Tag: African Union

The AU owes young people inspiration

Hundreds of people adorned with traditional regalia from different cultures march through the streets of Durban on May 23, ahead of the he annual commemoration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity, presently recognised as the African Union. (Pic: AFP)
Hundreds of people adorned with traditional regalia from different cultures march through the streets of Durban on May 23, ahead of the annual commemoration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity, presently recognised as the African Union. (Pic: AFP)

The African Union owes the citizens of African states an opportunity to gain true inspiration from their organisation. We have not been given that opportunity. The average educated African citizen sees the Union as a toothless dog barking at its problems, and if they surmount, merely burying them in Africa’s backyard, which I imagine is an abandoned desert filled with broken dreams. If this appears to be a dramatic analogy to you then allow yourself the chance to imagine what the uneducated citizen considers the African Union to be. Nothing. And no dramatised imagery can take that truth away.

Numerous articles have been written on the ineffectiveness of this organisation.  Disaster after disaster has visited the member states of the African Union, while those involved in it appeared to do nothing more than shake their heads at the graveyard of missed opportunities. And who has suffered the most? The African people.

The purpose of the AU is to promote peace and security in Africa, but recent al-Shabab attacks in Kenya are thought by some to be a result of the mistakes made in the AU’s mission in Somalia which had an initial mandate of six months – yet close to eight years later, the operation remains active.  The AU has also been accused of “regionalising local conflict”.

The purpose of the AU is to promote improvement in healthcare access for African citizens, but the Ebola crisis showed an organisation that seemed to insist on always remaining many steps behind local and international efforts to combat the epidemic.

The purpose of the AU is to promote Pan-African development. Since its founding in 2001, and despite the rise in trade-agreements between member states, intra-Africa trade has remained below 12%, an embarrassing figure when compared to Western Europe whose intra-continental trade clocks in at 80%. It is clear to even the most optimistic observer that African states just don’t take these agreements seriously.

More of these failings can be seen as you go down the list of objectives the AU set up for itself upon its birth. And every failure comes with its own excuse: low resources, pressure from the West, etc. But despite some of them being valid, the rest I chalk down to a blatant refusal to take this organisation where it should go as well as an obvious lack of faith in the vision that birthed the AU: the vision of a united and self-sufficient Africa.

How else can you explain the clumsy handling of regional conflicts? How else can you explain the slow response to healthcare disasters? How else can you explain the sheer lack of implementation of agreements between member states? How else can you explain how Africa can continue to produce almost entirely things it does not consume and consume things it doesn’t produce?

It is a complete lack of commitment to self-sufficiency, it is a complete lack of commitment to the vision of a united Africa.

To reject a vision is to reject the future. And what is more a sign of a rejected future than the African Union having a centenarian president as a representative of the youngest continent in the world? To reject youth is to reject the future.

And so far, I have seen very little being done to engage young people in the AU’s mission.

But something can be done. Schools all over the continent can energise young people by creating AU clubs. How they will go about it can be determined by the resources and abilities of their respective faculties. If the AU has shown us anything, it’s that this can’t be done with a top-down approach. It has to be a “grassroots” movement implemented by teachers and communities that do believe in the dream of a United Africa.

And nobody can tell me such a thing is beyond the abilities of the often poorly-funded schools that form the majority of education systems in Africa. If there can be debate clubs and science competitions, however under-resourced, there can be a model AU after-school club.

I am aware that a model AU conference takes place in South Africa from time to time, but such an occasion seems limited to the privileged few who can afford the tedious process of getting visas (another barrier to intra-Africa trade, unaddressed by AU) and funding.

But I am talking about the average African student, who naturally craves, as all young people do all over the world, to make a real difference: to matter. The poor children in rural schools who feel forgotten by the world are just the people we need to engage in the vision of a compassionate and prosperous AU.

If I sound like a dreamer it is because that’s just what the AU needs, young people like me filled with optimism and dreams, and how else shall the two meet if not by gaining familiarity in this fashion?

All over the world, the model UN conference operates and ignites passions in the souls of young people who are eager to feel involved. A continent-wide model AU program might be just what is needed to put into the minds of my peers that leading Africa is our rightful place and no amount of bureaucracy, corruption and poor resources will stop us from claiming it.

On Africa Day, the day we are supposed to celebrate Africa’s achievements since 1963, when 30 newly-independent and ambitious African states got together and birthed a vision of a prosperous continent, we have to realise that the AU owes us inspiration. But we will be damned if we wait for them to hand it to us. We must seize it for ourselves and push ourselves to victory.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-year-old mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter@SiyandaWrites

Robert Mugabe: Man of the people?

Robert Mugabe (Pic: AFP)
Robert Mugabe (Pic: AFP)

Africa’s leaders have appointed Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to the largely ceremonial role of chairman of the 54-state African Union.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, is still respected by many for leading his country to independence from Britain. But critics believe the ‘president for life’ is out of touch with the people the African Union claims to represent.

Age is not a factor is the selection process for position for chairman of the Africa Union, but Africa is the world’s youngest continent, and at 90 years-old, Mugabe is among the estimated 5% of Africans who manage to live past their sixtieth birthday. In 2012, 85% of the population was under the age of 45, and life expectancy across the continent was 58 years.

Wealth Mugabe’s government has been widely blamed for mismanaging Zimbabwe’s economy, plunging the country into desperate times. Though the extent of his personal wealth is not known, his penchant for expensive and “insensitive” parties is well documented. Lavish celebrations for the leader’s 90th birthday were said to have cost Zimbabwe taxpayers $1m, despite around 70% of the population living in poverty.

Rights The African Union’s main objectives include the promotion of good governance, democracy and human rights. Under Mugabe’s rule, Zimbabwe has consistently ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for civil liberties. “The police use outdated and abusive laws to violate basic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly…” according to the Human Rights Watch 2015 World Report. “There has been no progress toward justice for human rights abuses and past political violence.”

Democracy Africa is home to half of the world’s longest serving leaders, including Mugabe, who was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president for the seventh time in 2013. Protests against veteran leaders have recently flared in Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso, when president Blaise Compaore was forced to step down after a failed attempt to extend his 27-year rule. Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, has indicated she may try to succeed her husband as leader one day.

Resources In his acceptance speech for his new role as chairman, Mugabe spoke of the need to guard Africa’s resources against foreign exploitation. Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party was accused of siphoning millions of dollars in profits from state-owned diamond mines to finance Mugabe’s re-election campaign in 2013. Officials deny the claims.

Women’s empowerment is the theme of the African Union summit being held in Addis Ababa. In an interview with Voice of America, Mugabe said it is “not possible that women can be at par with men.” It was unclear whether he was endorsing the status quo, or lamenting the lack of opportunities for African women. Either way, in a continent where gender discrimination remains widespread, it’s not the best choice of words.

Conflict Another of the African Union’s vows is to promote peace and stability across the continent. Mugabe and his associates are subject to EU and US sanctions following Zanu-PF’s victories in the 2002 and 2008 elections, which were marred by allegations of vote-rigging, violence and intimidation. Mugabe denies any wrongdoing, and accuses the west of trying to encourage regime change.

African business leaders step up to create $28.5m Ebola Fund

A woman passes a sign posted in an awareness campaign against the spread of Ebola in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (Pic: Reuters)
A woman passes a sign posted in an awareness campaign against the spread of Ebola in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (Pic: Reuters)

Saturday, November 8, was a landmark day for Africa’s battle against Ebola. African business leaders from a range of sectors joined the African Union (AU) and the African Development Bank in Addis Ababa for a round table meeting to discuss what the private sector could contribute towards fighting Ebola. AU chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that this was the beginning of many consultations the African Union was prepared to have with business leaders. “We do not want to think that we have called you here only because we are in trouble, but we hope that this a conversation that we can carry forward on everything else that is happening on this continent,” she said in her opening remarks.

The  Ebola outbreak was first reported in Guinea late last year but was ignored by many until it spiralled out of control. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 13 000 people across eight countries have been infected,  and nearly 5000 have died. For months now, the outbreak has been making headlines around the world and regional organisations like the AU have come under fire for their perceived failure to effectively address the crisis.

The weekend’s meeting was a case of better late than never, but it was a productive one: a $28.5 million emergency fund to respond to the Ebola epidemic was set up. This first wave of contributions will go towards logistical support of healthworkers who are caring for those infected with Ebola, and to strengthening the capacity of local health services in affected West African countries.

The money pledged will be managed by the African Development Bank. This is the first time in history that the African Union and the African Development Bank will be handling money from private entities.

Before the meeting, a target of $30 million was set. Strive Masiyiwa, executive chair of Econet Wireless, pledged $2.5million. Kevin Balogun, Coca Cola Head of  East, West and North Africa pledged $1million on behalf of the company. South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe from Africa Rainbow Minerals pledged $1 million as a family contribution. Nigerian business magnate Aliko Dangote, through his representative, pledged 10% of the set target of $30 million. The biggest pledge came from the MTN Group, which offered $10 million.

Many other companies gave logistical support: Deloitte Africa pledged to work hand in hand with the African Development Bank pro-bono as a financial advisory to the fund. There was also consensus that the African Centre for Disease Control project be hastened because Africa needs to stand tall with regard to research and medicine. The renowned Professor Calestous Juma, representing academica, pledged to link African researchers with MIT and Harvard University. Representatives from telecom companies in Africa pledged to create an SMS short code that will enable anyone to contribute to the fund from as little as $1. The facility will be available from December 1.

There was a sense of solidarity at the meeting and an acknowledgement that urgent action is needed. It was a relief  to see Africans actively doing something about the epidemic rather than relying on ‘outside help’. As Carlos Lope, from the UN Economic Commission for Africa said: “Africa needs to arrest the infection of perception with the same resolve it deals with the infection of the virus.”

Ruth Aine is a Ugandan blogger and social media trainer. She blogs at aineruth.blogspot.com.

Rwanda’s story: Women integral to governance, peacebuilding in Africa

After arriving in Kigali last month, the first thing my friends and I did was hire motorcycles and ride around the city. It was the best way to get reacquainted with it and take in all the sights and sounds and smells – it was cheap therapy.

For a few moments during that ride, it didn’t feel like I was in Africa. Kigali over time has developed into a lovely city. The growth is something that you see when you meet the locals and look at the infrastructure. A country once wounded so badly is shining and we Africans are all visibly proud. The story that is being told about Rwanda is that where there is a will, there is a way.

When the 1994 genocide happened, I was eight years old. I vividly remember huge black helicopters hovering over us for days. There were lots of gunshots and very loud bangs, which my parents told me were ‘bikompola’ (bombs/grenades). I didn’t understand what was going on but I took notice of everything. I come from a small district south west of Uganda, which borders Rwanda. The effects of the genocide happening to our neighbours were very visible.

A view of the centre of the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Rwanda is positioning itself as a regional hub, twenty years after the genocide ravaged the country. (Pic: AFP)
A view of the centre of the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Rwanda is positioning itself as a regional hub, twenty years after the genocide ravaged the country. (Pic: AFP)

Fast forward 20 years on to October 2014. I got to visit Rwanda again, this time to attend an African Union-hosted forum where we discussed Silencing the guns: Women in Democratisation and Peace Building in Africa. It was a pertinent theme – some African countries have barely known peace for up to 50 years. The continent has been in constant turmoil and conflict, and it is widely known that women and children bear the brunt of it. Initiatives like this pre-forum aim are aimed at including them in the process of peacebuilding rather than keeping them on the periphery.

The African Union has a vision for the continent for the next 50 years known as Agenda 2063. One of many goals is a peaceful and secure Africa. “By 2020 all guns will be silent. Mechanisms for peaceful resolution of conflicts will be functional at all levels. A culture of peace and tolerance shall be nurtured in Africa’s children and youth through peace education.”  This is why the conversation on silencing of guns was very relevant and timely.

Rwanda’s post-genocide story is unique in so many ways. Speaking at the event, Dr Aisha Abdullahi, commissioner for the AU department of political affairs, said: “Rwanda is a shining example that we can forgive,  that we can achieve healing and reconciliation, that we can prosper even when we do not have oil or minerals. Effective governance is key”. However women have got to be at the centre of the processes involved, she emphasised.

Women bring to the table a unique way of governance –  the kind that is sentimental and well thought-out. We are relational beings and while all we do and should listen to the facts and the judge, women bring the ‘Ubuntu’  aspect as well. While in Kigali, we went to visit a reconciliation village in Bugasera, a short distance away from the city centre. We heard testimonies from women who, after the genocide, turned their sons in to the authorities as they suspected they had been involved in the violence. They needed to go through the systems, either go to jail or to a reconciliation camp, one mother said frankly.

Photographs of people who were killed during the 1994 genocide are seen inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum. (Pic: Reuters)
Photographs of people who were killed during the 1994 genocide are seen inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum. (Pic: Reuters)

In Rwanda (and elsewhere), it is women who hold communities together. It is their husbands and children who were killed, it is their brothers and sisters who were wounded, but that does not stop them from advocating for equal justice for all. And history and scholars are on their side.

Over the past couple for years economists have agreed that there is nothing more central to development than the economic, political and social participation and leadership of women.  They go on to say that this is particularly true in post-conflict societies where women often make up the majority of the population. Women have the primary responsibility of raising the next generation. The majority of refugees are women and children, and not just in Africa. Female education, increasing women’s authority and uplifting their political voice have a profound effect on development in post-conflict situations. And this is what Rwanda has done. The have given women more control over resources, which is very important. We see it in our everyday lives: women will tend to give more and invest more in the livelihood of their homes and communities.

In other countries around the world, only about 20.4% of the members of parliaments are women. Rwanda prides itself on having the highest percentage of female MPs in the world – nearly 64%.

Rwanda is an example of the new trend to use electoral gender quotas to fast-track gender balance in politics. Africa has only six years to be able to achieve reconciliation and silence guns on the continent as per the aspirations of Agenda 2063, but one thing remains: effective governance is the only road to getting us to achieve a peaceful and secure continent. But women have got to steer the conversation, be a part of it and also be acknowledged by the very many partners in the process.

Ruth Aine is a Ugandan blogger and social media trainer. She blogs at aineruth.blogspot.com.

Open letter to AU heads of state: Make agriculture a priority

Judging from the daily outpouring of commentary, opinions and reports, you would think that there were two African continents. One of them is the new land of opportunity, with seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies, offering limitless possibilities to investors. There is, however, this other image: a starving and hopeless continent, hungry and poor, corrupt and prey to foreign exploiters.

As Africans, we are tired of caricatures. But we are also tired of waiting. Waiting to be led toward the one Africa we all want: the Africa that can and should be. We know the real Africa, filled with possibilities, dignity and opportunities, able to face its challenges and solve them from within. Never has the time been more right for us to finally realise our full potential. It is within our grasp.

As a scientist, I am always interested in facts. Africa is a land rich in resources, which has enjoyed some of the highest economic growth rates on the planet. It is home to 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. And it has seen foreign direct investment triple over the past decade.

As the head of an institution whose business is investing in rural people, I know that you also need vision and imagination. At the International Fund for Agricultural Development we have banked on the poorest, most marginalised people in the world, and over and over again these investments have paid off. For people, for communities, for societies. And more than half of the people we invest in are Africans.

More than 10 years have passed since the Maputo Declaration, in which you, as African leaders, committed to allocating at least 10% of national budgets to agriculture and rural development – key sectors in the drive to cut poverty, build inclusive growth and strengthen food security and nutrition.

Today, just seven countries have fulfilled the Maputo commitment consistently, while some others have made steps in the right direction. Ten years is a long time to wait. In less time I have seen projects turn desert into farmland.

In Malabo at the 23rd African Union Summit, I will join those of you, African leaders, who will gather to discuss this year’s focus of agriculture and food security. This is my call: Don’t just promise development, deliver it, make it happen now. Make real, concrete progress toward investment that reaches all Africans. Investments that prioritise rural people.

Our biggest resource is our people. To squander this is worse than wasteful. If we don’t act now, by 2030 Africa will account for 80% of the world’s poor. Is this the legacy that we want to leave for future generations?

The AU declared 2014 as the year of Agriculture and Food Security. And this is the year we look beyond the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals to a post-2015 world with new goals and targets to reach. I hope that this means that we will be dedicating ourselves fully to making agriculture a priority. GDP growth due to agriculture has been estimated to be five times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in any other sector, and in sub-Saharan Africa, up to 11 times. Ironically, it is countries that lack lucrative extractive industries and that have had to invest in agriculture who have found out what is now an open secret: agriculture not only improves food security but creates wealth. Small family farmers in some parts of our continent contribute as much as 80% of food production. Investing in poor rural people is both good economics and good ethics.

Farmers tend newly planted trees  Kimahuri, Kenya. (AFP)
Farmers tend newly planted trees in Kimahuri, Kenya. (AFP)

A full 60% of our people depend wholly or partly on agriculture for their livelihoods, and the vast majority of them live below the poverty line. It’s not pity and handouts that they need. It’s access to markets and finance, land tenure security, knowledge and technology, and policies that favour small farms and make it easier for them to do business. A thriving small farm sector helps rural areas retain the young people who would otherwise be driven to migrate to overcrowded cities where they face an uncertain future. Investing in agriculture reinforces not only food security, but security in general.

In an Africa where 20 states are classified as fragile and 28 countries need food assistance, the need for a real rural transformation backed by investment and not just words is critical – I have often said that declarations don’t feed people.

Investments must be focused on smallholder family farms. Small farms make up 80% of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa. And contrary to conventional wisdom, small farms are often more productive than large farms. For example, China’s 200 million small farms cover only 10% of the world’s agricultural land but produce 20%  of the world’s food. The average African farm, however, is performing at only about 40% of its potential. Simple technologies – such as improved seeds, irrigation and fertilizer – could triple productivity, triggering transformational growth in the agricultural sector. It is estimated that irrigation alone could increase output by up to 50%  in Africa.  Rural areas also need the right investments in infrastructure – roads, energy, storage facilities, social and financial services – and enabling policies backed by appropriate governance structures that ensure inclusiveness.

If we look at the countries that have met the Maputo commitment, we see that investing in agriculture works. Given that agriculture has become lucrative for private investors, and about 60% of the planet’s available uncultivated agricultural land is in Africa, there is no mystery why we hear about so-called ‘land grabs’. Opportunity draws foreign investors. There is nothing wrong with foreign investment. But it has to be managed, to the benefit of all.

What is a mystery is why, with such a vast potential and a young population just waiting for a reason to seize it, our African leaders do not announce that they will redouble their efforts to drive an inclusive rural transformation, with concrete commitments, that will make Maputo a reality. I hope that after the Malabo meeting, that will be a mystery no longer.

African economies have grown impressively. But it is time to stop focusing on GDP figures and instead focus on people. The majority of our people are engaged in agriculture, and the neglect of that sector must stop if we really want to realise the healthy, peaceful and food secure Africa that we know can be. It is not a dream; it is a responsibility.

Kanayo F. Nwanze is the President of the United Nations rural development agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development.