Towards searching for an africa with dignity:

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Some Reflections  and some ways forward

In Last week’s Capital issue (January 27), under the title Africa and AU at 50: Some Concerns and Reflections, my colleague and I have tried to express rather very briefly to explain some of the reasons that lead to the establishment of the OAU in 1963 and its transformation to AU in 1999. In doing so, we also tried to highlight the current state of affairs and reality of Africa, about the tremendous suffering that many people of Africa are undergoing resulting from needless and senseless conflicts in many parts of the continent and also attempted to highlight the contradiction and paradox that the people of Africa are facing in spite of the fact that Africa is potentially a very rich continent but also very poor trailing behind other continents.
We then tried to briefly explain that this is partly caused due to lack of selflessness and high quality of leadership committed to implementing the ideals and aspirations of the people of Africa. We then went on to deal with some issues related to AU and argued that the weakness of the AU is also a reflection of the member states of African countries and their leaders and AU is as weak as all its members want it to be. AU cannot exercise powers that are not delegated by its members. We also stressed that despite what many optimists say about Africa, the fact of the matter is that it has many complex and diverse problems that cannot be solved by declarations, slogans and resolutions alone. There are too many empty declarations and resolutions and too much manufacturing of slogans and good feel advertisements. We thus have pleaded that it is time to move on from rhetoric into action and implementation. We concluded by stating that although, there are good reasons to recall and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the OAU there are also huge challenges ahead that Africa and the AU should overcome and lots of work to be done. This article is in a way an extended and detailed version left out from our last week’s article. However, I have decided to write it under the title Towards search for an Africa with dignity and under my own exclusive responsibility.
I like to begin by saying that although about two third of leaders of African countries attended the 20th Ordinary Session of the assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) between January 27 and 28  and also to celebrate the 50th  anniversary of the establishment of the OAU, the event has been overshadowed by the conflict in Mali and other conflict prone countries of Africa. It is said that $ 950 million is needed for keeping African troops to be deployed in Mali and to stabilize it as well as to either contain or defeat the Islamists and Jihadists of North Africa and Sahara Desert. It is also said that another $300 million is needed for restructuring Malian Army. A donor conference was organized to mobilize extra other Millions to cover the expenses for the operation and to overcome the current turmoil in Mali as well as to secure its borders. However, there are also many issues that the AU leaders had to deal with beyond Mali.
The dispute between Sudan and southern Sudan, the West African union of Guinea Bissau, the Central African Republic and the problems of some other countries were also an area of concern. The dust of a durable peace and stability in Libya and Somalia have not yet settled down. Although not so much attention was given, there had also been a failed coup or mutiny by dissatisfied soldiers in Eritrea which was badly planed and badly executed. There had been a conflict between the Bagui government on one hand and the Democratic opposition and the rebel coalition known as the Seleka, on the other. The same is also true between the Government of Cote d’Ívoire and the Cote d’ Ívoire Popular Front (FPI, ex ruling Party). The peace talks between the Government and the M23 and other opposition groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has so far failed to bring about a lasting peace and stability to that troubled country. The Hostage Crisis at In Amenas gas plant south East of Algeria and the killings of some Nigerians by suspected Islamists in northern Nigeria such as in the town of Damboa as well as the continued uprising and violence going on in Egypt which according to the statement of the Minister of Defense of Egypt could lead to the collapse of the Egyptian state itself is another reminder that many African countries have a serious security threats.
The truth of the matter is that many African countries are suffering from multi faceted and multi dimensional crises which have been generated partly by internal and partly instigated by external actors, groups and powers. Some of the root causes are due to lack of good governance, democracy, transparency, accountability, absence of rule of law, justice and the prevalence of un acceptable state of poverty as well as neglect of state responsibility to the citizens. It should be stressed that many African countries are inhabited by both Muslims and Christians that claim to originate from different ethnic groups. The anti Islam propaganda in the post 9/11 terrorist attack in New York and subsequent wars and conflicts that has been waged in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere and the support given by the United States and some Western governments to resources rich countries ruled by absolute Monarchs and dictatorial regimes have angered many ordinary people in the Arab, Islamic and other parts of the world. It is these and many other factors such as the persistence of absolute poverty, helplessness, hopelessness and lack of a good future that has partly given rise to the strengthening and consolidation of Muslim fundamentalism as well as Al Qaida linked armed groups in Yemen, in some Gulf States, in North Africa as well as in many other countries in the world. It can also be argued that the orchestrated anti Islam propaganda by some Western Media, politicians and leaders as well as the French intervention in Mali might also have triggered the bloody Algerian Hostage crisis. It is due to the above reasons why many African countries and the AU are predominantly preoccupied with peace and security issues.
There is also another external ramification of the Mali conflict. Since French , European and US backed forces are bent to destroy and defeat Islamist extremists not only in Mali but also elsewhere, Iran’s Defense Minister has also called upon the establishment of international Islamic Military Organization comprising Muslim countries’ armed forces in order “to defend the rights of the oppressed people” including Palestinians. Certainly, Iran’s efforts to mobilize the support of the Arab and the Islamic world is to withstand the pressures being exerted by Israel. Iran does not want to see itself isolated and does not want to be seen as if it has no allies. The reasons why Iran sent some of its top envoys to and why Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President attended the opening ceremony of the 20th Africa Union summit in Addis Ababa is not without any reason. It is part of their Diplomatic offensive to get support from African leaders or to neutralize them. It should be stressed that in August 2012, Iran had also called for the establishment of a Defense treaty among Muslim countries.
It appears that far from enjoying peace dividend the world in general and Africa in particular is going a dangerous road and things have become more unstable and more volatile than even during the cold war. From war against communism the big powers and many African countries are waging war against terrorism, Islamists and jihadists that they claim are linked to Al Qaeda and its allies. If such things continue, it appears that Africa might be moving from Super Power driven proxy wars to a breeding ground for religious and ethnic conflicts. Many critics argue that some Western leaders and their allies have a simplistic, naïve and short sighted views and solutions to the multi-sided and very complex African problems and conflicts. Despite the fact that there are many peace and reconciliation committees within many African countries, and despite many UN and African resolutions promoting the culture of peace, harmony, tolerance, unity with diversity, respect for religious and enter ethnic tolerance, the need for mutual understanding as well as inter faith dialogue, African conflicts have not been substantially reduced. In fact new problems have emerged. It is argued that demagogic attitude towards Muslims and Islam, hatred, fear, insecurity and bigotry has increased in the minds of ordinary non Muslim people. These have also been exacerbated by natural disasters such as floods resulting from climate changes. Many rich individuals and corporations have also become greedy and many leaders of the world including that of Africa do not seem to  have the  vision, selflessness, commitment, dedication and the political will to tackle serious global problems other than meeting at World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland and in annual G-20 meetings being held at various venues but which at any rate have not brought about concrete solutions to the suffering of the people of Africa. What the people of Africa expect are concrete results and strategies that solve their day-to-day and week-to-week socio-economic and bread and butter issues and not empty resolutions and dialogues. Aid must also reach the needy.
Unless some serious, genuine and independent studies are undertaken to understand the root causes resentment to the followers of Islam and its factions as well as about why Al-Qaida-linked armed groups thrive in Africa and unless some concrete solutions are found and unless African conflicts are properly, intelligently and wisely managed, Africa can soon become a battle ground for ethnic and religious conflicts. Certainly, finding out who are the main sources of Africa’s problems and conflicts is not as simple as it looks. It requires a thorough research. What is clear, however, is that Africans are fighting other Africans by weapons not manufactured by ordinary peasants and nomads of Africa. They are supplied by external forces.
Some are saying that instead of simply blaming and condemning every uprising as “instigated by foreign terrorists”, or rather than initiating a short sighted common anti-terror strategy of Africa or before even concentrating on establishing African Stand by Force financed by foreign powers, many African leaders, intellectuals and all those concerned about the future of Africa should first revisit and examine their own governance structures and build trust and confidence with their own people and seriously and genuinely address the issues that give rise to uprisings and terrorism within their respective countries. Mass uprisings, street protests, violence and terrorism do not come out of nothing. They do have their own root causes. There might be deep seated grievances. Such grievances and injustices must genuinely be addressed than rushing to use force. If it is widely believed that political dialogue and solution is the answer, then why do leaders continue to allow the killing of thousands of innocent people including children in their own territories? For example, what is happening in Syria both on the part of the Government and the opposition is a reflection of the brutality of individuals and groups obsessed with power than saving human lives. Whoever they are, they are unfit to lead and govern the very people they claim to liberate or care. What is happening in Syria is an example of power politics at its worst. It is not without any reason why politics is partly perceived as organized hypocrisy and deception of innocent people who keep on fighting on emotion driven issues they do not know and whose benefits they cannot quantify and understand. The other troubling thing is how could the so-called international community allow such things to happen in the 21st century?
As far as some of us are concerned a government or an opposition that cannot command the voluntary respect of its citizens and that does not put the interest of the people first above anything else is not worth supporting. We all know that foreign intervention constitutes a violation of international law. But in reality it has become a normal practice. If African leaders continue to depend on foreign powers and actors to keep themselves in power, where does this lead to? For example, in the case of Mali, depending on international support Mission for Mali (MISMA) may help in the short term, but to what extent can the ECOWAS or France or the European Union continue to do so in other African countries given the type of socio-economic crises some members of the European union are facing now? Today is Mali. But could it be repeated in other African countries? Is this a sustainable solution any way? By the way, France has sent troops to Mali and is spending a great deal of money despite the fact that according to even one French Minister’s public statement it is suffering from serious socio-economic crises itself. The question is, given the types of socio-economic and political crises that many European countries are facing that is also compelling them to embark in budget cuts, limiting public services and laying off public employees. Such policies also have their own negative effects on the flow of aid. The question is can African countries continue to depend on donors to even protect their own security and power in a sustainable way? And if yes, for how long?
It is indeed a tragedy that while Africa is one of the richest in terms of mineral and oil resources, it is the poorest and most conflict ridden continent. African precious mineral resources have become like a curse with the exception of some countries like Botswana. It should be stressed that nearly all mineral and oil resources of Africa are exported as raw materials. If they were to export processed minerals domestically they would be able to promote employment and enhance their foreign exchange reserves. One cannot create wealth from intra Africa trade if Africa does not acquire an appropriate technology to boost its productive capacity and unless they produce different types of quality products. Some of the fundamental questions worth asking are who is responsible for Africa’s misery and dehumanization? Who has the primary and secondary responsibility to take care the people of Africa?  Is it right to continue blaming colonial powers after more than five or six decades of post colonization era? Where is the truth any way? Some say they do not care about the truth. What they want is profit and to get rich. But is that the best way of creating a peaceful and a better world order? The judgment is left to our readers.
The truth is millions of Africans have heard too many promises from their own leaders and the international community about programs and projects allegedly intended to eliminate poverty, hunger and food insecurity in Africa. But the harsh truth is the people of Africa have been cheated too many times both by their own leaders and foreign powers and to some extent by foreign corporations. But thanks to global media, they are now better informed and hence they do not seem to tolerate it any more. The other problem is that the gap between rich and the poor is too wide. Hopelessness, helplessness and desperation is on the rise and many African governments are not seriously tackling the issues of, among others, food security, poverty alleviation and employment generation. Desperate people are thus now being compelled to take desperate measures. That is why there is widespread resentment, political unrest and crises in many African countries. As we all know, even the better off Algeria which is rich in natural gas has had its own Hostage crises. The same is true with Egypt. This must ring an alarm bell to the leaders of some African countries that they cannot continue to play games with the plight and suffering of their own people. They cannot blame external forces only while they continue to live a luxurious life while their people are living in misery. What is often forgotten is that poor and hungry people are dangerous. Even those orthodox Christians who spend their time going to church weekly could become as cruel as beasts and behave like a devil when things become unbearable and life becomes unlivable. That is why the leaders of Africa should have a sustainable development strategy that would ensure first and foremost a lasting peace and stability as well as embark in sustainable development programs that would in deeds satisfy not only the basic needs of their own people but also their higher needs, and aspirations. The truth of the matter is Africa cannot develop by neither celebrations nor by empty declaration and resolutions or media advertisements. Africans of all walks of life must work hard and intelligently strive towards having an Africa with dignity. But the brunt of the burden and responsibility to have an Africa with dignity rests on the shoulders of its leaders and its scholars and intellectuals and not on those ordinary people who continue to be cheated by their ignorance or innocence. The problem and a major weakness of many African leaders is that they tend to congratulate themselves on achievements that Africans do not see or feel and whose benefits to the vast majority of Africans is not visible and on whatever very little and insignificant achievements they accomplish. We simply do not understand why  many leaders, scholars and intellectuals of Africa have not shown the type of high level of selflessness, commitment and dedication to leave a lasting legacy for their own people? Could it be greed?
The question is what is the role of the AU in resolving such complex and multi dimensional problems? AU has neither the resources nor the capacity, power and authority to deliver what the people of Africa expect. It is partly an incapacitated organization which has been neither effective nor efficient in delivering concrete results to the people of Africa. Justice delayed is justice denied. This has also been the case with the conflict in Mali. It is not without any ground that Mr. Thomas Boni Yayi, the outgoing head of the AU criticized Africa’s slow response to the Islamist insurgency in Mali. He stressed that although Africa and the AU had the means the response was slow. Although there were many reasons for the slow response two of the main reasons are certainly lack of adequate funding and logistics.
In as long as many countries of Africa are suffering from political instability and socio-economic crisis, there is no way the AU could also focus on some of the most pressing issues that are at the heart of the matter for the people of Africa. The question is how could Africa’s economic outlook be favorable  and how can African countries attract sustainable foreign private investment in light of the above stated political and economic turmoil and when peace and stability is a precondition for attracting FDI?
It is important to admit that the main pre occupation of AU has become managing conflicts, facilitating and monitoring  cease fires, reducing and calming military offensives, deploying peace keeping troops and begging for donors to finance the stability of African countries rather than bringing about lasting peace and stability that will pave the way for Africa’s sustainable development. The harsh truth is that the predominant role of the AU have continued to be an African Security Crisis Management Organization (ASCMO) rather than an instrument to implement the long term noble aims and objectives of the people of Africa.
In view of the above, we are compelled to ask ourselves some fundamental questions whether African unity and an Africa with dignity is a distant dream? Given the concrete conditions and the state of current affairs described above, African unity is far away. The idea and the dream is noble. But it is only good on paper. One cannot have an Africa with dignity until African leaders live up to their responsibilities and commitments. We cannot have an a united Africa with dignity as long as we continue to adhere to the inviolability of territorial boundaries created by the former colonial masters to promote their own interests. We cannot have an African unity as long as our leaders are more obsessed with their own power and sovereignty than even feeding their own people. We cannot have a united Africa with dignity as long as there is no trust and confidence between African leaders and their own people at home. We cannot have an Africa with dignity when African leaders continue to blindly adhere to foreign models, ideas, institutions and continue to copy and paste foreign policies and laws without much thinking and adaptation. So, African leaders must first live up to the expectations of their own people living within their jurisdiction as well as to the people of Africa as a whole. First and foremost they have to clean their houses in order, then they can move to their region and then extend it to the African Continent. There is no doubt the world has so many men and women of good will who are genuinely willing to see an Africa with dignity. But Africans have the responsibility to know who their real enemies and their friends are?
It is meaningless to talk of Pan Africanism and African unity if African neighboring states and their leaders are fighting each other and they are not genuinely committed to implement the ideals of African unity. One cannot have a united Africa when the people of one village, locality and region cannot live in peace with those who are living in a neighboring village or region because they are from a different ethnic group and practice a different religion.
Over all, Africa has some if not many systemic problems that require fundamental change as well as fundamental rethinking and whose solutions very much require political, socio-economic and cultural surgery. This does not imply that there are no good things and positive developments in Africa. There is no doubt that there are many good efforts being done and on whose success we must build. But the fact remains that many African countries are in crises primarily because of lack of good leadership, lack of good governance and lack of addressing the issues that matter to ordinary people of Africa. There cannot be an African peace and security without ensuring peace and security at the level of each African country. This is also very much dependent on having good and selfless leaders with a vision and who are committed and dedicated to improve the quality of the life of their own people beyond making empty slogans and promises. It is only when peace and stability reigns and when we establish a healthy and durable economic system that we are able to mobilize our domestic resources efficiently and effectively that we can also move to ensure socio-economic justice, rule of law as well as fair equitable distribution of resources which in turn is also very much dependent on a sustainable economic growth and development. If African leaders and Governments do not want a change of Government through unconstitutional means, they should in the first place have a good, fair, inclusive and participatory constitution. Otherwise, the Constitution that they claim to promote will not have much value and weight. Above all they should appoint the right experts and servants of the people to positions of power based on merit than on anything else. Corruption has also become rampant. Unless curbed it is bound to result in popular uprisings sooner or later.
What we are appealing is a total over haul of the way we Africans are governed, administered and the way we are lead. There are systemic problems that require a mental and cultural revolution. This implies that there is a serious need for a civilized national, regional and international dialogue on the future of Africa and the AU that can help to find a viable and sustainable Road map for Africa’s future direction and to have an Africa with dignity. Certainly power should be democratizing. African leaders have to tear down the colonial borders created by former colonial powers. They must shift their focus from territorial sovereignty to improve the well being of the people of Africa and they should by now understand that the old notion of absolute sovereignty no longer exists and that what exists is only relative sovereignty. Hence, African politicians including the leaders of the opposition of Africa should not be obsessed with their own power and hence must delegate power and authority to make AU more effective, vibrant, dynamic and result oriented.
African citizens must also be more educated, well informed and must be responsible citizens that are driven by reason rather than by emotion. For example, in the era of globalization, we cannot understand why we could not forge a  Confederation of the Horn of East African States (CEAS) or (CHAS). These are not idealist solutions. It is possible to realize them on a step by step basis with our own respective regional groupings provided we have selfless and courageous African leaders with a clear vision, commitment, dedication that the  needed changes demand. It is hoped that the ideas forwarded here will serve as food for thought as well as constitute the right steps in the right direction towards searching a strategy for an Africa and the AU with dignity. In the future the author hopes to contribute  what the blessed people of Ethiopia and the country can contribute to the realization of the noble aims and objectives of AU and the people of Africa.
For comments, the author of this article can be reached via [email protected] It should be stressed that the views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of either the Institutions that the writer is associated or that of Capital.