Sunday, April 23, 2006
Last Friday I attended a conference which brought 8 former African presidents to address the public at wits. Great initiative! This was part of the African Presidential Roundtable co-organized by Boston University and the African Presidential and Archives Research Center (http://www.bu.edu/aparc/). Pierre Buyoya from Burundi, Masire from Botswana, Rawlings from Ghana, Kaunda from Zambia, Offman from Mauritius, Nicefore Soglo (Benin), Maria Pereira (Cape Verde), William B Mkapa (Tanzania), and Hassan Mwinyi (Tanzania) were there. They are controversial figures since many people relate African misery to them. Avoiding the blame game, I took away two things from them:
- Excellence Kaunda (Zambia) said: ‘Young people, you are the legacy of Africa, and if you do not take over your responsibilities, then Africa is lost’.
- N Soglo (Benin) argued that, once in office I was confronted by things that I never learnt from university: I realized that corruption was a world institution, institutionalized and protected by the west!
Drawing from that, my first premise is that African development needs a strong leadership form the current generation.
Many attendees at that conference may disagree with me. Indeed, the discussion we had mostly turned around questions like: corruption, why very long stay in offices, why didn’t you implement what you are saying now, why, why and why.
Disagree or not, WHY is the most difficult question on this earth. One day, after watching some pictures of some ‘wanted’ gangsters in his city, a little boy went to see a police officer in his vicinity and asked him this very question: “why did not you guys catch these gangsters when you were shooting them?”…
And so was our conference.
To answer the question on overstay in power, ex president Ketumile Masire stood up as the respondent on behalf of the group. His argument, “you can be in that office as long as you perform…in the US, people were overstaying up to when one took too long. Then they decided to fix a term. We are simply coping from them. Chirac in France, Thatcher in UK, etc overstayed and no one complained…”
Another argument ex African president sticked to, was that: we fought for our independences.
The real question that we should ask our self, as next generation or rulers, is how well prepared and ready are we compared to them?
It’s always good to look at deficiencies of a predecessor, but I think we better move the debate beyond that.
Being endowed with diversity of natural resources brought misfortune to Africa. Western countries, helped by African elite in power have been looting our riches. The aim of those powers has always been to have control over the Liberian or Sierra Leonean diamond. Belgian declared DR Congo a geological scandal! Since the last discovery of petrol in Chad, the country is now subject of international attention from some western powers after years of neglect.
As Soglo (Benin) said, corruption is like tennis game, you need a receiver on the other side to send the ball back to you. Do not blame African leaders only; it’s a highly organized network. Moreover, your university curriculum will never teach you about that.
When blogging on that, I do not mean that we should go for corruption! Instead, it teaches me about ethics, and that is my second premise.
If African leaders do not understand their role in the expected change, things are likely to not improve. Zimbabwe celebrated her national day 5 days ago, but the situation there leaves much to desire. Mugabe is a great nationalist, true and great, but we want to see that being translated in improvement of people’s lives and national economics. Emigration in that country has tremendously increased, would you tell me that Mugabe is doing well. On the other side, his opponents seem to be short of inspiration.
LD Kabila took over Mobutu’s 32 year-rule in DRC. I liked that guy, fluent in more that 7 international languages. His discourse was seducing: “Le peuple congolais a besoin du changement” (= Congolese need change). Indeed, we were tired of Mobutu. Then, Kabila ruled for 4 years but except his discourse, he never proved to be the nationalist (Lumumbist, Lumumba) he claimed to be.
South Africa, at least what sub-Saharan Africa can be proud of, is still struggling with a crisis of leadership and a jobless growth that is not yet correcting the wealth divide caused by Apartheid.
This generation of ours is the next to take over the destiny of the continent. What a huge responsibility! If we are not aware of it, we are likely to do the worse.