The African and international elite have just concluded the African Development Bank’s 50th anniversary celebrations and annual meeting under the theme: “The Next 50 Years: The Africa We Want”. Over 3,500 delegates, seven African Heads of State, the Governor of the Central Bank of China and U.S Deputy Secretary of Treasury were among the dignitaries to grace the occasion. The guests and the host were in an upbeat and hopeful mode, predicting that the next five decades will be far better than the preceding ones. There are enough grounds to celebrate some of Africa’s political, economic and social achievements since 1957, when Ghana blazed the trail to become the first to gain political independence from British colonial rule. Africa can now boast of a total population that exceeds one billion, it has 54 sovereign states and a rich endowment of natural resources. There is every reason for Africa to celebrate its shining moments, the founding fathers of the post-colonial order who shaped them, and the African people who make them happen. Beneath the confident calm, Africa is on edge and the participants in Kigali were aware of that. After five decades of political independence, thousands of reports on human development, tons of advice from mainly Western consultants, and trillions of aid dollars, the condition of the majority of African people remains precarious.
Africa remains the continent of peasants, and increasingly of urbanized populations living on the margins of squalid slums bursting at the seams. Africa’s silent emergency comes in the form of pernicious killers in like poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and unemployment. These preventable conditions claim millions of African lives every year because they target Africa’s heart and soul: children, women, the elderly and peasants. Though the statistics do not capture the full and often intangible extent of human suffering and lost opportunities, they are nevertheless shocking. According to UNICEF, 3.2 million under-five die annually in Sub-Saharan Africa from preventable conditions; Africa is the most dangerous place to have a baby in the whole world (800 women die every day during pregnancy and child delivery, and half of these deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa). Over 11 million Africans under the age of 25 enter the labour market every year, only to swell the ranks of the unemployed.
Africa’s loud emergencies are exemplified by the hundreds of missing Nigerian girls still in their captors’ hands, another terrorist attack in Kenya last Friday, civil war in Central African Republic and Southern Sudan, continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a failed state in Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi sliding into civil war, Uganda’s long-running battles with Joseph Kony, a stand-off in Egypt and uneasy peace in Libya to cite a few examples. The report “Africa’s Missing Billions” by the international charity Oxfam showed that “between 1990 and 2007 the cost of armed violence and conflict to Africa was $300 billion – approximately the same as the aid money that flowed into the continent during that time. Losses continue at around $18 billion a year. Conflict shrinks the economies of affected African countries by at least 15% a year” Hence, as the elite in Kigali concludes the summitry and deliberations, there is the other part of Africa that is on fire, dying, burning silently and occasionally bursting into deadly conflict and tragedies.
Unable to find hope, jobs, inspiration and the reason to live, Africa’s youth have become easy victims of war-lords, rabble rousers, demagogues and modern day slave traders. Africa’s youth, which should be the continent’s present and future, have been turned into pirates, terrorists, rebel child soldiers, and sex slaves. Dreading the conditions in their own countries, they take dangerous voyages into uncertain worlds and they perish on high seas as they did last October, 2013 in Lampedusa, Italy- or like the 15-year old Somali boy who stowed away in an airplane last month from San Jose, California bound for Hawaii, in search of his mother in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. If Nigeria (population approximately 174 million, largest oil producer in Africa and annual defence spending of $2.3 U.S.) cannot rescue its own young girls from Boko Haram, and Uganda cannot defeat a three-decade old menace from Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, will a handful of U.S. Marines and aircrafts save them?
Africa has a crisis of leadership. Many of Africa’s rulers have, by and large, betrayed African people for too long.If this is the diagnosis, what is the treatment plan?
First, Africa’s ruling elite must admit that they are mostly to blame for Africa’s problems. They must stop the opportunistic habit of depending on the West’s help (East as well during the Cold War) and denouncing the same benefactor when Africa’s self-inflicted wounds become too obvious. Unless there is a change of mindset, African elites will continue to act like a herd, yesterday behind the West or East, today the West or China and tomorrow, God knows who. Africa must follow its conscience and its peoples’ interests. Second, African leaders must recognize that the interests of African people are sovereign and therefore, a first priority. Of these interests, nothing is more important than the right to life, security, health, education and livelihoods. It is in this context that Africa must spend less on armies and armaments, because African countries do not generally fight each other. Africa’s armies fight their own people, and record shows that they generally do an exceedingly poor job at that. African leaders must stop denying fundamental human rights to their population. Freedom and equal opportunity will unleash entrepreneurial energy that has historically transformed other societies. They must invest in education, health, rural and urban areas where the majority of poor Africans live as well as small and medium enterprises. In all these areas, women and youth should be given priority.
Third, Africa’s leaders must have a clear and robust strategy to exit from being the dependent patient, in and out of rehab or intensive care of aid. Africa’s natural wealth must beget value. Africa’s export of natural resources, national revenues, foreign investments and aid money must be deployed and recycled into developing capital, knowledge and skills to create value-added products and services. This is the trajectory of wealth creation that the rich aid-givers of today follow. Africa is not an exception. Fourth, African leaders must prevent and cure the recurrent epidemics of self-inflicted conflicts. The current fire-fighting demonstrated in international peacekeeping, drones, and ad hoc arrangements for U.S and Western armies to intervene in Africa can be temporary relief but are not sufficient to ensure lasting security and peace. Conflicts within African countries remain matters of unresolved problems because of the cut-throat competition for power among the elite. It is a life-and-death struggle to capture state power and in turn use it to access and hoard resources and/ or dispense a victor’s justice to the losers. The winner takes it all and often the losers must accept their losses or otherwise organize for the next round of bloody conflict since the status quo rarely yields power peacefully. The antidote to this is to democratize and enlarge the circle of people’s participation in governance, strengthen the rule of law and nurture a culture of dialogue, power-sharing and peaceful resolution of conflicts.
Last, but not least, African rulers must heed the wisdom from all cultures of the world. Human progress is not solely about building material abundance and registering GDP growth, important as they are for human survival. Creative imagination, innovation, science, technology and entrepreneurship proceed from human’s quest to improve their lot. To do this, they discover that co-operation is both a pre-condition for survival, and an opportunity to demonstrate what Bantu-speaking peoples of Africa call Ubuntu (or human-ness). Africans must learn from their own achievements and flaws and those of other societies to nurture the wellbeing and resilience of individuals, families, communities and nations. A mind rich on Ubuntu peels away clan, tribe, gender, race, class, religion and nation identities to see the brother and sister in the other. Such a mind is not quick to kill and plunder. It does not commit genocide or easily go to war. It is a mind that shares and weeps when others suffer. It is a mind that sees dialogue, respect of others and humility as strengths. It is a mind that is happy because it fosters happiness in others. In a stampede to become like the West and of late like China, Africa’s ruling elite have lost their African-ness, and yet they get frustrated when they cannot exactly emulate the West’s and China’s ingenuity.African leaders must change their own mindsets; put women and children at the centre of all national and continental endeavours, create an enabling environment for growth of institutions, freedom and the rule of law, champion Made-in-Africa value-added products and services for consumption and exchange, prevent and cure violent conflicts and above all, embrace Ubuntu as a central organizing philosophy in African societies. African societies must liberate themselves from chaos, suffering and dependency. African leaders must redeem themselves from scorn, shame and condemnation before it is too late. Africa, be and heal yourself!
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa is the former Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States and Author of ‘Healing A Nation: A Testimony’. The article was first published in May 2014 in Black Star News.