Written by Salim Ahmed Salim
These include: To improve governance. Indeed this is the number one issue. All those who lead, at whatever level BUT especially as National Leaders, must be held accountable and act in a manner, which makes them truly servants of the people who have elected them to power. It is significant to observe in this context that practical experience has already demonstrated that where there is a responsible, accountable and incorruptible leadership abiding by the principles of good governance, their countries have made enormous progress in socio-economic development.
Good governance, democracy, accountability and transparency should be nurtured and sustained and above all be made an essential component of our societies. Africa, which has suffered a lot of indignity and inhumanity due to massive violations of our people’s rights, should be in the forefront for the protection and respect of human and people’s rights. To achieve this it is imperative to build democratic institutions, improve our educational system and strengthen the civil societies.
It is also in this context that one has to take note of the Declaration issued by the OAU Heads of State and Government in February 1990, following the end of the Cold War, on the Political and Socio-Economic Situation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes taking place in the World. In essence, the declaration underscored, Africa’s commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, Rule of Law and Good Governance, as fundamental prerequisites for sustainable socio-economic development on the continent.
The establishment of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) by the OAU Heads of State and Government in July 2001, in Lusaka, Zambia, was meant to provide an overarching Vision and Policy framework for accelerating economic cooperation and integration among African countries. This measure was to be further strengthened by the establishment of the African Peer Review Mechanism in 2003 by the African Union which focuses on the importance of Good Governance in pursuing the New African Dream for its renaissance.
We must strive to uplift the lot of our people. Economic and social transformation is a prerequisite condition. In this context a number of factors need to be taken into account:
• In recent years, Africa has had strong economic growth records largely attributed to the comparative advantage that we have on natural resources and the demands fuelled by the strong growth in the largest emerging economies in Latin America and Asia. However, this growth has not translated into further reduction of poverty nor income and wealth inequality as we expected. We must guard against the growing inequities in our societies, which cause resentment and despair among our people and especially the millions of unemployed young people. If we fail to redress this imbalance we run the risk of implosion and conflict. We must gradually but firmly eliminate the contradiction of a very rich continent inhabited by the poorest people.
• Africa has a strong comparative advantage in natural resources that for many years has turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. With major discovery of Oil and Gas reserves in Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo joining the traditional oil countries notably Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Congo and Equatorial Guinea, Africa should heed the lessons of last oil boom that saw being squandered by both local and multinational greed. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of yesterday. Africa’s immense natural resources must be mobilized and properly used for its development.
• After years of structural economic transformations that focused on economic growth, it is crucial to note the necessity of adopting inclusive socio-economic development now for our continent to survive the challenges of development and ensure the opportunities of sustainable development. The necessity of ensuring that the wealth and resources of Africa are used to benefit all people, and not just channelled towards the gains of a few, cannot be overstated.
Inclusive socio-economic development, ensuring that all individuals can meet the basic needs of their families, that all of the continent’s diverse social, political, and economic groups feel equally part of their societies, and that all individuals who strive for a better tomorrow can be given equitable opportunities to improve their livelihoods, constituted the vision of our Founding Fathers, and must constitute the guiding light for our current and future generations of leaders. Without such inclusive development, our societies will remain plagued by political marginalization and socio-economic inequalities – and it is these conditions that enflame violence and ultimately threatens our collective peace, security, and development.
• This move towards inclusive economy must go hand in hand with the efforts of uplifting the status and appreciate the role of our women in economic and political leadership. The women of Africa have been the most resilient and dynamic force. They constitute more than 50% of the entire population. They have played a crucial role in the struggle for independence and liberation wars. In conflict situations they bear a disproportionate burden of suffering. They have played and continue to play a pivotal role in all facets of economic and social development.
BUT IN MOST OF OUR COUNTRIES THEIR FULL POTENTIAL HAS YET TO BE UTILISED. And their role in decision-making continues to be, by and large, sadly marginal. Currently African countries are taking significant steps aimed at empowering women. This vital process needs to be encouraged and intensified. This powerful force, when properly empowered and allowed to make full use of their potential will unleash an irreversible movement towards the political, social and economic emancipation of the continent.
• Of equally important, is the need to recognize the current demographic trend of the continent where 60% of Africans are below the age of 40. With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. Between 2000 and 2008, Africa’s working age population (15-64 years) grew from 443 million to 550 million; an increase of 25%. In annual terms this is a growth of 13 million, or 2.7% per year (World Bank 2011a). If this trend continues, the continent’s labour force will be 1 billion strong by 2040, making it the largest in the world, surpassing both China and India (McKinsey Global Institute, 2010). In this context, it is imperative to ensure that policies and actions, which constitute the agenda of the future, make effective use of this dynamic. Quite often this is considered as the time bomb but it is a time bomb if we do not make use of it positively. Hence we must invest whatever is necessary to ensure we effectively nurture and utilize this comparative advantage we hold not only to our greater success in the struggles for equitable prosperity but also for our survival from potential conflicts.
Similarly, fundamental advances in technology are radically changing how we organize our societies and engage one another. Advances in medical, industrial, and digital technologies are constantly pushing the boundaries on how we imagine the future. The achievements made in 3D printing and nanotechnology over the past three years alone confidently assure me that our world will be radically different in 20 more years. The Internet and mobile phone have become great equalizers, creating an open space through which instantaneous communication and knowledge sharing can occur across massive territorial, social, and cultural divides. It is now an established fact that, social media is crucially transforming how each individual perceives and engages what’s around them. Nigerian-American author Teju Cole recently described the crux of the social media phenomena in a lecture at Duke University’s Kennan Institute for Ethics, as follows:
“Each person is the command centre of a new way of thinking about the world … we must collectively contend with new and more diverse declarations of human equality and visibility.”
This then brings me to the imperative necessity of Regional Integration – an objective which has clearly been adumbrated by the then Organisation of African Unity and now the Africa Union.
But the pace of integration continues to be agonizingly slow even though there are important efforts and achievements of the various African sub regional organizations. No single African country however important or well endowed can have any serious impact on a world scale. But the African collective cannot be ignored. In this context, we should learn from the experience of our European friends and partners. Many of these countries are strong politically, economically, scientifically and militarily. They bear no comparison to individual African countries. Yet they have recognized their individual disadvantages and the merits of cooperation and integration in order inter alia to cope with the present and future challenges and opportunities facing them. In my view, for Africa, regional cooperation and integration is not a matter of choice but survival.
Lecture delivered by Dr Salim, former Secretary General of the OAU and Chairperson of the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Foundation at the Annual Thabo Mbeki Foundation Africa Day Lecture, UNISA, Tshwane, South Africa, 23rd May 2014.