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Africa should know what’s best for continent

SO MUCH has changed since April 15, 1958 when African leaders and political activists gathered at the first conference of independent African states.
The conference in Accra, Ghana, represented the collective expression of the African people’s disgust with colonialism.
The gathering was only attended by representatives of the governments of Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, the United Arab Republic (which was the federation of Egypt and Syria) and those of the Union of Cameroonian Peoples and the National Liberation Front of Algeria.
At the time of the conference, Zambia was actively fighting for its own independence from Britain.
In fact, in that year, the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) was formed as a breakaway from the African National Congress (ANC).
But having gained independence in 1964, Zambia was itself to play an active role in the liberation of southern Africa.
A year before the country’s independence, another conference of independent African countries had taken place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 25, 1963. The meeting was attended by 31 African leaders who founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Between the 1958 and 1963 meetings, 17 African counties had won their independence while 1960 was proclaimed ‘Year of Africa’ because of a series of events that took place then, but mainly because of the independence attained by several African countries which highlighted the growing pan-African sentiments on the continent.
The leaders who met on May 25, 1960 Ethiopia came up with the Africa Liberation Day, which, hitherto, was called Africa Freedom Day following the Accra meeting in 1958.
Much has changed on the African continent since those two historical meetings. After achieving much of decolonisation, Africa went through a period of instability, with military coups and one-party dictatorships being the order of the day.
The days of glory that African independence promised did not materialise, and this led to despondency among citizens such that in the late 1980s, demands for return to multi-party politics were loud.
The political changes led to the rise of a new breed of leaders who talked good governance and economic growth.
Obviously, there were a few disappointing cases. But the stage was certainly set for the African Renaissance!
In a speech to the United Nations University in Japan in 1998, then South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki spoke about ending the practices which have the world view Africans as incapable of establishing and maintaining systems of good governance.
“Our own practical experiences tell us that military governments do not represent the system of good governance which we seek. Accordingly, the continent has made the point clear that it is opposed to military coups and has taken practical steps.
“Furthermore, our experience has taught us that one-party states also do not represent the correct route to take towards the objective of a stable system of governance, which serves the interests of the people,” Mbeki said in a speech he titled ‘The African Renaissance, South Africa and the world’.
But even as he spoke of the African Renaissance, Mbeki was aware that there was a widely held view that Africans were a peculiar species (to mean backward).
It was, therefore, difficult to speak of an African Renaissance, more so that when one speaks of the term in the context of the evolution of European peoples, they speak of advances in science and technology, voyages of discovery across the oceans, development and flowering of knowledge and a blossoming of the arts.
But Mbeki clearly knew what he was talking about.
“We recall the fact that as the European Renaissance burst into history in the 15th and 16th centuries, there was a royal court in the African city of Timbuktu which, in the same centuries, was as learned as its European counterparts.
“What this tells me is that my people are not a peculiar species of humanity! I say this because it is true. And as we speak of an African Renaissance, we project into both the past and the future. I speak here of a glorious past of the emergence of Homo Sapiens on the African continent,” he said.
Mbeki spoke of the African works of art in South Africa that are a thousand years old, the continuum in the fine arts that encompasses the varied artistic creations of the Nubians and the Egyptians, the Benin bronzes of Nigeria and the intricate sculptures of the Makonde of Tanzania and Mozambique.
He also spoke of the centuries-old contributions to the evolution of religious thought made by the Christians of Ethiopia and the Muslims of Nigeria, the architectural monuments represented by the giant sculptured stones of Aksum in Ethiopia, the Egyptian sphinxes and pyramids, the Tunisian city of Carthage, and the Zimbabwe ruins, as well as the legacy of the ancient universities of Alexandria of Egypt, Fez of Morocco and Timbuktu of Mali.
“When I survey all this and much more besides, I find nothing to sustain the long-held dogma of African exceptionalism, according to which the colour black becomes a symbol of fear, evil and death,” he said.
But the problem, according to Andrew Sardanis of Zambia, is that everybody has been meddling in Africa, and everybody has a formula for its salvation.
“In the old days salvation was the promised ‘protection’ of one European empire or another and the Christian gospel. Nowadays it is more of the same, but for European empires read ‘Western democracies’ and for the Christian gospel read ‘free markets’,” Sardanis writes in the introduction of his book, A Venture in Africa: The Challenges of African Business.
So how does Sardanis, who had operations of one kind or another in some 30 Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone countries and in the process became familiar with their idiosyncrasies and problems, see the cure to be?
“Most other countries do not have sufficient experience and self-confidence to determine the suitability of the economic advice they receive. So they go along with it, sometimes because it is easier to acquiesce than resist, and in any case there is always the hope of a promised land at the end of the tunnel.
“When is this going to change? When countries have firm opinions on what is in their best interests and are in a position to stand up to the conflicting pressures placed on them,” he says.
Africa is still awaiting coming true of its collective dream, which is true freedom.