Slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism shaped our continent and left us underdeveloped, writes Baleka Mbete.
As we concluded Africa Month, when we celebrated the birth in 1963 of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now known as the African Union (AU), we must take the time to sharpen our resolve to overcome the challenges standing in the way of building a better Africa.
Contemporary Africa is a product of three historical experiences - namely, slavery colonialism, and neo-colonialism. Each of these experiences shaped our continent to make us dependent and underdeveloped.
Slavery destabilised Africa’s pre-colonial societies as slave raiders invaded our communities, snatching our able bodied men and women to sell them abroad where they were forced to work as slaves.
Today, these sons and daughters of our continent constitute the African Diaspora, most of whom reside in the Americas.
Africa Day for them is a remembrance of their Motherland, Africa, and the struggles they continue to wage against racism and for their rights as citizens in the countries they helped build with their blood and sweat.
Colonialism created the borders we have today on our continent, and left us a legacy that stunted the development of our respective countries. The only roads that were built by the colonisers, for example, are all in the direction of the ports that were used to ship raw materials out of our continent.
So entrenched is the legacy of colonialism that even with the independence years that began in the late 1950s, many of our countries became free or independent only in name. The former coloniser was still in charge in one way or another, hence neo-colonialism.
African agency has been central to how we overcome our challenges as a continent and its people. The central element of this agency during slavery and colonialism were the struggles we waged. The colonisers did not deliver our freedom on a silver plate, but was defeated through our heroic struggles which made colonial rule unworkable.
The formation of the OAU on May 25 in 1963 was in itself an expression of the agency required for Africans to take responsibility for their actions and destiny. The OAU’s primary purpose was to unify Africans and complete the task of the complete decolonisation of our continent.
While the OAU was decisive in the decolonisation struggle which included supporting liberation movements like the ANC, the organisation was not that successful on other fronts in the struggle against neo-colonialism.
It was in the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War, which was in many respects responsible for many regional wars and keeping many dictators in power on our continent, that African agency gained ascendency as our weapon against neo-colonialism.
Africans had to accept they could not keep on blaming everything on colonialism when there are things they can do themselves towards a better Africa.
The African Union, which was born in 2002 with the transformation of the OAU, was a direct product of this realisation.
Unlike its predecessor, the OAU, the AU has a much broader agenda, at the centre of which is development, democracy promotion, and peace.
Africans have accepted that development, democracy and peace are our three central challenges that are dialectically related, and as such must be tackled together, both at the continental level and within our respective countries.
Agenda 2063 is Africa’s 50-year plan, developed by the AU, to tackle these three challenges and others that hamper the rise of our continent.
Our continental efforts are completed by the existence of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), the development programme of the AU, and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which is our instrument for promoting good governance within our respective countries.
There is no doubt the Africa of today is much better than the Africa we had at the beginning of the 1990s. The existence of the AU has played a major part in our progress, thanks to its various programmes like Nepad and the APRM, and organs such as the Pan African Parliament. This is African agency in action!
But self-reliance remains a big challenge. Our continental bodies, including the AU, remain dependent on donor generosity for their programmes and activities.
The AU itself has taken steps to urge its member countries to shoulder the financial burden of running the organisation, but this is easier said than done as many African countries have limited fiscal capacity to pay their assessed contribution.
For example, Africans now take the lead in peace and security interventions on the continent, unlike in the past where they were just passengers and spectators. But this good peace and security work is disproportionately dependent on financial aid from the donors.
Within our countries, self-reliance must entail generating our domestic resources to finance our own development. Many of our countries are still dependent on donors who most of the time are our former colonisers, for so called “budget support”.
Even very basic projects like building a school are undertaken with the help of donors. This is politically unsustainable, and perpetuates neo-colonialism power relations.
The rise of Africa that we believe is happening has to be on the iron back of self-reliance, which is the cornerstone of African agency. Africans must shoulder the responsibility for their own development while continuing, of course, to encourage partnerships like foreign investment.
Terrorism and other forms of extremism are a big challenge particularly in parts of West and East Africa.
As the fight against Boko Haram shows, for example, the solution to this problem lies in African agency in the form of security co-operation among the affected countries and mobilisation of communities on the ground.
We must continue to strengthen the national accountability mechanism within our countries if we are to deepen good governance and democracy on our continent.
Incidents of political instability confronting us are due to weaknesses in our national accountability institutions which are not inclusive or participatory enough.
Our governments must be accountable and conduct their business in a transparent manner. Corruption must be fought and eradicated. Political leadership must be a responsibility and for service, not for self-interest or personal aggrandisement. Our people must always come first.
Africa is on the rise. Within countries, this rise must be accompanied by strategies of how we overcome the continent-wide triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Africa’s rise must be transformational, overhauling the structural foundation that perpetuates neo-colonialism.
The wealth of this continent, including land and our minerals, belong to our people.
Africa should not be the place where we only produce primary products, or raw materials. We must also industrialise, and put an end to the practice in many of our countries whereby we produce what we don’t eat and eat what is manufactured elsewhere outside our continent!
On the global front, a rising Africa must continue to assert itself especially in the multilateral system which is skewed in favour of our former colonisers. The UN must be transformed, and this must result in Africa getting a permanent seat on the body’s Security Council.
African countries were central to the formation of the International Criminal Court because of our commitment to combating international crimes like crimes against humanity and war crimes.
South Africa continues to play its role in international affairs as a country and through the ANC as a liberation movement that is also the ruling party.
A “better Africa” has been central to the work of the ANC for decades because of the Pan-African and internationalist orientation of our movement.
The ANC’s Pan-Africanism is our founding ideology that is compatible with our non-racial outlook and the working class bias articulated in our strategy and tactics document.
The time has come for us to recharge, sharpen our spears and continue on the path to a better Africa.
* Mbete is ANC chairperson and Speaker of the National Assembly
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.