AU at 50 – Rhetoric and Romanticism

They came, set, drank, made deliberations and they went. As the African Union jointly held its 21st Summit amidst celebrations for its 50th anniversary, many leaders spoke glowingly about the successes of the AU as to date. The slogan which seemed to be on the lips of many African head of states was ‘We have come a long way’. Regrettably, what these head of states forgot to project was how far Africa is, when it comes to the attainment of sustainable development. Rather, than going beyond the usual rhetoric and glowing romanticism, the 50th anniversary was another forum for the endless talk shows that has come to accustom, punctuate and characterise African head of states’ gatherings. The 21st OAU/AU 50th anniversary (summit) was supposed to critically reflect on the mixed realities and feelings of the generality of the African people from the great Savanna lands of Africa up to the Nile basins. Such an introspection by our leaders was supposed (to be both) forward looking and backward looking in nature. However, what we witnessed at the recent 21st  AU summit held from the 26-27th of May 2013, was more of the preaching of the ‘Ubuntu’ philosophy and the glorification of the Pan-Africanism ideology. Apart from celebrating the Ubuntu mantra, African leaders seemed to have failed to look each other straight in the eye in the bid to objectively deliberate on Africa’s everyday problems.They also failed to be candid when it came to tackling real issues affecting Africa, especially in the wake of man-made disasters and crises emerging in most African countries with Zimbabwe being no exception.

All our leaders seemed to have forgotten to speak law to power. Rather, all the head of states seemed to be in unison on the need to re-brand Africa so as for her to compete equally with other actors on the global scene. Reading from the talk from these African leaders, it was discernible that profits matters over people. Collectively, it was also apparent from the narratives and dialogue that trading institutions are more significant to Africa’s development than African governments. Taking from the plenary presentations made (by many head of states) one could note that, there was much focus on foreign direct investment (FDI), economic growth (in figures), global trade and little discussion on intra-regional trade, migration,corruption,sustainable development,rule of law, peace and security issues. In my view the African leaders gathered at the 21st OAU/AU summit offered lip service to the issue of peace and security in Africa. Apart from touting about the successes of the OAU/AU in the past 50 years, the African head of states failed to move beyond the rhetoric, thus failing to address the real issues which are at stake (I mean the real issues) posing a threat to Africa’s development. Much of their narrative was rather couched, peppered and curried along investment, global value chains, development and trade at the expense of dwelling much into the gendered costs of development, feminisation of poverty, aid dependency, upsurge of diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS, T.B, political instability, poor infrastructure, unemployment, civil strife, conflicts, rigged elections and political violence which has become a common recurrent phenomena spreading from the Nile river –Rift Valley – Cape of Good Hope – across the great Savanna Islands up to the Majestic Victoria Falls.

It is apparent that the 21st OAU/AU summit failed to look with hindsight over its failures in dealing with the problems in Rwanda (genocide), Zimbabwe (political conflict), Mozambique (civil war), South Africa (during apartheid), Ethiopia-Eritrea (border dispute) , Somalia (failed state), Burundi (ethnic conflict), Sudan (conflict), DRC (crisis), Angola (civil war), Mali (military uprisings deposing civilian governments), Nigeria (Boko- Haram factor), Uganda (conflicts and dearth of democracy), Central African Republic (conflict), Madagascar (electoral disputes),  Liberia (conflict), Sierra Leone (conflict and war) the list is endless. By so doing the head of states chose only to concentrate on the positives without critically proffering solutions for Africa’s problems reflecting from her troubled history. As common with most talk shows the summit talked much about the need for Africa’s unity. However, now that Gaddafi is gone there wasn’t much talk about the United States of Africa.On the other end, the so called ‘new leaders’ in Africa also spoke eloquently about Africa’s future especially her relationship with other global actors in the North. The idea of an establishment of an African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis (ACIRC) and an African emergency army was mooted. However, time will tell, on whether such rhetoric will see the light of the day. As they discussed about Africa’s Rise and African Renaissance they seemed to have forgotten to fix the Madagascar, Mali, Zimbabwe and Eastern DRC ‘crises’ once and for all. They all took turns to go to the podium. With decorated speeches they swore their allegiance to oversee the flourishing of peace and security in Africa. I cynically wonder whether they were truthful to the core. Only God Knows! As the African head of states celebrated the OAU/AU, 21st Summit/50th anniversary the question that ought to be asked loud and clear is whether Africa is united? Furthermore, one maybe forgiven for asking if whether something tangible emerged from the AU Hall? Wasn’t this gathering another set of endless talk shows? One wonders whether the summit deliberations were able to transcend beyond the reminiscing and rhetoric characteristic of  the previous AU summits?

 The renewal of a people of continent is a miraculous thing.Through the undercurrents of our minds, the idea is passed along that we can have good houses, good roads, decent education, fulfilling jobs.The idea is passed along in the undercurrent of our minds that we can stand tall and be fruitful under the sun…Ben Okri.

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Africa :Outsider is forever welcome

 

*For far too long, a majority of Africans have been indifferent to misrepresentations about who they are. They have remained objects of the ill-informed caricatures of a once glorious heritage disfigured by colonial and post-colonial predators* Chido Nwangwu

 

*Africa is a place where the outsider is forever welcome. In the hardest of times and in the most desolate of places, I have been greeted with a warm hand and an open heart* Alagiah

 

The above two quotations show the competing narrative on both the positive and negative portrayal of Africa by outsiders. As Africa is being portrayed in bad light we are forced to reconsider Tonnie’s famous thesis that the struggle to define and influence public opinion is a distinctive feature of modern societies. From the onset I should make it explicitly clear that I am not writing this article from a Pan-Africanist perspective. What I am attempting to do is to put the debate on/about Africa in a proper perspective. Many at times Africa is in the media for the wrong reasons. The international media seem to be pre-occupied with reporting the negative Africa. Does this mean there is nothing positive and worth emulating in Africa? The answer is an outright No.

The international media seem to forget that Africa is the warehouse that drives their industrialized economies. Africa is home to vast amounts of raw materials that China, USA and other developed countries badly need. Regrettably, many at times we still hear the derogatory term that Africa is a ‘dark continent’. One may ask how dark is it? What makes it dark, is it the pigment (colour and skin) of its inhabitants that make it a dark continent? Some have even gone into an ignorance overdrive of asking whether Africa is one country. But what they forget to write is the fact that Africa is bailing their economies in the post financial recession which gripped many countries in the developed world.

Of course in Africa, we have had our own fair share of challenges just like in any other continent. We had some seasons of ethnic violence, genocide, wars, military rule, coups, civil strife, then came the era of one partyism (one party state). However, we are still facing the challenge of long incumbents who cling to power at all costs. Omar Bongo from Gabon who has been in power since 1967,so is Obiang Nguema Mbasongo –Equatorial Guinea who has been in power since 1979.Paul Biya Cameroon who has been in power since 1982 the list is endless. But that does not mean that all is bad in African politics. The recent 2012 presidential elections in Ghana can testify to the fact that we as Africans we are also capable of holding free and fair periodic and democratic elections. This runs contrary to the negative portrayal of Africa as a place were elections are always violent, bloody and rigged. However, we should also not run away from the very fact that most African elections are characterized by violence, frog marching, rigging and other electoral irregularities. But that does not mean that all elections in Africa are a farce.

Baffour Ankomah a pan-Africanist and writer in 2008 writing in New Africa Magazine wrote that

Language is perhaps the most crucial battleground. Noble words such as ‘democracy’, ‘liberation’, ‘freedom’ and ‘reform’ have been emptied of their meaning and refilled by the enemies of those concepts. How many people know that, in revenge for 3 000 innocent lives taken on 11 September 2001, up to 20 000 innocent people died in Afghanistan.

The above quotation clearly shows how the international media (western media) in particular massage facts and events. This hypocrisy also shows how Africa has been on the receiving end of such bad publicity. Whilst in actual fact she is not the only continent suffering from instability. To this end, it is the task of us Africans to teach the world about our people, culture, history and politics. Countries such as Zimbabwe has gone to an extend of re-branding Zimbabwe under the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign. Such efforts help in showing the positive and good side of Africa.

For years there seem to be a long held perception of Africans as victims and not victors. It is worth quoting Alagiah at length here

For most people who get their view of the world from T.V, Africa is a faraway place where good people go hungry, bad people run government, and chaos and anarchy are the norm.

To put it differently in Biekart’s (1999) words many citizens from the North seem to be convinced by the images of children in the South (either crying or laughing) central to private aid advertising and televised charity campaigns that the crisis is still out there and not yet resolved. The question in the offing is for how long will Africa continue to be portrayed in a more negative way?  Is there nothing positive to portray about Africa, one may wonder. It is high time Africa rise as one giant. It is time for her people to re-brand and portray Africa as progressive continent just like any other continent be it Latin America, Asia, South America, North America etc. In the words of Ben Okri there are three Africas. The one that we see every day; the one that they write about and the real magical Africa that we don’t see unfolding through all the difficulties of our time, like a quiet miracle. Thabo Mbeki also asks tough questions on who will define Africa. I believe the button is upon us all to re-define our own beloved continent. Let me end by quoting my favorite author who reminds us that,

 

We are the Miracles that God made, to taste the bitter fruit of time, we are precious and one day our suffering will turn into the wonders of the earth…Ben Okri