THIS Sunday, Africa celebrates 51 years since the formation of the African Union (AU) against the backdrop of worrying signs of increasing internecine civil strife, political repression, struggling economies, poverty and general instability.
Founded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 25 1963, initially as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) by 32 independent states and liberation movements, the continental body can look back with a sense of pride and satisfaction over its achievements in liberating the continent from the yoke of colonial rule.
It is a song that the generation of Independence leaders like Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe continue to sing ad nauseum, but it is increasingly striking a discordant note in the ears of a new generation of Africans born after Independence who never experienced the rigours and vicissitudes of colonial bondage.
Instead, this is a generation that lives in economic instability, political repression and other forms of social insecurity visited upon them by those same leaders who liberated them.
This post-Independence generation is every year treated to various themes commemorating Africa Day and its founding fathers, amid scepticism over the political will to implement any of their high-sounding ideals. This year’s theme is “Agriculture and Food Security in Africa”.
Last year was the year of “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”, while 2012 was that of “Boosting inter-African Trade”.
A cursory look at all the past themes of AU celebrations shows that this is an organisation never short of high doses of optimism, but as especially generations of born-frees would point out, it is woefully short on delivery.
Analysts say it will take more than history lessons and speeches about past successes of the AU in liberating Africa to make the continental body’s commemorations resonate with the millions of young people who were born after the turbulent days of the colonial struggles from the 1960s to the 1980s.
They say starting with addressing concerns over repressive, corruption-riddled governance characterised by impunity, the AU will have to take concrete steps to deal with civil wars, poverty and the threat of terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria in order to remain relevant to Africans.
It must however be noted that it is not all doom and gloom as there has been developments worthy of celebration in overall economic growth with countries like Sierra Leone, Niger, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Rwanda being among the fastest growing in the world with 7% annual growth figures.
This growth has largely been driven by a surge in prices extractive resources, mostly aluminum, copper, gold and crude oil, while political stability, good economic management policies and an improved institutional environment have accelerated such growth in some countries.
Such growth is thus at the mercy of world commodity prices over which the countries have no control.
The African Development Bank projects consumer spending in Africa will jump from US$680 billion in 2008 to US$2,2trillion by 2030.
“We believe its (Africa’s) economy could double by 2020 to US$3 trillion, and we are getting a clear signal from our international clients that Africa is an increasingly important market for them,” said Dennis Nally, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) International chairman on the eve of last year’s AU celebrations.
However, all this comes with a big caveat as shown by World Bank’s Africa vice-president Makhtar Diop’s warning that there is need for “African countries to bring more electricity, nutritious food, jobs and opportunity to families and communities across the continent in order to better their lives, end extreme poverty, and promote shared prosperity”.
But is this possible in a continent whose future is in the hands of aged leaders like Mugabe (90) who will reportedly be seeking another term as Zanu PF leader in December, despite growing health problems?
In February, the AU ignored Mugabe’s well-documented record of political repression and disputed election victories to elect him to the post of first deputy chair of the African Union.
That, according to political analyst Alexander Rusero, demonstrates the failure and “cluelessness of the AU in terms of the direction it wants to take Africa”.
“This is the same Mugabe who refused to implement the Sadc election guidelines that would have resolved Zimbabwe’s long-standing governance issues that earned the country pariah status and also led to economic decline which continues. There is no way that the continental body will be able to sanction errant members and what it therefore means is that the continent will continue to be plagued by governance issues,” said Rusero.
Mugabe’s Zimbabwe continues to stick out like a sore thumb in Southern Africa, registering a debilitating economic meltdown before a fews of rebound since 2009 while its neighbours post impressive growth figures. Mugabe has no answers to unemployment which stands at over 80% and company closures are the order of the day, resulting in a declining tax base and inability to pay civil servants on time.
Due to unemployment and instability in North Africa, thousands of youths are undertaking perilous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life in Europe while others exploded during the Arab Spring a few years ago.
Forced migrations, especially for northern countries such as Libya, continue despite former AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s forecasts about a bright future for the continent driven by a growing youthful population and an expanding middle class.
“Africa is also making progress on conflict resolution and expanding democracy, through its Peace and Security, Governance Architectures and the African Peer Review Mechanism,” she said on the eve of Africa Day celebrations last year.
“These positive trends took place in the context of the reawakening of discourse and action on African development and continental renewal and renaissance.”
But the conflict resolution claims appear to have gone up in the smoke over the AU’s failure to deal with the scourge of the militant Boko Haram which has orchestrated a terror campaign including last month’s abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in broad daylight in Nigeria, the AU’s largest member by population size and, lately, economy.
Like the ancient Roman emperor Nero who achieved infamy for “fiddling while Rome burned,” the AU has failed to urgently respond to the crisis and instead it was initially left to France, the UK, the US and European Union “to coordinate their support for this regional cooperation through technical expertise, training programs and support for border-area management programmes.”
This followed a security summit in Paris hosted by French President François Hollande last Saturday.
So much for the much-vaunted “African solutions for African problems”!
Bulawayo-based analyst Dumi-sani Nkomo said although the AU has a good motto about taking action to resolve continental conflicts, it has been found wanting as attested to by the Boko Haram kidnappings and many other conflicts afflicting the continent.
“Boko Haram and Al Shabab continue to wreak havoc and the AU appears to be in a state of paralysis in terms providing leadership. In the end it is the European Union (EU) and America that end up taking the initiative in African inter and intra-state conflicts,” said Nkomo.
While there is still hope for the continent teeming with natural and human resources, it will take much more than just pious statements of intent for the AU’s founding values to be realised.
Only then can the AU celebrations find meaningful resonance with most poor and suffering Africans.