Even 'dull' things like development need smart branding

In the last two weeks, Kigali was host to three important events that seek to shape Africa's future and its place in the world. The first was a retreat of the Peace and Security Commission (PSC) of the African Union. Looking at the seemingly intractable conflicts in parts of Africa, especially in Eastern Africa, one would be excused to think that such a commission does not exist, and if it does, only on paper.

In the last two weeks, Kigali was host to three important events that seek to shape Africa’s future and its place in the world.

The first was a retreat of the Peace and Security Commission (PSC) of the African Union. Looking at the seemingly intractable conflicts in parts of Africa, especially in Eastern Africa, one would be excused to think that such a commission does not exist, and if it does, only on paper.

 

They were here for a week. So now you know it does and is supposed to ensure that we can go about our lives in peace.

 

The retreat is an annual event and shouldn’t really be news, especially considering that we, in particular, live in a tough and volatile neighbourhood. But I think this one was significant.

 

There seems to be a realisation that bold action is needed to end conflicts. Because of a number of reasons, it cannot be business as usual.

One is the likely reduction in contributions to peacekeeping operations from the traditional donors following the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

It is also an issue of dignity to move away from the view of Africa as synonymous with conflict that are only solved by outsiders.

Another is that conflicts stand in the way of progress and prosperity, and slow down regional integration or block it altogether, and are a drag on transformation of individual countries as well as the continent as a whole. East Africans know this very well.

I don’t know whether they discussed this at the retreat, but in nearly every conflict situation you can detect the role of another country – either fuelling it or preventing it from being resolved.

One of the bold actions needed is to tell these countries and their leaders to stop meddling and put in place mechanisms to enforce this. It is a tough ask but it has to be done.

The second major event was the meeting of the group leading on the reform of the African Union with ministers of foreign affairs from all member countries and ambassadors to the AU.

President Paul Kagame has already presented proposals for reform to his colleagues and they were adopted and only await implementation. The significance of the recent meeting in Kigali therefore was to take them beyond the heads of state to the citizens of Africa for discussion so that they can understand and own them.

This is no small matter because the AU and its decisions have always been seen as the work of government officials and AU Commission bureaucrats far removed from ordinary citizens.

This distance and accusations of bureaucratic insensitivity can also be seen in the issues the European Union is having with some of its members, leading some of them to want to liberate themselves from its control.

In a sense the path the reform of the AU is taking is in the direction of freeing them from detached officialdom. Everyone understands the aim of the reforms: to reduce dependency, increase effectiveness, enhance unity and give Africa a greater voice and more influence. They also understand that they need popular endorsement.

The third event was the Transform Africa Summit whose objective is to transform Africa by adopting modern technology to propel the continent forward. Technological revolutions have always been transformative at every stage of human development.

Earlier revolutions largely passed us by. We cannot afford to be left behind again by the current digital revolution. This time, as President Kagame said, we need to harness the latest digital technology to provide better services and for inclusive and sustainable growth.

In order to do this, the continent must be digitally connected. Connectivity aids in breaking down barriers, closing distance and space, and considerably cutting back on time. It is critical in uniting people and fostering integration.

You might say that there were similar initiatives in the past which didn’t work out as expected and Africa still lags behind. What makes us think that they will this time?

One answer lies in the conception and implementation of Transform Africa. It is built on collaboration between governments, the private sector and academia, and the engagement of young people. Past initiatives were almost exclusively government-led.

Another is that they are driven by a results-oriented philosophy. Rwanda and President Kagame epitomise this way of doing things.

You might even say that Transform Africa, Smart Africa, African solutions to African problems, and so on, are just slogans like others in the past. They are more than fashionable, eye-catching slogans. They are a statement of intent as well as plan of action, and more than that, brand names of an ongoing transformative process.

Yes, there may be a lot of challenges, but some of these recent happenings give one a sense of optimism.

jorwagatare@yahoo.co.uk

@jrwagatare

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