The African Union is a continental body that consists of all of the 55 African nations, and its mission can be described as overcoming the greatest weapon that colonial powers have used against Black people: the strategy of divide and conquer. The AU’s ambassador to the United States and the Caribbean, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, states that people of African descent have become the most disrespected people on earth because their voices are missing in action and there is a deficit of cooperation and trust among this group. She further says that other ethnic groups stick together like super-glue. “To gain respect we have to come together and speak with one voice. Are you really willing to leave this world the way it is for your grandchildren?” she asks the African diaspora.
Before her appointment as AU ambassador, the Zimbabwe native, who immigrated to the United States in 1977, was a family medicine doctor in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and with her fellow physician husband founded a chain of medical clinics in the region.
One of Chihombori-Quao’s mandates is to improve diplomatic ties with the U.S. and the Caribbean — although the AU maintains full intergovernmental organization diplomatic status with the United States — but the mission she truly is passionate about is mobilizing Black people and telling those who are living outside of Africa that the continent is their home too. Watching one of her African-American friends break down crying and explain to her that not knowing where she comes from is an everyday struggle compelled Chihombori-Quao even more to spread the word of unity and “diaspora returns.”
During the first-ever AU town hall in Atlanta, the AU ambassador, along with several leaders of African diaspora organizations, politicians, journalists, and educators, discussed how the people from the African diaspora can come together. The town hall meeting, titled “400 Years: Breaking through the arrested development in AFRICAN-African Diaspora Relations” took place on April 23, 2019, in the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library. The attendees, most of them dressed in the beautiful colors of Africa, we’re excited to speak with the AU ambassador about Africa-related projects, and several business connections were made over food and conversations. With the guidance of moderator Kwabena Boateng and host Amirah Ansaar, the groundwork of a diaspora homecoming was further textured that evening.
Before the start of the AU town hall, Dr. Chihombori-Quao spoke with Atlanta Black Star about the state of Africa, AU’s initiatives to further develop the continent, building Wakandas, global relations and African descendants “taking the wheel.” Having built several medical clinics, an Africa House, and a cultural heritage hotel, Dr. Chihombori-Quao’s evident entrepreneurial DNA will accelerate the AU’s goals to (re)unite Black people.
According to Chihombori-Quao, the continent of Africa was awake, put to sleep by colonizers, and now has to wake up again and go back to its greatness. She elaborates on the role the West played in blocking Africa’s development: “The seed of divide and conquer was sowed during the Berlin Conference, which was held from November 1884 to February 1885. The participating Western nations knew that if they chopped Africa into different countries, those small economies could never survive on their own and would be easy to destabilize. To put this in perspective for you, if this world was a boxing game would you put Lesotho, Gambia, Burundi or Congo in the same boxing ring as China?” the AU ambassador asked with a chuckle.
“Well, this is exactly what is happening nowadays. These small African countries have the same sovereignty as the big nations. So when it comes to trading and negotiating, these itty-bitty African countries are meant to go against ‘big boys,’ so we are getting killed, there is no parity there. The game is over before it even begins. The Berlin Conference was designated to see to it that Africa and all its children will forever be defeated and dominated.”
So how is the AU planning to “wake up” the African continent? An important initiative was taken in 2018. The AU brokered the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) deal, which was then signed by 44 of the 55 African Union nations. “With this deal, African countries can come together and become one negotiating power, just like the US and Europe. One Africa, one voice, one continent”, the AU ambassador says.
The AU ambassador explains how this will have huge positive economic implications for continental Africans: “Without the deal, it is easier for small African countries to change their own currency into dollars, pounds or euros instead of changing it into a small currency from another tiny African country. Thus, a manufacturer or distributor of tiles in Egypt has to send its tiles to Italy, only for Africans to buy them at 20 to 30 times the cost to come back to Africa. Intra-African trade will drop prices on goods significantly.” Africa’s intra-continental trade made up 18 percent of total exports, while nations in Europe and Asia are at 69 percent and 59 percent, respectively.
“For the AfCFTA deal to succeed Africans need to be able to move freely around the continent”, Chihombori-Quao says. Therefore, the African Union passport is of high priority for the AU as well. People with this passport are exempt from having to obtain any visa for all 55 states in Africa. “Right now, they are working on who will get it first. The AU passport is already available for some heads of states, ambassadors and approved business people. I am on a mission to make sure that African locals, who want to contribute to the greatness of Africa, and help build several Wakandas, will get the AU passport as well,” the ambassador said.