The peoples of Africa have made great contributions to humanity, including their cultural diversity, artistic strengths and spiritual richness. The continent's now estimated 975 million people represent many of the most admirable elements of the human spirit and an unwavering dignity in face of great hardships. To borrow the words of the Canadian Africanist Robert Calderisi, author of The Trouble with Africa, most Africans are heroes, "coping with obstacles that would have flattened the spirits of others".
To seek some answers for the challenges facing Africa, an examination of the current world economic crisis might offer some clues. Much of the blame for the world economic crisis goes to "shameful" (to use the term of President Obama in describing banker bonuses) greed among bankers in America, Britain and other wealthy countries. This combined toxically with too little regulation of financial services and weak-wristed officials in protecting the investing public with due diligence. Other factors, including asset bubbles created in part by naive central bankers, contributed to widespread loss of confidence. In short, what has brought many economies close to their knees is weak governance and lack of accountability.
In Africa, the accountability deficit, as elsewhere, has resulted in corruption. The Nigerian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinka, puts it bluntly: "African dreams of peace and prosperity have been shattered by the greedy, corrupt and unscrupulous role of African strongmen…a power-crazed and rapacious leadership who can only obtain their egotistical goals by oppressing the rest of us."
Calderisi sees bad governance as the largest of the obstacles to better lives for many across the African continent. Both of us deplore the fact that this and other factors are in large measure currently depriving most of the one-sixth of the human family in 54 African countries of material improvement in their lives.
Rule of Law/ Independent Judges
According to Calderisi, efforts to clean up the judicial system—"training judges, computerizing records, strengthening the role of clerks—have borne little fruit because the politicians (in Africa) have found it more convenient to have a crooked and malleable judiciary than an independent one. As a result, although numerous judges have gone to France, Canada and the United States for professional courses, many have returned to their sordid practices once back on the bench. "
I understand that independent and honest judges in a number of African nations are doing their best to uphold the rule of law for all. Residents of those countries have seen improvement in their economic situation and other aspects of lives. I urge African friends to seek ways to strengthen the rule of law across the continent in part by enhancing the independence of their judicial systems and ensure that corruption and other violations of public trust do not continue to contribute to widespread poverty.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan reminded us not long ago that in the face of current world economic crisis, "(W)e need to ensure the poorest in the planet—who will be hardest hit by the financial crisis—are not forgotten. The US Congress is discussing a $825 billion stimulus package for the American economy this week. This compares with the G-8 Gleneagles pledge to find an extra $50 billion by 2010 to tackle global poverty—a promise still not met."
Mahatma Gandhi said, " Poverty is the worst form of violence." In Africa, it has raged against millions of people for generations with half of Africa's population still living below the poverty line, which the World Bank defines as an income of less than $1 a day. With it, other forms of indignity, such as the spread of some of the most deadly diseases and armed conflicts, have been inflicted on some of the most vulnerable members of the human family, particularly women and children.
Calderisi again: "But Africa has suffered grievously over the last 30 years. It has more than doubled its population and lost half its income. Disease is spreading. School attendance is dropping. Vaccination programs are sporadic. Food security is uneven. And Africa is the only region in the world that has grown steadily poorer since 1970." This phenomenon threatens to worsen if the world fails to heed the advice of Annan.
Case of Sudan
In many countries around the world, political identities have assumed an ethnocultural complexion, often caused by open, and sometimes armed, conflicts between different ethnic communities. Africa has certainly witnessed its share of calamities in this kind of "us and them" disputes.
Africa and the rest of the world are still haunted by memories of the Rwandan genocide, but an almost equally condemnable tragedy has been unfolding in Sudan since April, 2003. As many as 400,000 African Darfuris has lost their lives and millions of others have lost their homes because they are deemed to be Africans by Janjaweed and others who deem themselves to be Arabs.
A report by UN investigators made in June 2005 indicated that Sudan's government has "orchestrated and participated in" war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on March 4th of this year for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese President, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He is the first sitting head of state the ICC has ordered arrested.
Regrettably, leaders in some African countries have sided with al-Bashir, even as he ordered the expulsion of all international humanitarian agencies, potentially threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians . I urge African friends to appeal to al-Bashir and his government to allow aid to reach African Darfuris. The world community as a whole must make now effective and concerted efforts aimed at finding a resolution to the most appalling human tragedy of this new century.
African Union (AU)
I observed part of the last meeting of the Organization of African Union (OAU) in Addis Ababa in 2002 as Canada's Secretary of State for Africa and Latin America, and have since followed the progress of the successor African Union (AU) as closely as possible. Permit me to say that one of its finest moments to date in my opinion was when it declined to allow al-Bashir to become its chair last year.
Will the AU member countries soon ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance? Representative democracy has made great strides in Africa, but it is still a glass half full. The current economic crisis poses risks to the gains made on the continent, which is illustrated by the military coup in Mauritania and the recent ouster of the democratically elected government in Madagascar.
The return to power of men in uniforms with guns is a disturbing reminder of a past all of us must put behind us to make the progress necessary to providing what our people need and deserve. Mali’s chairmanship of the 2007 Community of Democracies, whose theme was democracy, poverty and development, amply demonstrated that democratic governance is the soundest path to development for the continent.
As an important African diplomatic and political forum, the AU should lead in confronting corruption and poverty, advocating multi-party democracy, promoting freedom of speech and other human rights, strengthening the rule of law and creating positive conditions for an African renaissance.
There are in fact good reasons for optimism about brighter days ahead for Africans generally. Multiparty democracy has swept through much of the continent. By 2000, 32 out of 54 African heads of state had been chosen in elections against rivals backed by opposition parties. In 1975, only three heads of state were chosen that way. Over the past eighteen years, moreover, more political parties have been founded in Africa than at any time since decolonization; representative democracy has taken root in many countries.
While Africa was once almost exclusively dependent on foreign aid, sixteen African countries have achieved annual growth rates in excess of 4.5 percent for more than a decade. Enrollment in primary schools increased across the continent from 72 percent in 1990 to 93 percent in 2004; literacy rates have risen from 50 percent in 1997 to 65 percent in 2002. In Sub-Saharan Africa, half of the population now has access to clean water. Through medical aid, various diseases including smallpox and polio have been drastically reduced and some others eradicated.
One lesson from Africa is that economic renewal and democratisation best go hand in hand. Botswana and Mauritius have experienced the highest long-term growth rates, while also enjoying the longest period of democratic governance. Certainly, a dysfunctional government, even if selected democratically, cannot provide the transparent and accountable decision-making needed to achieve economic progress. Positive growth has returned to Benin, Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa, where the resurgence of democracy has been strong. Those having the most difficulties during the 1990s were not cases of failed democratisation but failed governance.
Another encouraging development across Africa is the resurgence of civil society, which has been at the forefront of the struggles to dislodge authoritarian regimes. It is in states everywhere where civil society and independent media are weak that the greatest challenges to genuine electoral competition and accountability exist.
Some other reasons for optimism about Africa on which Calderisi and I both agree strongly include the following:
1- Africa's talented people. The continent has had seven Nobel Prize winners and there are probably hundreds of other potential ones emerging in fields such as science, medicine and economics. If conditions allow, many outstanding daughters and sons of Africa in the diaspora are ready to return to the continent.
2- One route to success is to unleash talent and enterprise among Africans regardless of regional or ethnic origin. This must be done in such radical ways that it will attract attention at home and abroad as in the oft-cited cases of Botswana and Mauritius.
3- Africans are not condemned to live under dictatorships or imitations of the rule of law, dignity for all and multiparty democracy. They can demand much more of authoritarian or incompetent governments without resorting to bloodshed. Peaceful civic resistance can lead to durable democracy and often has.
4- Friends of Africa abroad can champion independent media, supporting organisations like Reporters Sans Frontiers, and placing emphasis on improving primary education and fighting HIV/AIDS.
5- The approximately 40 percent of the African continent's savings held abroad is potentially available for investment in the any of the 54 countries, which have good governance. The continent continues to enjoy the good will of many governments, NGOs and charities.
African people's perseverance towards a better future inspire us all to do our best in making Africa a continent of peace and prosperity. The world community must continue to devote serious attention to the development of peace and prosperity in Africa. Every effort should be made to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals to end poverty and hunger, establish universal education, gender equality, and child and maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, promote environmental sustainability and global partnerships. Here are three additional recommendations:
1. Invest in economic development through reasonably open markets backed by rule of law
Africa received just 1.6 percent of all foreign direct investment ($10.1 billion) in 2005, which is expected to drop given the current financial crisis. The developed economies in this economic downturn must not reduce their official development assistance (ODA) to African and other developing countries.
Conditions must be created to attract investment that helps create jobs and stimulate economic development. Rules and regulations must be established and enforced so that citizens of African countries can put their talents and their natural entrepreneurial spirit toward creating businesses that provide fellow citizens with opportunities to apply their skills and hard work.
June Arunga, an enterprising documentary producer and student of law from Kenya, articulates an urgent need for a paradigm change to encourage creative African entrepreneurs, who are eager to participate in open markets backed by the rule of law.
"Our prosperity won’t come from 'foreign aid' or 'easy money'. We’ve had lots and lots of that in Africa, but it hasn’t had a positive impact on the lives of the poor. That kind of 'aid' creates disincentives for the rule of law. It comes tied to purchasing services from specific people in the countries that are sending the aid. That’s distortive of trade relations. But worst of all, 'aid' disconnects governments from their own people, because the people who are paying the bills are not in Africa, but in Paris, Washington or Brussels."
She considers the lack of a rule of law that upholds private property and provides a framework for enterprise as the greatest challenge that Africans face before they can reap significant gains from liberalising their economy. "Lack of capital is not inevitable. We in Africa have so much capital, but most of it cannot be put to use to improve our lives. It’s 'dead.' We need to improve our property rights to make our abundant capital the 'living capital' that generates life. "
2. Strengthen investment in education
Nelson Mandela said, "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. ....Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."
Who can disagree? Indeed education is one of the most effective ways to help tackle poverty, diseases and ethnocultural conflicts and other challenges facing Africans. According to the African Development Indicators for 2006, enrolment in primary schools increased continent wide to 93 percent in 2004 from 72 percent in 1990, and literacy rates have consequently risen to 65 percent in 2002 from 50 percent in 1997.
As a result of the rising level of education, in a continent that was once almost entirely dependent on foreign aid, there are now 16 countries that have achieved annual growth rates in excess of 4.5 percent for more than a decade. Several African countries, including Senegal, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Uganda, and Ghana are on course to cut the number of people living in poverty by half by 2010.
3. Encourage the establishment and enforcement of corporate social responsibility
Three-quarters of Africa’s foreign trade is based on the extraction of natural resources. Corporations that are involved in the resource extraction should be encouraged and in some cases regulated to ensure that they support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights as well as the environment.
Corporations should be encouraged to take initiatives in support of the rule of the law instead of being complicit in corruption which undermines the development of the rule of law. The governments of developed countries should take lessons learned from the current economic crisis and apply them in regulating corporations with operations in Africa.
Sister Teresa Okure, also known as Mama Africa, challenged us in a 2004 speech "to first question and re-examine their notions and perceptions of Africa, removing the 'we and them' attitudes and instead to consider standing together to look at the reality of this vast and diverse continent voluminous in wealth yet blighted by poverty. When we search for the solutions of Africa it should not be a band aid used to dress the surface of the wound which just keeps on festering... The problem of Africa is not a one sided problem; it is deep and complex. It is not a problem where one person can say that they have given the answer. The ultimate solution of Africa is for each of us to look deep into our hearts, minds and souls together."
Nelson Mandela said: "I dream of of an Africa which is in peace with itself. I dream of the realisation of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. "
To realise Mandela's dream, and that of millions of others in Africa and around the world, for a continent united in peace and prosperity, we must be first and foremost united in our shared responsibility to help build governance systems that encourage accountability and deter corruption by strengthening the rule of law and respect for human dignity.
In post-dependence Kenya, people used a slogan for pulling together and that slogan was 'harambee'. Harambee was a call to cooperate in the name of national development. Today, the world community must come together to address political, social, economic and environmental issues in Africa as we address these problems elsewhere. Only when we achieve this solidarity will we achieve an African renaissance, one of peace and prosperity.