When one thinks of Pan-Africanism some of the first things that comes to mind are the names associated with the movement. Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Sekou Toure, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B Dubois are but a few.
I only became familiar with these names and their movement a few years ago during my time at university. Since then most of what I have learnt about Pan-Africanism has been of my own accord and initiative.
A few weeks ago social networks were abuzz with shock at a BBC Africa quiz where a handful of students in South Africa where unable to answer what some would consider relatively simple questions about Africa such as who is Kenneth Kaunda.
From the seven minute clip some ridiculed the ignorance of the young South Africans but rather than find amusement I pitied them. Not only did I pity them but I pitied myself because at that age I possibly would have fared only marginally better.
The question then that one should ask is what do our education systems do to prepare us as Africans?
The answer, nothing.
Pan-Africanism is an ideology and movement that believes in the universal oneness of Africans and works to achieving this unity in political, social and economic spheres. In short it is an anglicised Ubuntu.
If Ubuntu is something that is important to us as Africans then this should be reflected in we teach and learn not only at home but also in schools.
African education systems is where Pan-Africanism has gone to die. Most school systems are remnants of the colonial period and follow similar styles of teaching and curriculum. Private schools in Zimbabwe for example teach a Cambridge syllabus which does little to grow their students as African citizens.
There needs to be a Pan-African agenda in our schools. The African Union and the other continental regional bodies talk about moves towards regional integration and a united Africa but this will never be possible if people remain ignorant about the continent they inhabit.
What is important to realise from the onset is that setting a Pan-African agenda is not just about teaching African history and biographies of founding fathers such as Nkrumah as some might think. It is also about adapting the education system to fit the African context.
Economics and business studies should reflect the reality of African business practices. Understanding the informal sector for example should be a core element of the curriculum as it is a massive contributor to livelihoods of Africans.
UN Women reports that the contribution of women informal traders to national GDP amounts to 64% of value added in trade in Benin; 46% in Mali and 41% in Chad.
It would be folly to ignore such an important sector of the economy from an academic perspective.
The same spotlight on Africa should apply in other disciplines. Why focus on teaching Shakespeare when Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o has a plethora of books and plays that one as an African can relate to easier than The Bard?
Why prioritise teaching only French, Portuguese, Spanish and now Chinese and not include Ndebele, Swahili, isiZulu, Lingala? Or Igbo perhaps, a language one would assume the multitude of Nollywood lovers might be interested in knowing.
The politics of language is also extremely important when it comes to how people relate to each other. As the late African statesman Nelson Mandela said “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart
There are unfortunately a number of people sceptical about the Pan-African dream. There is so much conflict and corruption here, Africa is too diverse to be united the Afropessimists exclaim. Such thinking is poisonous. Our diversity should not be something that divides us but something that we celebrate and share.
Unfortunately ignorance and negative stereotypes have helped to breed afrophobia across the continent. To combat this we need to relearn what we know about Africa.
The 1896 Berlin Conference worked to divide and conquer us. Through dedicated educational reform we can work to unite and prosper us.
One is not naïve to think that the Pan-African dream of one Africa can be attained in this lifetime. The problems that Africa faces run deeper than a broken educational system. But the platform for change is there it is up to us to choose Ubuntu, to practice it and to teach it.
A self-sustaining united Africa may seem like an impossible utopia to most people but with a consensual, determined mind-set it is a dream we can one day make a reality.
This piece was commissioned by @TsueySays and first appeared on Africa Day in “The Rising African Sun”. An altered version appeared as an Africa Day special under the title “Education, Pan-Africanism, ubuntu” in the The Herald on 27 May 2015