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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