Has Africa’s time arrived? …why the African Economic Forum was long overdue

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

If Chinua Achebe, (that Godfather of African literature) had been alive today, he would surely have marveled at how his fellow Africans have finally “found” their marbles as they “strike back” at empire in collective and concrete ways never before imaginable.   

Amid the seemingly endless gloom and a spirited negative Conradic depiction of Africa, the continent is gradually asserting its mantle in shaping its destiny.

The recent African Economic Platform (AEP) which groups together Heads of State, academics and captains of industry in a round table discussion on how to turn around the economic fortunes of the continent is an idea whose time was long been delayed.

The idea of business, intellectuals and top politicians congregating under the auspices of the African Union was for years an unimaginable occurrence. Mistrust and suspicion perennially defined the relationship between academics, business and those in national leadership.

But things are changing as the continent grapples with survival issues. Gone are the days when the template was always taken out of the Bretton Woods Institutions.

Africa is taking the bull by the horns and is coming to terms with the debilitating effects of over reliance on foreign aid which had literally turned some countries into perpetual certified slaves of some Western donor countries.  Dambisa Moyo and his fellow coterie of academics have long been shouting on the political margins about the negative effects of foreign aid.

And yet, it is essentially the need for cordial interrelationship between the politicians, academics and businesspeople that maybe the ultimate panacea to the interminable scourges besetting the continent.

Dambisa Moyo is not alone in querying the essence of foreign aid. Kenyan libertarian economist and director of the Inter Regional Economic Network, James Shikwati, had for long been making “whoa” sounds without anyone giving a hoot. He has long been questioning African academia’s obsession with referencing professors from Havard or Oxford and not our own African sages.

The same is prevalent in the media where many would find news from CNN and the BBC more authoritative than our local channels. Shikwati derides a continent that for long never wanted to “think for itself”.

African academics like Dambisa Moyo and James Shikwati are not extreme isolationist wanting nothing to do with the West. Their resentment of foreign aid is not fatalistic but informed by the reality the same free help hurting local markets, corrupts governments and promotes dependency.

But the long years of exclusion for the likes of Shikwati and Moyo are over as the African Economic Platform has opened a new page for collective responsibility by the continent’s critical stakeholders.

Structured along the lines of the Langkawi International Dialogue, the African Economic Platform offers an opportunity for Heads of State, academics and businesspeople to dialogue on pertinent economic strategies needed to uplift the continent.

Long accused of hollow proclaiming of “one Africa” for the prestige it affords at international forums, African leaders more than before appear very keen to nurture a united economic dream for the benefit of the continent’s people. Unlike other international smart platforms that are inter-continental, AEP is purely an African indaba for Africans.

If truth be told, Africa had until this forum appeared to suffer from a crisis of ideas and institutions. With little or no investment in indigenous thought leadership, the continent had become a battleground for competing global ideological interests.   

This is the debilitating situation that the AEP seeks to reverse. As an agenda 2063 programme, the AEP brings together African Heads of State, captains of industry and academics to discuss African development priorities and challenges.

The AEP was conceptualised by the African Union Commission as a forum for frank engagement amongst African leadership and different sectors of society to reflect on how to accelerate Africa’s economic transformation through collaboration, cooperation and joint ownership of Africa’s continental goals.    

Far from the ceremonial rigors associated with numerous regional or continental organisations, the platform’s main objective, include among others, the need to undertake constructive multi stakeholder dialogues around common themes for Africa, led by Africans and to influence continental policy by engaging directly with African leaders on matters of mutual interest.

Realising the importance of creating conducive business environment, the platform seeks to work with African leaders to remove policy obstacles for doing business in Africa, increase the investment attractiveness of the continent, implement strategies for economic diversification and industrialisation and undertakes domestic and other resource mobilisation.

What makes this platform refreshingly unique and pragmatic is that it seeks to remove barriers that hitherto hampered communication and the flow of goods, people and services across the continent and come up with common African positions on global affairs and increase global awareness of Africa’s emerging role in world affairs.

The seriousness of the AEP is encapsulated in the seven African aspirations of Agenda 2063, which reflect the desire for shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, and for a continent of free citizens, where full potential of women and youth are realised, with freedom from fear, disease and want.

In summary, the seven aspirations can be cited as follows:

a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development by ensuring well educated citizens and a skills revolution underpinned by science, technology and innovation.

an integral continent, politically united and based on the ideas of pan-Africanism and the vision of the African renaissance and removing all remnants of colonialism by 2020.

an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law with capable institutions and transformative leadership at all levels.

a peaceful and secure Africa where all guns must be silent by 2020.

an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics.

an Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of its women and youth.

an Africa that is strong, united and an influential global player and partner.

While some pundits may dismiss the seven aspirations as mere grandstanding, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The fact that the African Union is seeking revolutionise its engagement through the inclusion of intellectuals at universities and captains of industry is indicative of the resolve the continent’s leadership has doing things differently. Achebe would have been happy in seeing how Africa has finally woken up from its deep slumber and in a way “striking back” at Rudyard Kipling’s notorious poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’, which seeks to deride Africans’ ingratitude towards the benefits of empire.

March 2017
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