THE entry of US President Barack Obama in 2009 was characterised by inflated and buoyant expectations by most Africans that the Washington song would be sweet melody for the rest of the continent. In reality, there has been a lingering sense of disillusionment, anxiety and in some instances, outright disappointment in the hearts and minds of many on the African continent.
In the context of the above, it was an historic event in Washington last week as President Obama played host to an auspicious, and perhaps biggest, gathering the African heads of state and governments ever assembled by a U.S. President. The three-day U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit focused on sustainable development, trade, collaboration, investment, and America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.
As forerunner to the Summit, President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was in the spotlight, as the US leader hosted a meeting with the 500 leaders selected as the inaugural class for the Mandela Washington Fellowship. Interestingly, the theme for the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit was “Investing in the Next Generation.” I suppose we are too careless about ourselves that we need another to define our priorities and strategic direction going forward.
In that context, it makes illustrative and interesting reading after making a survey of the list of leaders who were not invited. These include Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir, of Sudan, Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of Central African Republic and Isaias Afewerki, president of Eritrea. It is good that the US has made the correct finger sign on regimes outside the zone of legitimacy and credibility.
But the above list is made complex by the invitation of certain leaders of the same street as those excluded. These include Swaziland’s King Mswati, Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo whose country ranks 136th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index and Republic of Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso.
The presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia decided to prioritise their home fronts to co-ordinate their respective efforts against the deadly Ebola outbreak which has claimed more than 700 lives.
It appears to me that no nation has boycotted the summit in solidarity with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who is currently the deputy chairman of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and vice-president of the African Union – in itself, a very telling development on the politics and psyche of African power dynamics and priorities.Advertisement
With the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasting that the economies of sub-Saharan Africa will grow at an average of 5.4% this year and 5.8% in 2015 – faster than the global average – the thrust by Obama in reaching out to the continent’s leaders merits full and serious consideration.
According to a recent World Bank report, 33 of the African countries suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition at an early age stunts both bodies and minds. The lost potential is thought to cost Africa about 16% of GNP. The US is only doing what it can and ought to do in the context of own national interests. In the context of both the US’s global influence and African interests, President Obama’s later-day move appears to me, to be more of a classic case of a late tackle.
As an African citizen, when asked which is better speaking out or taking action, I choose both. Just because Africans are alive, doesn’t mean we are living. A lot needs to be said and done to ameliorate our dire circumstances as a people. We need to start having a living epitomised by a higher life expectancy, admirable quality life and a happy existence.
From my perspective, Africa will only become prosperous the moment its leaders begin to love their people as much as they love themselves. Africa is burdened by the yoke of a parasitic and predatory elite that makes a hobby out of the exploitation of the vast many of our innocent and peace yearning citizen. In Africa, the big fish eat the small ones as a speciality.
On the other hand, we seem to over-trust donors. We appreciate good hearts and kind hands. After all, love comes in many colours and they are all beautiful. But, we do not need just access to the hand-outs of the West but their markets, investment and technology too.
Donations are never a permanent panacea to Africa’s quagmire. We must refuse to be either a continent of hand-outs or a charity continent. We need investment not mere donations. Perhaps it is the dearth of leadership on the continent that makes donations the inevitable first and only choice on a menu of the survival diet.
The continent is handicapped and hamstrung by a bad leadership showing traits of legendary corruption, unmitigated tribalism, institutionalised terrorism and encyclopaedic short-sightedness upon layers of nauseating parochialism. We are victims of exhausted nationalism and a revolution checked half way. Africa should feed, and not be fed by the world. We should transit from being a basket case to being the bread basket. We have everything except leadership.
We must not be victims of too much talk-shopping with little hard and smart working. Yes, summits are important but not as the invited but the inviting. Yes to summits and conferences on the African continent for African solutions to African problems and not on foreign soils. This may be only solution to the malaise ravaging our motherland. We seem to be spending too much time in meetings and never on practical solutions to Africa’s practical problems. The pill to tame Africa’s ailment is not in Washington, Beijing or Brussels but the great mind of an African. If it is not China inviting us, it the European Union or the US; I am sure Russia is the next!!
Do we really look so cheap and desperate as a continent to deserve such reckless courtship? Why we allow ourselves to behave like a horse without a rider boggles the mind. The rider to the African continent horse should be the African people themselves not China or any other big power for that matter. Why should our continent be a source of cheap raw materials and yet a ready market for cheap quality products and second-rate technology? Are we, as Africa, a choir that requires a choir master? Are we so bad drivers in leadership that we require instructors at every turn? This paradigm and narrative must change and it starts with leadership.
As Africans, we have not just the climatic droughts but a drought of vision, sound plans and bankable policies. We seem not to just have the Namib, Kalahari and Sahel deserts but also a vast desert of ideas. I believe it is time we turned our African tropics, the savannah woodlands and equatorial forests into citadels of prosperity and global glamour. In that regard, Leadership is that first drop of rain. We must stop too much cheap talk at the top and begin to fully deploy our energies on root causes so manifest and bedevilling the African populace.
In Africa, the problem is basically the leadership. Correspondingly, the solution is the basically leadership. We need to jettison petty wars and battles and gird up our loins for the battle of battles against poverty, hunger and hopelessness. In the process, we must stand contrary to the jingoistic macho governance and bully politics of the so-called ‘big powers’.
On the domestic front, we must establish frameworks, systems and structures that minimise waste yet optimize the resources we have. The African government’s budget has more money for off-road vehicles than for constructing and paving the roads. The African leader chooses to buy an expensive off-road SUV as a way of navigating through the bad roads instead of simply investing in the tarred and good roads for the common benefit of all. We carry this microwave mentality and nominal approach to deep problems, the story of quick fixes.
Mediocrity of leadership has fanned the fires of internal turmoil and strife. The leadership has lost our ideological roots and the moral authority of the revolutionary ideals. We must see and learn from the error of our ways.
Africa’s case is a resource curse depicting the tragedy of trouble in circumstances of plenty. We have the resources but not the correct developmental discourses to change the course of our beloved continent.
We ought to force today and tomorrow’s answers through time-bound action plans, measurable benchmarks and implementation matrices. We need a new energy to liberate our minds from the tyranny of routine.
As a firm believer of and ardent and fanatic of the liberation politics and struggle, I feel that the time has come for strong leadership and a revolutionary shift to the emancipatory politics entailing the summoning of the masses to the circumstances of self-determination.
The liberation narrative is poorer, hollow and robbed without the people’s happiness and dignity, both of which we seem to either have lost or are being denied. That deprivation should spur and jolt us into kinetic mode and the fierce urgency of now. We must sing a new song. We must change our time. We must lead and stop forthwith having leaders without leadership.