a larger Africa than simply Diop’s cultural unity of black Africa, because he felt the north had been predominantly black before the Arabs came and had to be included in a continental state. Du Bois searched for a scientific base to political unity based on the material conditions of the continent.
I am convinced that Africa must be united as one federative union. I like the title United States of Africa. I want to be able to travel and work between Cape Town and Cairo, between Dakar and Dar es Salaam. I seek an Africa where young people can see themselves as the owners of the land. This is not a foreign idea; it is an African idea. Its origins are deep in the history of the continent itself.
• Asante is author of 75 books, including The History of Africa and An Afrocentric Manifesto. He is president of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies, a professor at Temple University and a professor extraordinarius at Unisa.