There was no better place to reflect deeply on the role of African elites both in government and the private sector than in Addis Ababa. I could not stop thinking about the aspirations of African leaders as they met in this great city in 1963, establishing the Organisation of African Unity, now the AU.
The failure of African liberation movements across the continent was mainly caused by their inability to think independently outside the logic of colonialism.
They inherited colonial structures that imposed strong structural constraints on liberation politics, resulting in the perpetuation of colonial-era configurations.
The fundamental goal of the Struggle was national liberation, which was defined as political independence in a sovereign state under a government representing the majority of the previously colonised people, who were excluded from full participation in society through the colonial and apartheid systems.
Pan-Africanism, the enduring vision of African liberation, identified the struggle for social and political equality and freedom from economic exploitation and racial discrimination as a common underlying theme. However, it did not clearly articulate the content, ideology and character of the post-colonial state.
The elites that assumed control of the post-colonial states embarked on state capture, in which they treated the states like their own personal fiefdoms and used the resource spoils of power to entrench and retain their authority.
The celebration of independence/transition to democracy was premature in the context of its discontents, in which the elites viewed the state as a front of authority and privilege while the majority of African citizens continued to wallow in poverty.
The apartheid state was the epitome of social and economic injustice. It was characterised by a systematic legal and institutional framework to ensure white domination through preferential treatment for whites and depriving blacks’ assets they could use to support their livelihoods. It is in this context that one watches with great interest the arrival of a new generation of leaders in most African parliaments.
As President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the State of the Nation Address (Sona) this week, a significant number of parliamentarians coming from the “fees must fall” movement will be present. It is important for this generation of youthful leaders to inject fresh ideas in Parliament.
The starting point would be to re-imagine government policies to be people-centred. There is an urgent need to ensure that Parliament plays its constitutional role of holding the executive accountable. What makes other nations succeed compared with the African continent is the prioritisation of meritocracy over royalty on matters of governance.
Most leaders in key and strategic positions in government have been recycled although they failed dismally to change the status quo. Do not expect recycled leaders and policies to produce desired results. It is vital to seriously consider a developmental state that does not tolerate corruption.
Special attention should be taken to revive, not dismantle SOEs, in advancement of appropriate infrastructure for the majority of the people on the margins of the economy. There are inherent limitations in the ability of the current colonial- and apartheid-inspired states to deliver economic freedom to African people. Therefore, think beyond the confines of these fragmented African states. Think and act regionally and continentally.
* Monyae is the director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies and the University of Johannesburg.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.