Dawn of new Africa

2013-05-26 14:00

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In Addis Ababa, winds of change continue to blow

The late Jamaican reggae singer Peter Tosh momentarily took over the main plenary hall at the headquarters of the African Union (AU) yesterday.

This was when former Jamaican prime minister Percival Patterson prefaced his remarks with the playing of one of Tosh’s songs.

And it was an appropriate one, for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on May 25 1963.

As Patterson took to the microphone, representing the diaspora as the sixth region of Africa, Tosh’s strong voice boomed through the hall as he sang: “No matter your nationality, no matter where you come from, as long as you are a black man, you are an African.”

The hall joined in singing and clapping, thus marking, in a way, the start of the festivities that were to culminate late yesterday in a jamboree of songs and cultural activities.

Ethiopia and Sudan, the founding members of the OAU, were also to play a friendly soccer match in commemoration of the event.

The day had started like any other in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, with calls to prayers for the faithful and the women clad in white heading for their churches to seek and appreciate blessings from God.

The streets were still quiet by 6am, or hour one in Ethiopian orthodox time, as I made my way to the AU headquarters in a ramshackle Fiat, which is the city’s trademark brand of taxi.

But signs of a pending lockdown were already there. Major thoroughfares leading to the AU were closed and cops were on virtually every corner we passed.

When it is summit time at the AU, the city feels the pressure of the WaBenzi class and their blue lights.

At the AU centre itself, the giant was still shaking off its slumber. The caterers were bringing in food for the privileged, cleaners were dusting up and the security establishment was already in place.

At 8am sharp, President Jacob Zuma walked into conference hall four, on cue.

He was followed by the chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. They were the first of the heads of state and other leaders to arrive for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) breakfast.

Other leaders were to follow. Some, like Malawi’s Joyce Banda, arrived almost an hour late.

The breakfast was for the Nepad heads of state and governments to receive a report from a study on domestic resource mobilisation, which looked at what resources are available on the continent that could be galvanised for development without relying on foreign funding. The report was impressive.

$500 billion (R4.7 trillion) is available, but as Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete pointed out, this was an aggregation of smallholdings by individual countries that cannot simply be put in one basket for the development purposes envisaged.

But the executive secretary of the economic commission of Africa, Carlos Lopes, who presented the results, insisted that the amount was from reserves and only needed a vehicle to plan its use.

This economic debate was to foreshadow the main celebration in the plenary, where, before Peter Tosh came on, Pan-African Youth Union leader Tendai Wenyika had enthralled the presidents and former leaders by paraphrasing Ayi Kwei Armah’s book, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born.

She asserted that the beautiful ones have indeed been born and that a new Africa was possible.

She said hatred had filled the continent where Africans were killing each other and vowed that the youth wanted a different Africa and would create it.

“Samora Machel, Steve Biko and Oliver Tambo did not ask anyone for permission to wage the struggle. We are claiming Vision 2063 as our own. In any case, many of you will not even be around to see it happen,” she said, to loud applause.

The two main aims of the OAU were to liberate every inch of Africa and to unite its people.

The former has been achieved, save for the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is still occupied by Morocco, while the latter remains a work in progress.

Yesterday also demonstrated that a new dawn had broken for the AU itself, as Dlamini-Zuma has changed the format of summits. In the past, leader after leader was called to the podium to give interminable speech after speech.

This time, there was a panel of civil society people, who spoke their parts to the full. Presidents who wanted to join the debate were given only three minutes, at the end of which the microphone would be disconnected automatically, sometimes mid-sentence.

The new Africa, where ordinary people are more important than their leaders, seemed to be upon us.

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