Saturday, May 25, 2013

Continent Celebrates Africa Day

Continent celebrates Africa Day

Friday, 24 May 2013 00:00
Sifelani Tsiko
Zimbabwe Herald

Africa tomorrow celebrates the 50th anniversary of the founding of the continental body — the African Union — at a time the continent is posting enviable economic growth. For the continent the priority is keeping up this momentum and meeting the challenges that lie ahead.

After more than half a century of the existence of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU now AU), it is a time for reflection for this continent that is so strategically important to world economics.

Despite all the harsh criticism, Africa is in a considerably better shape than popular perceptions may suggest.

Brutal wars and famine have declined, though not to the scale Africans may want to see. It is a fact that people still struggle to make ends meet, just as they do in Europe, the US, Brazil, China and India. They don’t always have enough to eat, they may lack education, they may not have the best of infrastructure, they despair about corruption, lack of jobs, poor service and social injustices and some even want to emigrate.

In the process, the dominant Western media continue to capture these problems to paint a different picture about the continent.

Powerful countries too continue to subdue and hurl everything they can find at this collective African spirit that seeks to bind, integrate and ensure Africans have control of their destiny and resources. Despite this assault, the African spirit still lives on, unbowed by the divisive and dominant policies of powerful countries, which aim to exploit chiefly Africa’s economic resources.

In the terms — AFRICA AT FIFTY, we unravel some of the events taking place on this continent, home to nearly one billion people.

A — for A little bit of history. AU, was founded on May 25 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia mainly to fight colonial rule and ensure the continent was independent. When it was launched, there were 30 independent countries and now 50 years later — all 53-member states on the continent have achieved political independence.

The anti-colonial movement in its early years was influenced and shaped by pan-African legends like Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Emperor Haile Selassie, Kenneth Kaunda and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, among others.

The Pan-African movement was strengthened when Ghana became the first black African country to gain its independence, and as an independent state, organised the All Africa Conference in Accra in 1958.

This conference was held at a time when most African countries were still struggling against colonial rule.

The Accra Meeting, for the first time, brought together nationalists from all over Africa where the issue of solidarity and unity in the struggle against colonialism was the central theme.

Nkrumah played a critical role in the transformation of the Pan African movement into a solid union — four years after Accra Meeting. The OAU underwent various changes but at its formation, historians say the Charter of the OAU was essentially “designed to protect the fragile sovereignty recently achieved by African states, and to help those still under colonial or racist rule to achieve sovereign independence.”

They say these were the two most important objectives that drove the OAU, from its inception in 1963 to 1975.

With the emancipation of South Africa from apartheid in 1994, the OAU’s job was effectively sealed. The OAU existed for 39 years until 9 July 2002 when it was rebranded to the African Union (AU).

The rebranded AU shifted its thrust from the fight against colonial rule to the more complex war of economic independence.
Eleven years on, the AU is still grappling with a myriad of problems. If a Romanian can feel at home in Britain or France, is there any reason why a Zimbabwean or Mozambican — who probably speaks a dialect that is understood in Southern Africa — should fear for his life in a South African township like Soweto?”

F — is for Food matters and Food comes first. Africa can feed itself. It’s a simple but powerful message that should motivate African governments to take the right steps to reform and support the agricultural sector.

AU, the World Bank and a host of other multilateral institutions and Africa’s academics have offered recommendations that with a huge dose of local input can help transform Africa’s agricultural sector.

According to AU‚ intra-African agricultural trade has accounted for an average of one-fifth of Africa’s total agricultural trade for the past five years. This — compared to a European Union average of 78 percent‚ and an Asian average of 60 percent — is a huge cry. In 2011‚ just three percent of all African cereal imports originated on the continent.

In Africa, agriculture directly contributes to 34 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 64 percent of employment. Hunger is still a major problem in Africa and experts say promoting irrigation (four percent of Africa’s crop is irrigated), developing rural infrastructure to cut high transportation costs, removing trade barriers and supporting smallholder farmers with inputs can help improve Africa’s food production.

Africa must, however, also keep watch of the quality of food its own people consume — given an upsurge in infiltration of GMO foods into the continent as well as the worrying erosion of its agricultural biodiversity, which has kept its people fed for ages.

R — is for Resources. Africa has a large quantity of natural resources including oil, diamonds, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and a whole range of plant genetic resources.

Much of its natural resources are undiscovered and have not been harnessed. Africa is the prime target of most industrial nations who want to exploit its resources.

Despite the abundance of natural resources, the bulk of resources exploited from Africa is causing most of the value and money from the natural resources to go to the West rather than the African.

Africa could be losing more than US$15 billion from its biodiversity as medicines, cosmetics, agricultural products and indigenous knowledge surrounding these are being patented illegally by multinational companies without there being evidence of benefits accruing to local communities in countries of origin.

I — is for Inter-Africa trade. African countries are losing out on billions of dollars in potential trade earnings every year because of high trade barriers with neighbouring countries‚ and that it was easier for Africa to trade with the rest of the world than with itself. Africa has a great potential to increase intra-continental trade and create more economic opportunities.

Sub-regional and regional economic groupings are no doubt a great step towards a realisation of the African dream for intra-continental trade and the creation of the African Economic Community.

Over-reliance on Western markets still remains high and Africa is the loser in this scenario in which rich powerful nations peg the prices for their commodities.

Africa’s economic growth is surging and it is expected to hit 6,1 percent next year, well ahead of the global average of 4 percent, the International Monetary Fund said last month.

But worries over failure to tackle poverty and inequality still persist in Africa.

C — is for Conflict Resolution. Despite numerous challenges, Africa continues to be seized with security matters — through discussions on mechanisms for preventing, managing and solving conflicts. Preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping, capacity building and security intelligence information sharing have all featured prominently on the AU’s agenda as seeks to work towards ensuring long-term peace, prosperity and respect for human rights on the continent.

Insecurity in the Central African Republic, Mali, the broader Sahel region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the unconstitutional transfer of power in Guinea-Bissau, still remain a major thorn in the flesh despite the fact that the number of conflicts in Africa continues to decline. The on-and-off conflict in Sudan, the unending wars in the Great Lakes region, the threat of Boko Haram in Nigeria, instability in Libya and Egypt all paint a grim picture.

In Sudan and South Sudan there is a glimmer of hope as the two countries are moving ahead to resolve outstanding matters in a constructive manner. The role of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel led by President Thabo Mbeki has been commendable.

In Somalia, the AU-UN co-operation has boosted moves towards the stabilisation of the Federal Government that wants to build the state and consolidate peace.

Strengthening and funding the AU peace and security architecture still remain critical as well as the Continental Early Warning System and the African Standby Force.

A — is for Aids and health-related issues. The HIV and Aids pandemic continues to wreck havoc on the continent. But it is heartening to note that Africa’s fight against the pandemic is yielding some positive results.

Anti-retrovirals are now being distributed to patients even though greater challenges related to affordability, access and continuity still abound. And according to the latest report of the Joint UN Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAids), Africa has cut Aids-related deaths by one third in the past six years.

Even countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the world have seen the number of new HIV infections decline dramatically. Malawi has witnessed a 73 per cent drop in new HIV infections. Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe follow. South Africa managed to reduce new infections by 41 per cent. Even Swaziland, the country with the highest HIV prevalence in the world, saw new HIV infections drop by 37 percent.

This shows the campaigns are paying off, compared to 2003 when the World Health Organisation reported that there were 3,5 million new cases of HIV and Aids in Africa. East and Southern Africa were the highest hit regions in Africa having 38 percent of 3,5 million cases on the continent at the time.

More funding is required to reduce the burden of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in Africa through research, health promotion, and strategic policy advocacy, experts say.

A — is for Aid Thoughts. Aid is not what Africa needs. For many of those who “care” about Africans, we are objects through which they express their own “caring” through the donations they give to Africans. For many critics, this “caring” is just as objectifying as old-fashioned racism. Africa should be moving towards self-reliance to cut the dependency syndrome.

The landscape of economic aid is changing and development activists say there is a clear global appetite to align investments, harness financial and philanthropic capital, and create a positive impact that will benefit more people in Africa. Africa spends huge amounts of money servicing its debts and little remains to help it develop its infrastructure and services.

Africa wants trade and not aid. Africa needs to achieve economic independence to help restore a deep sense of dignity, self-respect and hope for the future.

Self-reliance doesn’t kill.

T — is for Take care of Africa’s environment. The environment matters and it’s a heritage that Africans cannot afford to lose.

Environmentalists are urging African leaders to put environmental issues at the top of their governments’ priorities in order to combat growing challenges that include air pollution, vector-borne diseases, chemical exposure, deforestation, water pollution, solid waste management, climate change and the loss of its wildlife, aquatic and bird-life resources.

According to a new report by UNEP, environmental risks contributed 28 per cent of Africa’s disease burden like diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malaria, which accounted for 60 per cent of known environmental health impacts in the continent. In addition, the report further said that other health-related risks on the continent were attributed to agrochemicals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), chemical stockpiles, e-Waste and petroleum waste.

Adopting a raft of measures to curb environmental degradation such as recycling of waste, green economy policies, promoting the use of renewable energy, afforestation programmes, municipal waste management and other plant genetic resource utilisation and management can help the continent to at least play its role in addressing environmental programmes.

Africa will be hardest hit by global ecological changes with severe consequences for agricultural production, nutrition and human health. Africa must continue to engage with industrialised countries, who are the biggest culprits when it comes to climate change and pollution.

Fifty — is the number to remember and rejoice over!

Credit for resilience must be given to ordinary men and women who persevere everyday to make Africa what it is today. Through their daily struggles they toil on farms, mines, factories and everywhere in unimaginable places to produce goods and services for the continent. It is them that give Africa a cause for the celebration of the spirit that has emerged triumphant in the wake of adversity, slavery, colonialism, imperialism and all forms of exploitation that continue up to this day. But its too soon to celebrate much.

Africa still has to grapple with entrenched inequality and extreme poverty in many communities across the continent.

Youth unemployment, poor infrastructure, hunger, wars and a myriad of other problems still haunt Africa. There is more to celebrate Africa at 50 than skeptics think. Africans need to peel away pessimism and stand with pride in the wake of adversity.

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