Money, Power, Sex: Africa may just be one big country after all
Posted Sunday, June 3 2012 at 00:00
When you “create the space to talk” and into that space you herd former heads of state, former vice presidents, former heads of universities, ministers of finance, Nobel laureates, the outgoing head of the Global Fund, the incoming ICC prosecutor, academics, activists, artistes, and anonymous souls like me, the room explodes. Somewhat.
So much good, and a little that was banal, was said during the three-day OpenForum2012 in Cape Town nearly two weeks ago. Money, Power and Sex: The Paradox of Unequal Growth. Only people from the Open Society Africa Foundations can come up with a juicy theme like that.
We shall leave out the sex (its politics and pleasures) for now and instead chew on things such as financing Africa’s development and the place of global institutions on the continent.
Through video message, Ms Graça Machel kicked things off reflecting the new optimism the world – and that includes The Economist Almighty – has come to regard Africa. She declared that Africa is a continent where you go to make money, not lose it.
To sustain Africa’s current boom, Prof. Thandika Mkandawire said, Africa should spend time defining itself as a place that creates development, is socially inclusive and is democratic. “Anybody who undermines that we should not deal with.”
It turns out African leaders and other ruling elites do a lot of the undermining and have thus broken the relationship between the state and citizens, said Mr Neville Gabriel of Southern Africa Trust. Yet the people and not the heroic leader, especially of the type that came from a liberation movement (think Zimbabwe or even Uganda or Ethiopia), should be at the centre of power. It is these heroes who own democracy, said a sneering Dr Mamphela Ramphele, former vice chancellor at the University of Cape Town. This has in turn eroded state accountability.
It is up to the African people – as citizens – to demand accountability. Launching and working through social movements, especially by young people, is one way to do it. “Social movements are critical,” said Mr Charles Abugre of the UN Millennium Campaign, “because increasingly people in government are also business owners who cannot regulate themselves.”
Possibly accountable and responsive governments will deliver inclusive development. “Inequities are growing with economic growth because the benefits of growth are not equitably shared,” said Prof. Michel Kazatchkine, the outgoing head of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
He called for an international contract, or what others termed solidarity, to help fight inequity. He said cases of tuberculosis, malaria, Aids had gone down remarkably in the last decade because of the world “pulling together” under the Global Fund and MDG frameworks.
The Fund and MDGs are delivering some results because they are entered into as intergovernmental arrangements within the context of the UN and therefore are legal and binding. That is as it should be. New voluntary mechanisms such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the G20 are, however, weakening UN-type multilateralism, said Mr Yao Graham while on the same panel as EITI international board chair Clare Short.
He took particular issue with the G8 and its habit of summoning a handful of African leaders every so often to announce this or that initiative to cure the continent of its various ills. This year it was the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition announced in the presence of the leaders of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania. We wait to see where that goes.
No discussion about Africa ends without a little wailing about the state of state institutions. Apparently, there is a strong emotional attachment to Africa as seen through trinkets shaped in the form of the continent’s map sold all over to tourists. Our art, music all speak to the continent. “We need to translate that emotion into strong institutions,” said Prof. Mkandawire.
As former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano tells it, the job of creating institutions is hard. “In Mozambique, I don’t know how many times the constitution has been changed, the electoral law has been amended,” he said.
I suspect the trick is to keep trying, genuinely and honestly. Otherwise we will keep finding ourselves in truly bizarre situations. If in Zimbabwe and you want to visit Dakar, for example, it is the French embassy in Harare that you go to for the Senegalese visa. No wonder we cannot travel easily across the continent, and even where there are roads and railways, non-tariff barriers bury all enthusiasm.
Constraints like that make a mockery of even well meaning governments’ quest to mobilise domestic resources such as skills and finances and to promote production as opposed to merely opening up markets for the Chinas and Indias of our time. I have long wished that we in Uganda commissioned new factories at the impressive rate we are shopping malls.