Sunday, May 26, 2013

Africa At 50: A Continent At The Crossroads

Africa @ 50: A continent at the crossroads

Sunday, 26 May 2013 00:00
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail
Levi Mukarati

The motherland, Africa, is at the crossroads. All its five regions — North, East, West, Central and Southern — are dogged by serious armed conflict in one or two member states among numerous teething problems blighting growth and development on the continent.

The Arab uprising since 2010 has rendered North Africa highly volatile while hunger and conflict stalk East Africa and rebel forces continue to wreak havoc in Central Africa.

Colonial border disputes threaten integration in West Africa and Southern Africa is battling to contain conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.

On a large scale, Africa is grappling with extreme poverty, HIV and Aids and other diseases which kill millions of people each year.

However, observers say instead of exerting more effort to combat disease and global challenges, it is worrying that, in this day and age, concentration is still on addressing historic ethnic differences that are igniting civil strife to the benefit of Western countries but detrimental to the continent.

Yesterday, almost two decades after the fall of the last vestiges of colonialism, Africa marked the golden jubilee of the formation of the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU), now known as African Union (AU), and experts on African affairs say the continent is where it should have been some 20 years ago.

The rate of growth and development is not pleasing and the hindering factors seem entrenched. In his message, last week to mark the 50th anniversary of the birth of the OAU, the AU chairperson and Ethiopian Premier Hailmariam Desalegn said Africa needed 50 years more to get rid of its current challenges.

“We all recognise that Africa’s aspirations for lasting peace and prosperity still remain to be realised and the vision of our founding fathers is yet to be fulfilled,” he said

“It is my earnest hope that by 2063, we will have a continent free from the scourge of conflicts and abject poverty, where many African countries will have achieved upper middle income status and the standard of living of large populations of the African people will have been significantly improved.”

In North Africa, the tide of the Arab spring has witnessed the overthrowing of governments in Tunisia and Egypt while other countries have been shaken by minor to major rebellions with the worst case in Lybia, where President Muammar Gaddafi was murdered in cold blood.

Political experts say “selfish” Western influence in the Middle East and North Africa has been the driving and motivating factor for developed nations as they reap benefits from the turmoil.

As Noam Chomsky charges, the US and its allies would want to prevent democracy in the Arab world, in a ploy to continue riding roughshod over the region.

“The US and its allies will do anything to prevent democracy in the Arab world,” maintains Chomsky.

The fiery political analyst and philosopher argues that the Western interventions in the region have historically tended “to support exactly those ‘autocrats’ whose power is now being challenged, while promoting policies that enrich the minority elite and make life more difficult for many so as to fuel revolts and instability”.

Amid instability, Western governments and companies thrive on the chaos by selling arms and providing military training to the combatants. According to reports, between 2002 and 2009, the United States supplied over 50 percent of the total arms of war in North Africa and Middle East, with Egypt ranked the fourth biggest recipient of weapons valued at about US$13,9 billion.

Apart from problems in the North, in West Africa, agreements such as the Protocol and Mutual Assistance and Defence have not managed to contain border disputes that were created by the former French, British and Portuguese colonialists as they partitioned and scrambled for Africa.

Because of political and cultural differences, West African countries such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana, have registered poor development.

On the other hand, East Africa is battling with poverty, civil wars or unstable political environments in countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Sudan.

According to United Nations statistics, “Of Africa’s three million refugees in 2009, almost a third were in just three East African countries — Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.”

Cyclical droughts and floods in that region have obliterated crop after crop, resulting in an estimated 11 million people requiring food aid, a crisis that has fuelled conflict in the region as survival-of-the-fittest tactics take centre stage.

The recent coup in the Central African Republic, where rebels took over the country, is one of the many leadership problems haunting the region.

Stability has been difficult to attain, with countries such as Burundi and Rwanda acting as breeding grounds for insurgents that are destabilising Central Africa and other regions.

Closer home, Southern Africa has witnessed the re-emergence of fighting between government and rebel fighters in eastern DRC, in conflicts that are allegedly sponsored by Uganda and Rwanda.

On the other hand, some Western countries are keeping an eye on Zimbabwe following the Southern African country’s decision not to allow hostile nations and organisations to monitor and supervise its elections due anytime soon. Bulawayo-based public affairs commentator Dr Lawton Hikwa says Africa’s setback is in its failure to contain rampant poverty, diseases, civil strife and incessant interference from the West.

“The West wields immense economic and political influence over Africa. Economic independence remains a pipe-dream for many African nations.

“Until Africa can provide a competitive and self-determining economic and political space that retains its top intellectual and skilled human capital, the continent is likely to continue being plagued by poverty, diseases, civil strife and unfair interference from the Western world.

“Whatever concessions are entered into between the continent and the Western world, they must be guided by deliberate intentions to empower the African and addition of value as a return for its resources, whether natural or human.” With AU at 50 celebrating under the theme “The Year of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”, political observers are asking why the post-colonial African states are unable to generate sustained socio-economic growth.

Experts say the AU’s vision of: “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”, will only be realised through relentless struggle on several fronts.

Dr Charity Manyeruke, a lecturer and chairperson of the Department of Political and Administration Studies at the University of Zimbabwe, said that although there is cause to celebrate, a lot needs to be done if Africa is to fulfil the wishes of the OAU founding fathers.

She said part of AU’s vision which spells the need for Africans to drive their own cause was now diluted.

“As Africans, there is reason for us to celebrate the achievements by our forefathers. The likes of Kwame Nkurumah and other proponents of African unity had a vision in which they planned and mapped the way forward. The OAU supported liberation movements and I would say the organisation’s greatest success story is that of liberating the African continent,” Dr Manyeruke said.

“However, we have seen more and more divisions among African people. Some of our leaders are being influenced by the so-called powerful states and are going against the founding fathers’ values by allowing the foreigners to determine both the economic and political processes.”

Africa is currently saddled with countless problems that have made it difficult for the continent to realise it potential in terms of growth and development.

Unless serious measures are taken to deal with conflict, poverty and interference from foreign powerful nations, the continent will remain in regress mode.

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