Time to look to Africans

2014-08-07 00:00

THE former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi once had an idea of creating a United States of Africa.

Assuming I have my bearings right on this subject, the idea involved turning the 54 states of Africa into one state, in the same style as the United States of America.

The Libyan leader, Wikipedia reported, who was the 2009 chairperson of the African Union (AU), advanced the idea of a United States of Africa at two regional African summits: first in June 2007 in Conakry, Guinea, and again in February 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Gaddafi had previously pushed for its creation at a summit at Lomé, Togo, in 2000, having described the AU as a failure on a number of occasions. Gaddafi asserted that only a true pan-African state can provide stability and wealth to Africa. This meant, I assume, the borders dividing this expanse of our land would be collapsed, we would have a single currency, and the people of this great continent would travel across it with ease, without the restriction of pesky things like visas.

It was a noble idea; loony for sure, but noble nonetheless. That it came from someone many regarded as an equivalent of a cartoon character, who fancied himself the lifetime ruler of such a state, did not help matters.

The challenges of such an idea were obvious. Africa is in trouble with poverty and lack of development, famine and endless wars, but there are some countries that are better than others. Those countries would bear the brunt if such an idea was entertained.

As loony as the idea was, there was one principle that leaders (ones who were rolling on the floor with laughter when brother leader suggested it) should have taken note of; the idea of Africa looking inwards for its development.

I was reminded of this “loony” idea this week as African leaders engage with the U.S. at the USA-Africa summit held in Washington. I wondered when last our leaders took bold steps for the improvement of the lives of the populace.

Many of these madalas — I mean presidents — clinging to power will throw themselves a big pity party in Washington, beg Barack Obama for more money, medicine and other things that they could and should source themselves. This will also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of them to shake hands and take pictures with the most powerful man in the world. Wait for the selfies after the summit.

Our own President Jacob Zuma was recently quoted as saying Obama should have done more for Africa considering that he is of African descent. I suspect all the continent’s madalas  — ahem — I mean presidents there share the same sentiments.

“[This African descent] has made him tread very carefully and I think that is a reality,” he told a National Press Club (NPC) luncheon. “I believe he could have done more, but I think he was always aware of this fact and therefore he has navigated that situation very well,” Zuma was quoted as saying.

Here is the thing, Mr President, Obama is American, and he owes Africa nothing. The people who should have done more for Africa are you and your colleagues. For Zuma and his fellow leaders to admit openly that they are looking at another man in the same position as them to solve their problems is quite disgraceful.

Instead of our leaders placing their hope in other countries and begging for handouts, they should be looking at how they could take bold action to redirect the fortunes of the continent, because whatever they have been doing for the past decades has not worked.

Africa is by far the richest continent; it has water, agrarian land, precious metals and oil in abundance, and yet it derives no benefit from these. This giant of resources and talent continues to live on its knees.

While it’s easy to attribute these problems to the chaos that ensued after colonialism, let’s not forget the roles played by all the gentlemen living it up in Washington. Many of them have been in power for decades and have no intention of stepping down. Others, prevented by their constitution from staying in power any longer, are busy trying to tamper with the same constitution so they can extend their stay at the top.

Many others are not afraid of starting wars that kill thousands and displace millions so they can extend their stay at the presidential palace. They do so because outside power, they are nothing, they have nothing, and they need the state’s resources for the benefit of their families.

This continent has produced the likes of Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatha, to name two, who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of the African people, and this current crop of leaders has fallen way below standard.

Gaddafi’s idea was loony but at least it looked towards Africans. Africa needs a generation of leaders with crazy ideas like those of Gaddafi. They might not advocate for unification, but they can view Africa as one self-sustaining state.

• Thamsanqa Magubane is a reporter at The Witness.

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