Are we seeing the darkness before the dawn? This is Africa, we can only hope

Wednesday September 12 2018

African leaders in China

African leaders and their spouses attending the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation are greeted by Chinese performers. PHOTO | XINHUA 

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A while ago, a friend from Tanzania drew my attention to an article by Julius Nyerere that appeared in the New York Times in 1960.

In the article, Nyerere shared his vision of a post-colonial Africa. He wrote: "The Africa we must create, the Africa we must bequeath to posterity cannot be an Africa that is simply free from foreign domination. It must be an Africa that the outside world will look at and say: ‘Here is a continent that has truly free human beings’.”

He went on to suggest that Africa would become the “champion of personal freedom in the world.”

The article captures the energy, optimism and audacious vision Africa had at the dawn of Independence. Yet reading the article, one cannot escape the sense of tragedy, because it also shows how far off the mark Africa is today. Instead of becoming a continent of free human beings, the champion of personal freedom, Africa became a continent where people still live in bondage.

Africa thus simply exchanged foreign domination for domestic domination. The brutal systems of suppression and control were maintained and, in many cases, made more invasive and elaborate. Instead of becoming prosperous, Africans became the world’s poorest people.

By contrast, countries in Asia that had also suffered colonialism began to lift millions of their people out of poverty, and some even, after a single generation, were able to achieve a level of socio-economic development that had taken Europe hundreds of years to achieve.

There can be no greater indication of how far Asia has come and how far Africa has fallen behind than the recently concluded China-Africa summit held in Beijing.

At the meeting, China, which had so many poor people in 1960 that even the most optimistic economist only had grim forecasts about its future, showed its economic might, dishing out to Africa a whopping $60 billion in development aid.

The African leaders who travelled to Beijing must have marvelled at the spectacular infrastructure as they drove in from the airport.

If they have any sense of shame, they will come back home and, instead of gloating over the success of their begging, dedicate every ounce of their energy to fighting poverty, creating economic opportunities for the youth, and generally solving the myriad problems that have made Africa a continent forever in a crisis management mode.

African solidarity

Africa now has Vision 2063, meaning it aims to achieve developed status by that year. This goal is achievable. But we shall fail if we continue to lose huge sums of money through corruption, if we continue to shut out women – half the population – from full participation in the economy, if we continue haphazard planning, if we do not improve on our education and create opportunities for technical innovation, if we do not cease the inefficiencies that have characterised our efforts over the past 50 years.

Still, there are hopeful signs in some places on the continent. For instance, the vigorous fight against corruption in Kenya, and the efforts to hold officials accountable for acts of negligence will, if sustained, end a culture of shortcuts, and revive concepts such as honour, integrity and personal responsibility. To make up for lost time, these efforts should be escalated.

In his article, Nyerere also spoke of “that sentiment of oneness that centuries of suffering have built among all her peoples” as a foundation for African solidarity.

A more vigorous basis for solidarity is shared democratic values. The pan-Africanist ideology of “black grievance” as a basis for solidarity is obsolete.

We should all feel aggrieved when a dictator keeps renewing images and narratives we want to banish; images and narratives of oppression or graft.

That is why the Bobi Wine saga in Uganda is depressing and alarming. The MP was tortured by the police for campaigning against a ruling party candidate. He is now seeking treatment in the United States. A while back, police used violence to prevent MPs who wanted to vote against the lifting of the presidential age limit from entering parliament.

As a show of solidarity with the people of Uganda, the African Union and the East African Community should have issued statements of concern about the situation. But only foreign countries did so.

It is, of course, heartening that Kenyan activists took to the streets of Nairobi to express solidarity with the people of Uganda. That is a first, and it signals that while it is still dark, and very dark in some places, dawn is near.

Tee Ngugi is a social and political commentator based in Nairobi