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Celebrating Africa Day @61: Hope and frustration

AFRICAN politics is hardly as colourful as yesteryear.




AFRICAN politics is hardly as colourful as yesteryear.

No Mobutu hat, a Patrice Lumumba hairstyle, or its wild Milton Obote version, a chic Kenyattan presidential walking staff, or an Idi Amin chuckle.

Remember the eccentric Muammar Gaddafi and his visionary United States of Africa, the enlightened speech of Kwame Nkrumah or fiery Robert Mugabe plus their deeply flawed characters, the impossible voice of the saintly Nelson Mandela, and the utopian Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa.

A colourful cocktail no barman could make, surreally mixing the bad and the good. Yet somewhat strangely this was a collage of Africa’s most hopeful moment.

The realities and difficulties of post-colonial governance have sobered Africa’s leaders and its citizens.

Poverty and corruption continue to stalk the continent, with millions craving a decent meal.

Old problems meet new ones like climate change constructing a wicked development complex.

Meanwhile, the world abroad shoots to dizzying inventions in technologies and dreams of driverless cars and space tourism.

Recall, a picture of an unlit African landmass from space, inspired the Economist’s 2007 headline, ‘The dark continent.’

A global North satellite seeing an unlit Africa from space dramatised global inequality and, probably out of guilt, four years later, the same Economist frontpage proclaimed ‘Africa Rising.’

A world broadcast its confusion about African prospects. In the world of development theory, the hope of modernisation succumbed to new pessimism of dependency and neo-coloniality.

From the global South debates, including from Zimbabwe’s intellectual son Sabelo Gatsheni-Ndlovu, rise to din calling for decolonial thinking, ferreting Europe with the “Rhodes must fall” movement.

Decoloniality bequeaths Africa its new intellectual project. But looking to South America shows Africa the challenges ahead in arrested development and middle-income traps.

Scholars like Whittaker and friends already talk of “double burdens,” the globalised era bringing ‘advanced economy problems’ to the Third World.

Thus, adding to communicable diseases, Africans suffer consumerist ailments like heart disease and diabetes from eating fast foods, and recreational drug addictions.

The road from falling infant mor Every day, in real-time, the social media universe broadcasts to Africa its backwardness, enticing its sons and daughters to cross the treacherous Mediterranean to southern Europe, only to be buried at sea. Some do reach Europe to meet harsh immigration officers, but many fall prey to Middle Eastern human traffickers and modern slavery in the Libyan desert. As the world economy turns away from its polluting sins, or new Asian transition economies demand impetus, Africa has assumed new relevance.

New minerals are being daily discovered on the continent to power global green industrialisation and economy, including lithium for batteries.

Yet, corrupt deals and tax avoidance prevent the population from benefitting. But amid the frustrations, African unity stands. Sometimes it progresses.

The African Union (AU) has transformed from the archaic Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Leaders talk of monetary unions, and regional economic communities (RECs) are transforming into giant markets.

Leaders are debating an African financial architecture, including an African Monetary Fund (AMF). Amid the poor and hungry hinterlands, new highways emerge.

African governments observe each other’s elections for adherence to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, constitutions are enshrining term limits, and the human rights architecture is budding.

Yet, leaders do arise willing to try a third term or remove terms altogether. Stolen elections still grace the news.

A bloody coup has just been foiled in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but within five short years, many have succeeded in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Gabon, and Guinea.

Surprisingly, some have been embraced as progressive.

The Mbekite idealism of NEPAD and the African Renaissance has died down, like old embers, and Thabo Mbeki himself could hardly be trusted to keep the lofty ideals mediating conflicts and safeguarding democracy.

HIV and Aids’ ravaging human plunder has been tamed, but Africa’s health system is struggling.

Nothing exposed this fact more than the Suddenly, the elites paddocked into their societies by the lockdowns unable to seek treatment abroad discovered their hospitals had no oxygen machines.

The whole continent failed to produce vaccines, except the African Centre for Diseases Control (CDC) counting infections and deaths, luckily no worse than Europe.

But still, for a continent reliant on health aid, an after-taste remained, realising the Global North had practiced ‘vaccine Apartheid’ and ‘vaccine nationalism.’

While Africa’s most colourful generation of leaders variously disappointed, they had marshalled a whole continent to urgency, independence, and self-belief. Following that milestone, a moment of hope reigned, albeit betrayed.

Maybe they were victims of their success – which for some meant staying overtime, brooking no opposition, despotism, or feeling entitled to the nation’s coffers.

But, today’s generation of African leaders need an idealist project to inspire a continental forward march.

They should be the heroes of democratisation, sustainable industrialisation, continental integration, human rights, and inclusive development.

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