African countries must invest in African people.
Fahamu, a movement for social justice, has in the past 20 years worked to create platforms for social justice transformation and to infuse pan-Africanism in a continent facing a myriad challenges. Its executive director Yves Niyiragira spoke to The EastAfrican' Mildred Ngesa on these issues.
How successful have efforts to advance social justice and revive the pan-African ideology been?
Fahamu’s work is a contribution to what I would call a third wave of Pan-Africanism. As an ideology, pan-Africanism started towards the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century when people of African origin started demanding equal rights wherever they were, including in the Caribbean islands, North America and Europe.
This way led to numerous changes in those continents and influenced what I would call the second wave of pan-Africanism.
This second movement of the Pan-African ideology led to, among other things, the decolonisation of Africa, as Africans such as Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere, who had left their countries to study in Europe and North America, were inspired by fellow Africans to fight for their rights.
The culmination of this movement was the creation of the Organisation of African Unity on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as a platform to advocate the rights of African people, including the end of colonisation.
After the end of apartheid rule in South Africa in 1994, the pan-African movement needed a change of strategy: To move from the struggle for the independence of Africa to ensuring the dignity of African people wherever they are.
This is the third wave of Pan-Africanism, to which Fahamu’s work contributes. Even though we have had some successes in making sure that voices of ordinary people are heard, there is still a long way to go to ensure that African people are treated with dignity both in their motherland and in the diaspora.
In pursuit of social justice in Africa, Fahamu has driven the ‘Africanisation Agenda;’ what is this approach and how successful has it been?
I would not call it an “Africanisation Agenda,” but rather a “Pan-African Agenda.” This means putting African people at the centre of the social, economic and political programmes of African countries.
This is in line with the third wave of pan-Africanism mentioned above.
In other words, what does Independence for Africa mean if we do not have healthy food, proper education and health facilities and shelter for African people? Other continents, including Europe, Asia, America that deal with Africa know well what they need from Africa.
Why are African countries not developing long-term strategies of what they need when interacting with those other continents or countries?
That is the approach of Fahamu and our work is to establish networks and alliances of like-minded people and organisations so that they can demand the dignity of Africans.
Are initiatives aimed at enhancing the capacities and potential of Africa’s youth towards meaningful transformation for the continent feasible?
I think this is a feasible and important approach. The youth played important roles in the work of the various pan-African waves in the past.
Young people—those below 35 years of age—account for almost 70 per cent of the African population so there is no way we can talk about meaningful socio-economic and political transformations without a central role for the youth. Any other approach will lead to shallow, unsustainable changes.
What are the most challenging aspects of social injustice that mar the social development and economic progress of African countries today?
The most challenging aspect of social injustice in Africa is wrong priorities that lead to wastage and misuse of African resources.
Whether it is investing in wrong infrastructure projects to wasting state resources on protecting and keeping corrupt and dictatorial regimes in power to helping multinational companies steal African resources, African people are denied the opportunity to make the socio-economic progress that they deserve.
There is an increasing outcry on the shrinking civil society space and rise of repression across the continent in the past decade. Why is this a threat?
The decreasing non state actors including the media, civil society organisations, and academia is a worrying trend and a clear demonstration of how African governments are intolerant of views that denounce their abuses of state resources and power.
Whether it is in East Africa, Central Africa, North Africa, West Africa or Southern Africa, we see governments that are turning autocratic and want to keep themselves in power at all costs, including silencing civil society and ordinary citizens.
Their approach is futile because genuine people’s demands cannot be silenced forever.
Why is it important for Africa’s voices to be amplified, especially those of the less powerful and most marginalised people?
Powerful people own and occupy the mainstream media and other platforms where individuals can express themselves.
Fahamu’s public platforms such as Pambazuka News and other events that we organise across Africa at various levels are meant to give a voice to those who are marginalised and oppressed by society.
These could be individuals who have been evicted from their land; young people who have innovative ideas and are looking for ways to make them work; a local women farmers group that is fighting against genetically modified organisms and pushing for organic family farming to keep their families healthy or political activists agitating to change the affairs of their countries.
This is why it is important because mainstream media platforms do not continuously amplify these voices.
What pro-active approach can African countries adopt to ensure the inclusion of marginalised and disenfranchised groups towards both national and regional growth?
African countries must invest in African people. When we talk about African development, we do not mean railways, tall buildings, fancy hotels and foreign banks operating in our countries.
These aspects of development are also necessary, but are not the priority of African people at the moment.
African countries need to invest heavily in social services that provide basic needs for their people, including healthy food, decent shelter and clothing, proper education and adequate health facilities as well as social protection.
Sadly though, most African leaders invest in sectors such as the army, intelligence and police that can ensure that they stay in power. Africa’s misplaced priorities are its undoing — unless our leaders shift this trajectory, exclusion and inequalities will continue to haunt us.
Africa’s social movements have been keen on building solidarities around the continent and redefining the pan-African narrative as an alternative to the neoliberal worldview —how do you see Africa asserting its presence in the global platform?
One of the ways of redefining the pan-African ideology and asserting Africa’s presence in global affairs is to believe in ourselves as Africans.
Secondly, there is an urgent need to support social movements across Africa that are advocating equal treatment and availability of basic social services and goods.
This would mean that those who run governments in Africa will stop working for their political financiers and instead work for people who have voted for them. We have to stop the practice of allowing politicians to buy their way into leadership positions.
The true pan-African ideology means service to people while in leadership positions, not the other way round. If we allow politicians to continue buying votes, there is no way we can expect them to work for the people who have voted for them.
Ordinary people should pool resources to ensure that they have a representative at any level of leadership including the presidency. In other words, people finance politicians. This is one of the radical transformation that Fahamu is calling for in Africa.
Can Africa ever embrace a definitive pan-Africanist ideology that is accepted by all Africans?
Yes! I believe that genuine Pan-Africanism will come from Africans who desire to live in peace, collaborate with their fellow Africans and push for their common interests.
Most of the current leaders we see in Africa are not Pan-Africanists even if they loudly proclaim to be so. If they were pan-Africanists, they would fight for the rights of an ordinary African because this is what the pan-African ideology dictates.
As such, genuine pan-Africanism is possible, but will emerge and be led by ordinary African people including the various social movements led by young people that we see across various African capitals.