The continent has to rebuild itself to create the prosperity hoped for by many and the bright future they deserve, writes Thabo Makgoba.
Cape Town - Before this year’s Africa Day I was on the steps of St George’s cathedral in Cape Town with school boys and girls and an inter-religious group holding a silent vigil for the call to “bring back our girls” kidnapped in Nigeria.
In my reflections afterwards I asked what the good and positive values are that Africa espouses that we can put on the table for Boko Haram to listen to?
Yes, we have challenges as a continent, but we must tell our positive side, our achievements, our longings and vision, even as we deal with those challenges.
I have attended a number of world economics forums for Africa.
In them I have heard about challenges, but also about ways in which we can practically address them without feeling overwhelmed by them. The beauty, the contours, the birds and animals of the land and the inherent tranquil fullness of the people of Africa are sources of inspiration and hope for me.
Our robustness, too, is assuring.
After 51 years since the formation of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, and 12 years since it became the African Union, the need for stability and growth is greater than it has ever been.
Africans want a compelling story, shaped by a common vision, to own and tell the world.
The absence of this story, this vision, is in part due to the increasing threats of terror, poverty and unemployment that destabilise the continent. If these issues are not dealt with decisively, it may well be another 51 years before Africa realises its true potential.
How much more would we have lost by then while we continue to lag behind in terms of innovation, while we fight among ourselves and continue to be subjected to self-serving leadership?
The longer these issues take to resolve, the longer other forces will continue to exploit our resources, our human capital, and leave us destitute. The continent must stop bleeding. The solution can only come from within and the AU is critical to the solution.
Addressing these issues is a mammoth task for the AU. The task of bringing parallel interests, cultural differences and historical baggage together for the sake of moving the continent forward is a big ask. But it is very possible and indeed necessary for the survival of the continent.
Some may say a lot more progress should have been made in the last half century.
There should be better usage of natural resources to benefit the people of Africa. Our institutions should be much stronger across regions and ease of movement to facilitate trade and educational exchanges should be the norm, but it still seems a long way away.
Where did it go awry?
Africa’s larger economies must take the lead and be the example for smaller countries regarding conflict resolution, good governance and good management of foreign investment into local markets and ownership of resources.
Unrest and concerns of safety in large economies in Africa have delayed progress and we are paying for it. The recent abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, and bombings in other parts of Nigeria are the types of setbacks that make the work of the AU that much more critical and challenging.
East-African giant Kenya also continues to battle acts of terror, to the detriment of its economy and overall attractiveness for investment. These attacks cripple the continent, bit by bit.
Decisive intervention from the continent is required. The AU must over the next decade focus on dispelling ideas that it is toothless and cannot bring significant change on the continent without the support of the developed countries.
It must unapologetically drive the narrative of a united and integrated continent through the work of the commission, strongly supported by the assembly, and that support must be reflected on the ground in the form of good governance, commitment to peace and stability in the individual states.
The governments can no longer be seen as enemies of the societies they are meant to serve. They cannot afford to get away with not accounting for accusations that they are oppressing their people. They can no longer merely overlook cases of corruption, misconduct and undemocratic practices without being called to order by the AU. The balance between sovereignty and being responsible governments is attainable.
No African state should function as though its actions will not affect its neighbours and the continent as a whole.
A special focus on youth should also become a priority.
The AU must take the lead in this and deal with the pressing issues of a discontented and poorly protected growing youth population that continues to demand more from governments.
It is the very same youth that will someday be tasked with carrying forward the work of the AU and other post-colonial bodies, but may be unable to do so if they resent it for its failure to transform the continent.
Solutions driven from the AU must ensure that the continent is seen to be capable and well-resourced to deal with conflict and insurgent groups.
The intent must be clear.
The investment in peace-building and conflict resolution must be such that anyone or any organisation that seeks to counter those efforts is deterred. Interventions must be swift and protect the lives of ordinary citizens.
It is important that it is clear to Africans and the rest of the world that the AU is able and willing to intervene and restore order in conflict-torn and terror-ridden states.
The ability to move in when required and respond effectively to the needs of Africans is necessary to restore confidence in the AU and it’s existence as it goes into a new era of efforts to realise the dream of Africa by Africans.
Without a common vision, this becomes impossible.
As we reflect on Africa Day once again, all Africans must lament the challenging state of affairs on the continent. Why is it that when we think about the continent, it is the images of emaciated children, unrest and reports of poor leadership that come to mind?
The existence and impact of the vestiges of colonialism and intolerance isn’t due to a lack of ideas as to how the continent should reform, but rather rife acts of corruption, lack of accountable leadership, poorly managed and run state institutions and a lack of a common vision and purpose for the continent.
Without a shared and collective vision for the economy of the continent, we will continue to see high levels of unemployment, loss of critical skills through the brain drain and poor economic dealings between corrupt officials who care about their own pockets instead of the lives of the millions.
Without the right accountability structures we will see more activists who fight for justice killed because they are acting as watchdogs for the collective.
If the eradication of corruption does not form part of our vision, we will see more impoverished Africans dying at the hands of the corrupt without ever realising and living out their full potential.
Africa is on the edge. The cracks are showing as they did during the Arab Spring uprising when thousands said enough of unsatisfactory leadership.
We are seeing more and more young people protesting against injustice. Africans are becoming increasingly tired of being forgotten and the backlash of that has yet to be felt.
It is for the AU to step up, speak out and ensure that through a common vision for the continent, damaging uprisings are prevented because there is an understanding of what leadership, delivery and democracy in practice on the continent actually looks like.
Setting norms, rules and processes of negotiation, and ensuring that these are adhered to, is necessary.
The media, civil society and state institutions must all play a role in ensuring that these values and systems are carried out for the good of the people.
The AU must lead this process now. It cannot take another 51 years.
We cannot afford it. The so-called “dark continent” has it in herself to shine again.
Once we remember that the torch is in our hands, we should be unapologetic about holding it up for ourselves.