Review: Foresight Africa Report by Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative

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Foresight Africa Cover | Brookings

The Foresight Africa report by Brookings Institution under their Africa Growth Initiative offers a snapshot of things to look out for in Africa this year. Out of the nine items which are featured in the report, seven have a bearing with the East Africa region or YLTP collective member’s countries.  These are;

An overview of the sixth Forum for Africa-China Cooperation or FOCAC expected to happen sometime later this year in South Africa, an analysis of how the west can do more militarily in Africa, a Pan-African view to Post-2015 Development Agenda, Financial Development in Africa – a crucial year, Reforming the African Union to increase effectiveness, a look at Obama administrations legacy in Africa – 2015 being a pivotal year and lastly a snapshot of presidential and legislative elections in Africa (with 5 countries from this region holding elections namely; Sudan – April, South Sudan – July, Ethiopia – May, Burundi – Mid 2015 and Tanzania – October with a referendum scheduled in April).

Perhaps to zero in on some of the above; I am particularly looking out to follow the FOCAC deliberations in South Africa this year. This meeting will come head over heels of the inaugural US-Africa Presidential Summit which was hosted by President Barack Obama last year. Some commentators cheekily observed the Chinese were closely observing that too and looking to overturn the gains US made last year! However, back to this report Yun Sun gives an excellent analysis, looking at previous FOCAC forums and inferring a pattern and extrapolating that to what one can look out for in this year’s Gig in South Africa.

As pointed out by Sun, this will be the first meeting on the new leadership in China. Also looking at my country, this will be President Kenyatta’s first FOCAC meeting. For any critical observer, one will notice Kenya has been more or less setting out the ground for the pet areas addressed by China – revival of key infrastructural projects both in the country and in the EAC region. It will be worthwhile to see how the new leaders in China will gel with the new crop of African leaders.

Most interesting is the realization by the west that they cannot compete with China in Africa and are thus we might see the rise of partnerships  between Western conglomerates and Chinese State entities doing business in Africa – this is highlighted under the chapter on Obama administrations legacy in Africa.

Mind you, if you are a Chinese watcher here is a speech by both President Zuma at Tsinghua University delivered in December 2014. Link: http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/pebble.asp?relid=18596

Michael O’Hanlon and Amy Copley address what the West can do more militarily in Africa. They visit some of the incidents that have taken place in Africa zeroing in Boko Haram in West Africa, terrorist attack in Westgate in Nairobi and security situation in the Horn of Africa. From their assessment the Africa Union has other regional bodies have a number of security apparatus that are not quite engaged when situations arise because of bureaucracy among other things.

Though the military ‘intervention’ by the West does pose some long term strategic questions especially with other actors also intervening militarily in the continent but this is not addressed by the authors of this chapter.

Mwangi S. Kaimenyi advocates for increased reforms at the African Union and gives tangible evidence why this is the path to take. Increasingly, the Africa Union is acting as the focal point of engagement with the continent but the organization is still staked in the old ways of doing things. The author goes ahead to give practical ways in which the Union should undertake in 2015.

The quintessential segment of this report is the one on African Election 2015. Two of the countries analyzed are from this region i.e. Tanzania and Sudan.

This report is highly recommended – that is if you have not had a chance of reading it.

Link to the full report [pdf]

The author of this piece is a blogger and a cultural practitioner in Nairobi. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES.

A Brief Review of ‘The State of Africa’ – Martin Meredith

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A BRIEF REVIEW OF ‘THE STATE OF AFRICA’ – Martin Meredith by Chris Nkwatsibwe

Africa stands at cross roads in the quest for good governance and social economic development. the increased deterioration of the standards of living in majority of the countries coupled with devastating social economic status of the people affirm that while Africa may have succeeded in acquiring political independence from her former colonial masters, it has not translated this independence to tangible benefits to its inhabitants.

The ‘state of Africa’ – a book by Martin Meredith, explores the multitude of problems that Africa has faced in the past half-century, focusing on key figures and events that have defined its independence and post- independence era. The book notes that despite the fact that in many cases African independence was a bloody and a lengthy process, the withdrawal of colonial powers from Africa was met with jubilation and hope. African leaders stepped into their new positions with much enthusiasm and visions of development and nation-building. Africa looked set to flourish since this era also coincided with a global economic boom. It is further noted however that this was not the case, the question therefore is what went wrong and why did hopes and ambitions fade? This is the question that Meredith tries to answer in this book.

The book poses the vampire like politicians as being the answer to these rather intriguing questions. It leaves little doubt as to the fact that the primary cause of Africa’s pain is its corrupt, tyrannical, incompetent, thieving, “vampire-like” leaders. The book charts the history of African states in the half-century since the colonial powers either left or were kicked out of their former colonies. It documents, country by country, decade by decade, a depressing litany of wars, revolutions, dictatorships, famines, genocide, coups and economic collapse to justify the assertion.

This narrative begins on Feb. 9, 1951, a pivotal date in the history of what was then Britain’s Gold Coast and now Ghana. On that day the political prisoner Kwame Nkrumah was elected to political office as Britain began fulfilling its promises for the country’s self-determination. Four days later, Nkrumah was designated the new prime minister. And the cycle is described from the shadow of colonialism to the bloom of self-government, onward to tyranny that ensued thereafter.
For example, In the Central African Republic, Jean-Bedel Bokassa acquired an impressive portfolio of French property from fortunes he made in private diamond and ivory deals, and also housed a host of wives and mistresses, including “the German, the Swede, the Cameroonian, the Chinese, the Gabonese, the Tunisienne, and the Ivorienne”.

While Uganda’s Idi Amin, so insecure in his new-found power, authorized mass killing sprees of suspected opposition, whose bodies were dumped in rivers to be eaten by crocodiles. In a similar fashion, Francisco Macías Nguema of Equatorial Guinea gave his security forces unlimited powers to arrest, torture, rape and murder.

Mr. Meredith points out that not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office, instead, these dictators strutted the stage, tolerating neither opposition nor dissent, rigging elections, emasculating the courts, cowing the press, stifling the universities, demanding abject servility and making themselves exceedingly rich.
It is highly imperative to note however that even though the ‘State of Africa’ presents “governments and vampire-like politicians” as being the major and primary cause of Africa’s problems, , it does not ignore the other factors that have contributed to the poor outcome of most of these African countries, insightfully, the artificial borders imposed by colonial powers, indebtedness, civil war and conflict, Western protectionism, the frequency of droughts, the high levels of diseases such as malaria and river blindness and the dreadful scourge of Aids plus rapid population growth are some of the other factors Meredith highlights.

It is however argued that these factors could have been overcome, or at least alleviated, had it not been for the greed and incompetence of the independence-era leaders, whose regimes deteriorated relatively quickly into systems of dysfunctional, corrupt and authoritarian rule.

Interestingly, Even though Meredith does attribute many of Africa’s problems to poor leadership, he also points out the fact that most of these leaders enjoyed considerable Western support. Mobutu, for example, adopted a pro-Western, anti-Soviet stance that gained him considerable support from the West, particularly in Washington. When George Bush became president in 1989, he stated that Zaire was among America’s oldest friends, and its president – President Mobutu – one of their most valued friends. In the Central African Republic, the French provided Bokassa’s regime with both financial and military support in order to suppress prospects of Anglophone influence. This in my opinion can be translated as a contribution the west could have made to Africa’s present day challenges.

The book also captures the key events such as the Ethiopian famine and the Rwandan genocide, and exhaustively discusses the key leaders such as Charles Taylor, one of the continent’s most prominent warlords, and Zimbabwe’s infamous Robert Mugabe.
While exploring the Tanzanian example which was referred to as a “beacon of hope” amidst rapidly fading hopes for the rest of Africa, Meredith also indicates that although most post-independence leaders opted for “African socialism” as a basis of economic and political governance, their strategies and ideologies tended to be a haphazard mixture of vague and incoherent ideas, and thus often involved implementing grandiose development projects, the majority of which failed due to the lack of necessary infrastructural and institutional frameworks.

On a rather lighter note, In the last chapters of the book Meredith offers a little hope: the political and economic successes of Botswana, South Africa’s Mandela years, noble characters -the poet-president Léopold Senghor in Senegal and worthwhile leadership of Vice President John Garang and the emergence of a “new generation” of African leaders committed to democracy, economic development and civil rights are also comprehensively discussed.

Lastly, this book is epic. Meredith works with the colossal spatial and temporal span of this subject with ease, weaving chapters together in a loose chronological order to present the narrative as a patchwork quilt of Africa, rather than as a rigid country-by-country timeline. The early chapters see the rise of African independence and post-independence leaders and the later chapters indicate an account of their actions while in their tenure in their respective offices.

Just like Meredith writes, “African governments and the vampire like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival.” It is saddening to note that Africans have taken a more passive that active role in resolving the democratic deficiencies encountered by their countries. There’s an increasing state of apathy amongst Africans which has delayed and frustrated the efforts towards dismantling of these deficiencies and consolidating the gains already made.

CHRIS NKWATSIBWE – Uganda
Human Rights activist

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

The Greatest Virtue of Leadership That Should Be Nurtured Amongst the Youth Is Integrity

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In the past decade, there has been a push all over East Africa to see that all holders of public offices are experts and specialists with relevant work experiences regarding the various responsibilities and duties delegated to them. This move came as a result of massive failure experienced in various public offices due to lack of ethics and professionalism.

In the past, senior positions in public offices were viewed as a political reward to the loyalist. These resulted into a culture where no one cared about service delivery to the public but rather balancing the political equation that awarded him with the position.

The consequences of this undertaking, had a major negative impact to our economy. Just to list but a few; poor service delivery, massive looting of public resources, nepotism and tribalism cropping up, citizen despair due to the unbearable cost of living and in extreme case mushrooming of slums and massive unemployment.

But contrary to the expectation, professionalism has not been the absolute solution to misuse of public funds and offices, even though it has reduced the crime to a certain degree. Still, in most countries within East Africa we have experienced worst financial scandals that entail millions of dollars being looted from the public coffers by individuals who were thought to be the most suited professionals and hence a quest for an ultimate solution that will terminate this menace is still being sought for.

In regard to this, I suggest that the best leadership virtue that should be cultivated amongst the youth as they quest to capture public offices is integrity.

Integrity entails self-cultivation; the constant struggle against identity, personality, nature, character, person, ego or any vices like tradition that are as a result of our socialization whether acquired consciously or unconsciously with a quest of being upright and stand by the values of the nation and humanity .

But self-cultivation is not a one day activity, it is a life time process that one continuously evaluates the importance and impact of his actions and contributions to the society and strives to better them. This can only be efficient is cultivated at a tender age.

Professionals equipped with integrity will stand a better chance to stir the desire of East Africans by bring them closers to their dreams of prosperity. This is because they will enhance the spirit of accountability and efficiency in the public offices by prioritizing the citizen’s aspirations above their personal greed.

Author: Javan Owala – Kenya

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

Youth Population- “A blessing or a curse?”

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Time to hide our head in the sand like the proverbial Ostrich is over. The fire of crime is burning our continent. The fire of terrorism is burning our continent. The fire of violence is burning our continent. Its time we ask ourselves the hard questions: Is the growing youth population a blessing or curse for Africa?

Various sources confirm that the youth population is increasingly growing in Africa. The UN put Africa as the continent with the youngest population in the world due to the fact that over 200 million people in Africa are aged between 15 and 24 years.  The Africa Union Commission agrees with this fact by stating that 65% of the total population in Africa are aged below 35 years and 35% are between 15 and 35 years. These statistics could be indicators of a ticking time bomb or an opportunity for the continent to rise higher.

The youth population is a blessing that does not require a rocket- scientist to see and understand it. A bigger youth population means a bigger work force which is promising for our economy. A bigger youth population translates to more innovation which increases Africa’s capability to compete in the world market. A bigger youth population means a strong police force and a stronger military force. A bigger youth population guarantees Africa a better future.

A bigger youth population becomes a ticking -time bomb when: there are no employment opportunities; when tribalism and nepotism replaces meritocracy; when democracy is replaced by dictatorship; when violence is the road to power; when the few rich continue getting richer while the majority poor get poorer; when good education is for the few rich and the majority poor are given average education. This situation has to stop in Africa or else we as a continent are courting serious trouble.

This article does not require research it simply calls for common sense! Ask your self about the level of youth unemployment in your countries. Ask about access to quality education. Ask about corruption level. Ask! Ask! Ask! Ask!

The youth question is a question of governance!

Author: John Wesonga – Kenya

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES.