For those who watched the world debate on the night of 6 February, the debate is not new.
Hosted by BBC’s Zeinab Badawi in Geneva, the debate panel consisted of four eminent Africans. Nigeria former president Olesegun Obasanjo, former United Nations secretary general, Koffi Anan, Botswana central bank Governor Ms Linah Mohohlo and Zimbabwe writer/ lawyer Ms Petina Gappah.
The response by the panelists to the first and most provocative question was quite interesting. The question was, “Is Africa its own worst enemy?” As expected no straight answer was elicited instead the panelists raised issues that need to be addressed for Africa to salvage its image.
The impression given by their presentations was that poverty is Africa’s worst enemy. The urbane diplomat Koffi Anan observed that indeed there are problems in Africa but lamented at the tendency by critics to homogenize Africa and with their big megaphones stereotype the whole continent.
“We are told how Africa is its own enemy but never told how Africa is its best friend,”Anan said.
He cited Kenya’s search for peace after the post election as a development to be proud of. He contended that reforms like the land bill, the new constitution, public service and civil society are mechanism Africa could harness to improve its image.
Africa is not a permanent hostage to backwardness. This point was articulated by Petina, former official at WTO. In effect she said ‘who believed that China could be where it is today?’ With a population of over one billion, Africa is bequeathed with abundant human and natural resources and in time will rise and shine.
If African Diaspora returned home the abundant resources would be exploited be put to good use.
Panelists concurred with the audience that Africa was beset by among other things, governance issues, authoritarian leaders, lack of clear development goals but argued that there are areas like the arts, Africa could showcase itself best.
The success stories from the continent cited include, Liberia which emerged from a state of chaos and instability and has achieved remarkable rehabilitation.
Also cited as exemplary is democracy in South Africa and Rwanda for empowering women. It is fitting to note here that Africa’s economy is largely dependant on agriculture and women are responsible for 70 per cent of food production.
Empowering women is therefore related to achieving food security which should be the major preoccupation of our policy makers and implementers.
As noted by panelists, our agriculture is dominated by small farm holders. In my opinion promotion of mechanized commercial farming with its attendant benefits should be parallel to small scale farming for subsistence, especially in countries I am familiar with like Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, to avoid the Zimbabwe experience.
Supporting small scale farming is a sure way of achieving food security because, for example if each household produces grain for its consumption, costs of food are lowered because the expenses of food distribution like transport are avoided.
In other words agricultural experts should study how best to incorporate traditional methods in their programs.
What Africa needs as President Obasanjo and Koffi Anan said, is to trade itself out of poverty and to be smart enough to negotiate fair trade treatment. Africa needs positive or fair terms of trade if it is to benefit equitably from the global economy.
The ruling elite who have been labeled Africa’s worst enemy should rise to the occasion; harness the abundant resources, good will of development agencies to save us from subsidies and their impediments.
One way of trading ourselves out of poverty suggested in the debate and which I think is feasible is intra-trade and more regional integration.
MS Petina Gappah mentioned a few traps that impede intra-trade in Africa; among them civil wars and the case of land-locked countries.
What we need to do is to solve the problems of infrastructure and formulate policies to encourage intra-trade and as Ms Linah Mohohlo suggests we should prioritize good governance and accountability to reduce civil strife in our midst.
African leaders should show more commitment to the various development frameworks they are signatories to, in the ongoing battle against global poverty. The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and Millennium Development Goals (MDS) provide realistic, solid and relevant models.
NEPAD in particular proffers the vision for African that would propel the continent to sustainable economic growth and development, based on four pillars: democracy and good political governance, economic and management, corporate governance, and socioeconomic development.
Indeed in the spirit of NEPAD, Africans should take control of their destiny and in addition to African solidarity, development will be realized through synergies among the countries of the world, for as Obasanjo said during the debate, Africa needs the world and the world need the world—we live in the same world. I am optimistic