The late President Mobutu Sese Seko of former Zaire once declared that the North African countries, which pride themselves on their Arabic descent, should be excluded from the then Organization of African Unity. Mobutu’s rule was, of course, deeply flawed, but he was not alone within the pan-African movement in such thinking. The antagonism between the blacks of sub-Saharan Africa and the inhabitants of the continent’s north remains a reality that impedes the prospect of any union between them.
Northern hostility, separatism, and racism toward the southerners are at the center of this split. However, in our current era of political correctness, outright separation between the north and the south remains unmentionable.
In declaring that Egypt was an Arab republic, President Gamel Abdel Nasser was falsifying history, erasing 3000 years of a culture neatly intertwined with black Africa. Indeed, for nearly three centuries, from 950 to 663 BC, black pharaohs and queens such as Tii from the “land of Kush” – today’s black Sudan – ruled Egypt. More grotesquely, when the Americans decided to finance a film on the life of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptians objected because the actor chosen to play Sadat was black.
Similarly, when Morocco quit the OAU in 1984, it dreamed of European Union membership. Sudan’s ruling class – descendants of Arab slaves – have no qualms about bombing, killing, and displacing millions of their black citizens in the south and now in the Darfur region, with the backing of the Arab League. And when Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Khadafi, disappointed by the pan-Arabism he advocated, turned to championing pan-Africanism, his people continued to riot to chase out black immigrants. Mauritania’s leaders quit ECOWAS, the West African regional grouping, to join the union formed by the North African countries.