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By Mutumwa D. Mawere

LAST week, Cape Town hosted the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa 2007 whose theme was “Raising the Bar”.

The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, had to wait for the conference to announce his appointment as the First Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) an initiative of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

With 53 countries, Africa still has a long way to go in generating and taking ownership of its destiny and will continue to be a football that can be kicked around for other people to score while Africa’s icons play second fiddle or subsidiary roles on the defining issues of the time.

Is Africa in the Comfort Zone? Who is the WEF? Who is AGRA? Why would Africans be comfortable having a Swiss-based organisation take ownership of its important conversation? When did Annan know that he was destined to be Chairman of AGRA? Is there any agenda behind AGRA? Why the African spokesman?

Africa has produced brilliant minds that have a global rating and yet the continent continues to exhibit signs that Africa has a paucity of the brain power to transform itself out of poverty. I had no choice but to start my conversation of this week with a definition of what “comfort zone” means in relation to the contemporary African condition and how it manifests itself.

A comfort zone denotes the limited set of behaviours that a person will engage without being anxious. It describes that set of behaviours that have become comfortable without creating a sense of risk. A person’s personality can be described by his or her comfort zone. A comfort zone is, therefore, a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries that are not real. Such boundaries often create an unfounded sense of security.

A person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his life will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. A comfort zone often results from the unfounded beliefs which, once dispelled; expand the scope of a person’s behaviours within the same environment. A comfort zone may alternatively be described with such terms as rigidity, limits, or boundaries, or habit, or even stigmatised behaviour. A typical example could be a recognised need by many Africans in the diaspora to leave unsatisfactory jobs in the host country but the fear of doing so as it would result in losing the sense of security the individual derives from the job and environment. The sense of security the individual perceives could be attributed to the mental conditioning formed initially.

Could it be that Kofi Annan, like many of us, was scared of what he would do after his tenure at the UN and forgot to use his powerful position to empower his fellow Africans so that he could find sanctuary in uniquely African-conceived, structured and financed ideas and not end up becoming a spokesman for ideas that may well be his but financed by Gates and Rockefeller money?7

Annan is the first black African to get the address of the UN Secretary General and more is, therefore, expected from him than to end up with no home that is financed by Africans to use his experience, contacts and knowledge. It is common cause that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Yes, Annan could be different but the truth is that AGRA is an initiative that will rely on funding from the donors. One cannot fault the American foundation for identifying the green revolution in Africa as worthy of intervention and for which an African face in the name of Annan would be ideal. In as much as African recognise that the food and water management challenges of Africa need to be resolved, it is notable that Africans would not dare leave the comfort zone and create their own broad-based foundations by using their savings for better good in Africa.

When Gates chooses Annan to have a voice on African issues, we cannot blame him because we have abdicated from taking ownership of our problems. It may be the case that Annan started his conversations with Gates while he was still at the UN and used his access to sell the idea of AGRA but could not find African sponsors in the private or public sectors of Africa. African governments sponsored Annan for the highest office at the UN and yet none of them were concerned about what Annan would do after his tenure. His voice may well have been purchased already and Africa’s expensive investment has ended up being harvested by the very forces Africa seeks to reduce their influence on defining its destiny. Annan, like many of his brothers in the diaspora, cannot escape the comfort zone of the classic brain drain where Africa’s best brains end up being the pretty faces representing other people’s brands and ideas. The tragedy is that the best African minds find value in the imperialist world.

Now we turn to the WEF. It is significant that Annan only announced his appointment at the WEF meeting confirming that no African could provide an appropriate address for him to share his new address with the world. Can you imagine if Klaus Schwab, a Swiss business Professor, who is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, had not thought of the idea in 1971 where would Annan have had an opportunity to break the news?

We have not been able to create our own addresses for dialogue and debate about the major social and economic challenges facing Africa. The WEF has, therefore, provided an important address for Africans but the idea was conceived by non-Africans. Africa’s powerful institutions and individuals look forward to networking at the WEF and yet fail to pose to think why it is the case that Africans have over the last 50 years failed to produce a Professor with the same vision and initiative as that of Professor Schwab. Even Annan has not been challenged enough to get out of the comfort zone and be energised to create an African address that Africa’s big minds can use to ventilate their ideas on how best the continent can move forward.

I was not surprised to learn from a colleague who attended the Cape Town meeting that he could not help but notice that Africa’s Who is Who are not black Africans. In fact blacks were Missing in Action (MIA). The WEF has, therefore, been transformed into an address where the richest African and non African businesses can easily negotiate deals with one another and lobby Africa’s most powerful politicians in broad daylight for deals often at the expense of Africa.

It is an elitist get together and has perfected the skill of creating a power centre for those businessmen who are willing to pay the fees. Important decisions on Africa’s future are made at these meetings with the beneficiaries often being none other than non-Africans. Many of Africa’s budding entrepreneurs now are members of the Young Global Leaders and they are happy to pay the price but often are not willing to pay or belong to any of Africa’s many initiatives to create a platform for debate and dialogue.

The question remains: why have Africans not been able to create their own exclusive and elitist clubs or associations where their political decision makers will find value in using before outsourcing Africa’s future to non-Africans?

Mutumwa Mawere's weekly column appears on New every Monday. You can contact him at:

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