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Africa Day reduced to a meaningless ritual

Staff writer

FIFTY-FIVE years since the formation of the African Union (AU), the Africa Day celebrations have lost their luster and are largely seen by the continent’s young population as a meaningless ritual where the older generation of independence leaders merely pontificate about their ancient and increasingly irrelevant exploits in liberating the continent from colonialism.

On Friday it was Africa Day but there is need for new thinking and even new leaders to rescue the African continent and the Africa Day to make it resonate with the issues keenly felt by the contemporary African people, most of whom were not born during the 1960s and 1970s when the independence struggles were fought and won.

For the past few years, the celebrations have been held against the backdrop of ever-increasing internecine civil strife, political repression, struggling economies, poverty and general instability.

Founded in Ethiopia, on May 25 1963, initially as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) by 32 independent states and liberation movements, the continental body can look back with a sense of pride and satisfaction over its achievements in liberating the continent from the yoke of colonial rule.

But there is a strong feeling in many African countries that those yesteryear liberators have morphed into ogres that are far worse than the colonialists ever were in repressing Africans and denying them basic freedoms and a better life.

The older generation of independence leaders continue to cling onto power in some countries. And in others like Zimbabwe, it was only the ignominy of a coup that pushed them out.

But there is not much to cheer when former President Robert Mugabe was forced to make way for Emmerson Mnangagwa- his peer from the 1960s and 1970s independence struggle. Such is the disillusionment with the old generation that the opposition are contesting the forthcoming elections on the platform of “generational renewal”.

Elsewhere in Africa some old leaders continue to amend constitutions to allow themselves to either contest elections or to simply cling on to power even though it has become evident that they have nothing else to offer.

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that the AU is an organisation that is never short of optimism, but as especially generations of born-frees would point out, it is woefully short on delivery.

Analysts say it will take more than history lessons and speeches about past successes of the AU in liberating Africa to make the continental body’s commemorations resonate with the millions of young people who were born after the turbulent days of the colonial struggles from the 1960s to the 1980s.

They say starting with addressing concerns over repressive, corruption-riddled governance characterised by impunity, the AU will have to take concrete steps to deal with civil wars, poverty and the threat of terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria in order to remain relevant to Africans.

It must however be noted that it is not all doom and gloom as there has been developments worthy of celebration in overall economic growth with countries like Sierra Leone, Niger, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Rwanda being among the fastest growing in the world with 7% annual growth figures.

This growth has largely been driven by a surge in prices of extractive resources, mostly aluminum, copper, gold and crude oil, while political stability, good economic management policies and an improved institutional environment have accelerated such growth in some countries.

Worryingly though, such growth is however, at the mercy of world commodity prices over which the countries have no control.

The African Development Bank projects consumer spending in Africa will jump from US$680 billion in 2008 to US$2,2trillion by 2030.

“We believe its (Africa’s) economy could double by 2020 to US$3 trillion, and we are getting a clear signal from our international clients that Africa is an increasingly important market for them,” said Dennis Nally, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) International chairman.

However, all this comes with a big caveat as shown by World Bank’s Africa vice-president Makhtar Diop’s warning that there is need for “African countries to bring more electricity, nutritious food, jobs and opportunity to families and communities across the continent in order to better their lives, end extreme poverty, and promote shared prosperity”.

But is this possible in a continent whose future is in the hands of aged or aging leaders like Mugabe (93) who is seeking another term in next year’s elections in his country despite growing health problems and the fact that he would have attained the ripe age of 94?

After Mugabe’s forced departure, Zimbabwe replaced him with Mnangagwa who is well into his 70s.

There are at least six other African leaders who have held onto power for more than 30 years.

These include Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has clung on to power for 39 years in Equatorial Guinea.

The 76 year-old’s latest election victory was achieved in April 2016, reportedly with 93.7% of the vote which was questioned by the opposition and human rights groups.

85 year-old Paul Biya has ruled Cameroon for 35 years while Yoweri Museveni (74) has ruled Uganda for 32 years. Denis Sassou-Nguesso (75) has been in power for a total of 35 years in the Republic of Congo although these have not been consecutive.

And while Lesotho may not have such longevity, the worrying issue apart from the perennial political instability is the fact that some of the leaders of the main political parties fall within the similar age range- a development that could make it difficult for them to be in sync with the aspirations of the youth.

And so it remains to be seen if party leaders like Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane and deputy prime minister Monyane Moleleki will transform theirs into a government that is in sync with the aspirations of young people and implement the kind of policies that will enable youth to develop to a point where they could meaningfully contribute to the economic development of the country.

The failure by the older generation of leaders to effectively harness the demographic dividend is continually reflected in the tragic reality of thousands of youths that are undertaking perilous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life in Europe.

In Lesotho and other SADC countries, that failure is reflected in the continuing illegal migrations into the more economically developed South Africa where youths have been subjected to xenophobia, other forms of exploitation as well as dying in their hundreds accidents and violence in the illegal gold mines of that country.

Such issues cast a pall over former AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s forecasts about a bright future for the continent driven by a growing youthful population and an expanding middle class.

“Africa is also making progress on conflict resolution and expanding democracy, through its Peace and Security, Governance Architectures and the African Peer Review Mechanism,” she said back in 2013.

But the conflict resolution claims appear to have gone up in the smoke over the AU’s failure to deal with the scourge of the militant Boko Haram which has orchestrated a terror campaign including the 2014 abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in broad daylight in Nigeria, the AU’s largest member by population size and, lately, economy.

While there is still hope for the continent teeming with natural and human resources, it will take much more than just themes and pious statements of intent for the AU’s founding values to be realised.

Only then can the AU celebrations find meaningful resonance with most poor and suffering Africans.

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