The Chinese, Indian, and African landmasses have some characteristics that are common to all three. All three are occupied by a multiplicity of ethnicities, many of whom speak a language that is uniquely theirs. China serves as home to some 56 official ethnic groups, whose communication needs are served by 302 languages. India has more than 2,000 ethnic groups that speak in excess of 700 languages. Africa surpasses China and India with a whopping 3,000-plus ethnic groups and over 2,100 languages. For all intents and purposes Africa could be described as a modern Tower of Babel.
The superabundance of ethnicities and languages on the continent of Africa contributes both to the diversity of the African continent and to its challenges. Ethnic conflicts and rivalries past and present have made African soil rich with the blood of its people. To this day it is still hard to comprehend why the Hutus of Rwanda would have considered the Tutsis so different that they needed to be made the main course on the macabre table of genocide. The Biafra War in Nigeria pitted the Ibo against the Hausa. The genocide in Darfur was also ethnically motivated and eventually led to the break-up of Sudan into two nations.
The addition of foreign religions to the African mix of ethnicities and languages has only served to add greater volatility to an already explosive environment. Christianity has a long history of sectarian violence. Sects in Christianity have come to blows historically for noble and totally witless causes. Protestants and Catholics, until very recently, were quite willing to tear each other apart over interpretations of Bible passages. Christians also took a crack at Jews every opportunity they got, and it was all-out jihad between Christians and Muslims.
Regrettably, the prejudices of Jews, Christians, and Muslims were perfectly replicated among Africans who converted to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. African Protestants disliked African Catholics. Denominated Africans embraced the same kind of triumphalism espoused by their Caucasian mother churches. African Muslims picked up smartly from their Arab forbearers and it was open season for jihad against Dar al Harb in Africa, resulting in an escalation of religiously motivated terrorism.
In the Caribbean context, ethnicity and languages do not present too big a problem for the Afro-Caribbean population. The Caribbean has proven to be a melting pot that consumed much of the ethnic identity of Afro-Caribbean people. Linguistically, the people of the Caribbean with African ancestry have adopted the languages of the European nations that colonised the individual islands. English, French, Spanish, and Dutch are the four main languages spoken in the Caribbean, with a touch of creole in each island.
The Caribbean has, therefore, been successful at evolving a black culture that shares some commonality with African culture but, at the same time, is also uniquely Caribbean. Notwithstanding the petty jealousies and the competitive nature of Caribbean islanders, it is unlikely that black people in the various Caribbean islands will ever become mad enough with each other to start an inter-island war or engage in any form of genocidal insanity.
Caribbean islanders seem to have bought into the philosophy espoused by the great calypsonian Black Stalin from Trinidad and Tobago, who reminded us that we came on the same trip and on the same ship. Black Stalin's song The Caribbean Man reminds us that our origins and experiences are the same, making us one big Caribbean family. The Caribbean family is, therefore, strategically poised to chart a path for other people of African ancestry to follow.
While it is true that the Caribbean has been successful in discarding many of the ethnic and linguistic barriers still impacting the African continent, there is still much work to be done in harnessing the true political potential of the Caribbean. Some Caribbean leaders are finally awakening to the reality that size does matter in international affairs. Caribbean islands are too damn small to really matter in the larger framework of geopolitics and economics.
Our individual markets are too miniscule to exert any real influence on multinational corporations and the pharmaceutical industry. As was pointed out by Dr Hilary Beckles of The University of the West Indies, Barbados campus, the pharmaceutical companies producing life- and limb-saving medication for treating diabetes refused to enter into any negotiations with the Caribbean simply because of the small size of its market. Individual Caribbean governments were also stretched to their limits trying to obtain protective equipment and COVID-19 vaccines from the developed world.
The African continent has the population density that is lacking in the Caribbean so it makes perfect sense for the Caribbean to build air and sea bridges across the Atlantic to mother Africa. At this late stage of the game the Caribbean and Brazil should already have a permanent seat in the African Union as they are the closest to the African continent and have been able to maintain the greatest amount of African continuity in the African Diaspora.
The Caribbean Community must also recapture the vision of our early pan-African fathers, whose ambition it was to create a working political federation in the Caribbean. Associations of sovereign states will not produce the economies of scale needed both in the Caribbean and on the African continent. Caribbean islands in proximity to each other should be exploring ways and means to amalgamate political institutions and island economies to effectively create political unions under one central Government. The proliferation of prime ministers and parliaments in the Caribbean is both wasteful and unnecessary.
Many of our political leaders in the Caribbean and in Africa need to commit political suicide and simply go away in the interest of the development of both regions. It is the addiction to the trappings of power that continues to blind Caribbean and African politicians, preventing them from embracing the greater reality and advantage of a political federation of states. African and Caribbean nations will either learn how to come together to speak and act as one, or as individual states we will become more marginalised, fractionalised, and eventually recolonised.
Lenrod Nzulu Baraka is the founder of Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Teaching Center and the author of The Rebirth of Black Civilization: Making Africa and the Caribbean Great Again.