Time for the difficult questions

2013-05-28 00:00

LAST weekend, the continent of Africa celebrated its golden jubilee. Fifty years after independence from colonial rule began, it’s time to ask how we seize this opportunity to create a better continent which can benefit the world?

In the week of celebrations, the body of Chinua Achebe, Nigerian-born thinker and writer, was laid to rest after several weeks of mourning.

This brought home the terrible coincidence of death and life in the long and protracted search for the renaissance of Africa.

Achebe belonged to the generation of African thinkers who rejected the notion that Africans cannot think and therefore cannot drive their own destiny.

He lived to think freely about the continent he loved, whether in Nigeria, Sweden or the United States. His work sought to figure out ways in which Africans can undo the psychic chains of slavery and colonialism, chains of self-hate and low self-esteem, laziness and dependency.

Like South Africa’s Bernard Magubane and Hugh Africa, who also died in the year of the African jubilee, Achebe epitomised the African intellectual, whose mission is to speak truth to power — both African governments that have many weaknesses, and global powers that have worked with them to undermine the African renaissance.

This is a critical orientation that the celebrations should promote among thinkers in Africa and on Africa.

Critical reflection is needed on what vision, measures and institutions we do not have and which ones are needed.

We have seen what happens when ordinary people and civil society allow elites to run the show: they simply gang up with external elites to rob and destroy their countries; hence the notion of a rich Africa, but poor Africans.

It explains the fact that an estimated R200 billion leaves the continent in illicit cash flows.

It explains how some political leaders and business owners are richer than their countries.

This is also at the root of the ubiquity of corruption, where the rise of mineral production, for instance, over the past decade has not led to improved development.

Africa is host to 10 of the fastest-growing economies, but the very same countries have between 30% and 60% of their population living on less than R14 a day.

Some political leaders have long over-stayed their welcome, for they have not shown an ability to lead their countries out of poverty and underdevelopment.

Some have stayed in power by force or tricks.

They have thus said that the will of the African people does not matter.

Some, such as Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, spend more time in their holiday houses in Europe than fixing things at home.

They are a callous lot and are willing to sacrifice their nations to quench their own thirst for power and wealth.

They are feared not out of respect, but because some have built monstrous states that crush every dissenting voice.

They help breed underground dissent in the form of rebel groups that are now a major trend on the continent.

These leaders have worked very well with some world powers who preach democracy and good governance to perpetuate misgovernment.

They collude to expropriate profits from the poor through tax evasion and other schemes, and to expropriate commodities and natural resources.

The same powers turn around and blame Africa for its woes.

They collude with leaders we don’t deserve to rob ordinary Africans

The many political and business elites in Africa who are working hard to turn things around have their efforts slowed down or undermined by these tendencies of some of their countrypeople.

The work, led by the likes of Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdoulaye Wade, Meles Zenawi, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Mwai Kibaki, Joachim Chissano, Paul Kagame, Levy Mwanawasa and others, to lead the renaissance in the nineties, needs the likes of Jacob Zuma, Ian Khama, John Dramani Mahama, Joyce Banda and Goodluck Jonathan to push even harder. But they have to be systematic and work well as a group.

Citizens have an opportunity to force their views into the process of collecting ideas for 2063.

Power is demanded.

Business and the middle class have proactively to push their ideas about how to fix communications, customs linkages and other blockages of intra-Africa trade and investment.

They have to ask how we promote pan-Africanness in place of anachronistic nationalism.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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