I’ve been to Addis Ababa yet again, but this time it has been for a big celebratory party that the African leaders and their friends have been enjoying on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the OAU/AU.
Gatherings called for celebration seldom allow themselves space for cerebration, especially when they are organised around birthdates, which can easily give rise to illusions of childhood with its attendant insouciance.
Yet, even for birthdays, the number 50 does call for some thought, and Africans from all walks of life have been investing in this area this past week.
Indeed, I am tempted to dub the total sum of all the seminars, workshops, symposia and colloquia a veritable “thinkfest,” a festival of thought and reflection, a meeting place of ideas and experiences, a multilateral interface of perspectives and outlooks.
There was no shortage of lamentation over all the things Africa has failed to achieve in the past half century, and many a delegate was eager to point out that in many areas the continent has not lived up to the tasks it set itself, especially after the struggle for political liberation was symbolically brought to its conclusion in 1994 in Pretoria.
The obvious focus was, and should be, on what the new stage of the struggle should be after fulfilling Kwame Nkrumah’s famous clarion call of the 1950s: Seek ye the political kingdom first, and the rest will be added unto you.
Put in other words, the question — and it need not be wholly rhetorical — could be, Now that we’ve found freedom, what are we gonna do with it? The way a lot of us have been behaving for the past 50 years, this is a real question that needs a real answer or a set of real answers.
Under this question-in-chief, a number of subsidiary ones can be subsumed: What was Independence for? Did all those who fought for it fully comprehend what it meant, or were some of them caught up in the whirlwind of emotions that gripped Africans at the mere thought of being rid of our white masters?
How many leaders of the Independence movement came to power having removed the white colonialists and, in turn, became black colonialists, lording it over their peoples, plundering their countries and generally negating the very notion of our people’s dignity and right to a decent life?
When we look around at the so-called leaders of African countries, do we see individuals who have our best interests at heart, or do we see a bunch of marauders who are bent on enriching themselves and their families without a care for the rest of the African people?
Why is it that African “leaders” are among the most avaricious and incompetent in the world, and why do Africans allow the worst elements among themselves to be their governors? Have we so totally given up on ever getting the right people to lead us that with every cycle we must descend still lower in terms of quality of leadership, as if we had not already plumbed the depths?
Now that corruption amongst African rulers and their acolytes has acquired cultural status, are we sure we want to continue perfecting it till it attains genetic expression?
What can we do to extricate our countries and continent from the clutches of these gangsters and their external sponsors, whose growing interest in our natural resources will spell doom for us unless we stand up to them?
Why is exclusion still the preferred mode of governance, against the youth, women, the weak and disadvantaged? Why are we so scared of inclusion when we know that it can be a source of strength if our goal is to build, not to devour what is there?
The wording may have been different, but these were some of the issues that were on delegates’ minds as they evaluated the past 50 years, observed the present and worried about the future: there was hope, to be sure, but it was hope tinged with genuine trepidation.
By Jenerali Ulimwengu – The East African