Connect with us

Strictly Personal

AU shouldn’t look on as outsiders treat Africa like a widow’s house, By Joachim Buwembo

Published

on

There is no shortage of news from the UK, a major former colonial master in Africa, over whose former empire the sun reputedly never set. We hope and pray that besides watching the Premier League, the managers of our economies are also monitoring the re-nationalisation of British Railways (BR).

 

Three decades after BR was privatised in the early to mid-nineties — around the season when Africa was hit by the privatisation fashion — there is emerging consensus by both conservative and liberal parties that it is time the major public transport system reverts to state management.

 

Yes, there are major services that should be rendered by the state, and the public must not be abandoned to the vagaries of purely profit-motivated capitalism. It is not enough to only argue that government is not good at doing business, because some business is government business.

 

Since we copied many of our systems from the British — including wigs for judges — we may as well copy the humility to accept if certain fashions don’t work.

 

Another piece of news from the UK, besides football, was of this conservative MP Tim Loughton, who caused a stir by getting summarily deported from Djibouti and claiming the small African country was just doing China’s bidding because he recently rubbed Beijing the wrong way.

 

China has dismissed the accusation as baseless, and Africa still respects China for not meddling in its politics, even as it negotiates economic partnerships. China generously co-funded the construction of Djibouti’s super modern multipurpose port.

 

What can African leaders learn from the Loughton Djibouti kerfuffle? The race to think for and manage Africa by outsiders is still on and attracting new players.

 

While China has described the Loughton accusation as lies, it shows that the accusing (and presumably informed) Britons suspect other powerful countries to be on a quest to influence African thinking and actions.

 

And while the new bidders for Africa’s resources are on the increase including Russia, the US, Middle Eastern newly rich states, and India, even declining powers like France, which is losing ground in West Africa, could be looking for weaker states to gain a new foothold.

 

My Ugandan people describe such a situation as treating a community like “like a widow’s house,” because the poor, defenceless woman is susceptible to having her door kicked open by any local bully. Yes, these small and weak countries are not insignificant and offer fertile ground for the indirect re-colonisation of the continent.

 

Djibouti, for example, may be small —at only 23,000square kilometres, with a population of one million doing hardly any farming, thus relying on imports for most of its food — but it is so strategically located that the African Union should look at it as precious territory that must be protected from external political influences.

 

It commands the southern entrance into the Red Sea, thus linking Africa to the Middle East. So if several foreign powers have military bases in Djibouti, why shouldn’t the AU, with its growing “peace kitty,” now be worth some hundreds of millions of dollars?

 

At a bilateral level, Ethiopia and Djibouti are doing impressively well in developing infrastructure such as the railway link, a whole 750 kilometres of it electrified. The AU should be looking at more such projects linking up the whole continent to increase internal trade with the continental market, the fastest growing in the world.

 

And, while at it, the AU should be resolutely pushing out fossil-fuel-based transportation the way Ethiopia is doing, without even making much noise about it. Ethiopia can be quite resolute in conceiving and implementing projects, and surely the AU, being headquartered in Addis Ababa, should be taking a leaf rather than looking on as external interests treat the continent like a Ugandan widow’s house.

 

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:buwembo@gmail.com

Strictly Personal

If I were put in charge of a $15m African kitty, I’d first deworm children, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Published

on

One of my favourite stories on pan-African action (or in this case inaction), one I will never tire of repeating, comes from 2002, when the discredited Organisation of African Unity, was rebranded into an ambitious, new African Union (AU).

There were many big hitters in African statehouses then. Talking of those who have had the grace to step down or leave honourably after electoral or political defeat, or have departed, in Nigeria we had Olusegun Obasanjo, a force of nature. Cerebral and studious Thabo Mbeki was chief in South Africa. In Ethiopia, the brass-knuckled and searingly intellectual Meles Zenawi ruled the roost.

In Tanzania, there was the personable and thoughtful Ben Mkapa. In Botswana, there was Festus Mogae, a leader who had a way of bringing out the best in people. In Senegal, we had Abdoulaye Wade, fresh in office, and years before he went rogue.

And those are just a few.

This club of men (there were no women at the high table) brought forth the AU. At that time, there was a lot of frustration about the portrayal of Africa in international media, we decided we must “tell our own story” to the world. The AU, therefore, decided to boost the struggling Pan-African New Agency (Pana) network.

The members were asked to write cheques or pledges for it. There were millions of dollars offered by the South Africans and Nigerians of our continent. Then, as at every party, a disruptive guest made a play. Rwanda, then still roiled by the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994, offered the least money; a few tens of thousand dollars.

There were embarrassed looks all around. Some probably thought it should just have kept is mouth shut, and not made a fool of itself with its ka-money. Kigali sat unflustered. Maybe it knew something the rest didn’t.

The meeting ended, and everyone went their merry way. Pana sat and waited for the cheques to come. The big talkers didn’t walk the talk. Hardly any came, and in the sums that were pledged. Except one. The cheque from Rwanda came in the exact amount it was promised. The smallest pledge became Pana’s biggest payday.

The joke is that it was used to pay terminal benefits for Pana staff. They would have gone home empty-pocketed.

We revive this peculiarly African moment (many a deep-pocketed African will happily contribute $300 to your wedding but not 50 cents to build a school or set up a scholarship fund), to campaign for the creation of small and beautiful African things.

It was brought on by the announcement by South Korea that it had joined the African Summit bandwagon, and is shortly hosting a South Korea-Africa Summit — like the US, China, the UK, the European Union, Japan, India, Russia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey do.

Apart from the AU, whose summits are in danger of turning into dubious talk shops, outside of limited regional bloc events, there is no Pan-African platform that brings the continent’s leaders together.

The AU summits are not a solutions enterprise, partly because over 60 percent of its budget is funded by non-African development partners. You can’t seriously say you are going to set up a $500 million African climate crisis fund in the hope that some Europeans will put up the money.

It’s possible to reprise the Rwanda-Pana pledge episode; a convention of African leaders and important institutions on the continent for a “Small Initiatives, Big Impact Compact”. It would be a barebones summit. In the first one, leaders would come to kickstart it by investing seed money.

The rule would be that no country would be allowed to put up more than $100,000 — far, far less than it costs some presidents and their delegations to attend one day of an AU summit.

There would also be no pledges. Everyone would come with a certified cheque that cannot bounce, or hard cash in a bag. After all, some of our leaders are no strangers to travelling around with sacks from which they hand out cash like they were sweets.

If 54 states (we will exempt the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for special circumstances) contribute $75,000 each, that is a good $4.05 million.

If just 200 of the bigger pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank, Afrexim Bank, the giant companies such as MTN, Safaricom, East African Breweries, Nedbank, De Beers, Dangote, Orascom in Egypt, Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco, to name a few, each ponied up $75,000 each, that’s a cool $15 million just for the first year alone.

There will be a lot of imagination necessary to create magic out of it all, no doubt, but if I were asked to manage the project, I would immediately offer one small, beautiful thing to do.

After putting aside money for reasonable expenses to be paid at the end (a man has to eat) — which would be posted on a public website like all other expenditures — I would set out on a programme to get the most needy African children a dose of deworming tablets. Would do it all over for a couple of years.

Impact? Big. I read that people who received two to three additional years of childhood deworming experience an increase of 14 percent in consumption expenditure, 13 percent in hourly earnings, and nine percent in non-agricultural work hours.

At the next convention, I would report back, and possibly dazzle with the names, and photographs, of all the children who got the treatment. Other than the shopping opportunity, the US-Africa Summit would have nothing on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. X@cobbo3

Continue Reading

Strictly Personal

In 64 years, how has IDA reduced poverty in Africa? By Tee Ngugi

Published

on

The name of the organisation is as opaque as a name can get: World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA).

I had never heard of it. And suppose I, who follows socioeconomic developments that affect Africa, had never heard of it until last week when it convened in Nairobi. In that case, likely, only a handful of people outside those who serve its bureaucracy had ever heard of it.

Maybe IDA intends to remain shadowy like magicians, emerging occasionally to perform illusions that give hope to Africa’s impoverished masses that deliverance from poverty and despair is around the corner.

So, I had to research to find out who the new illusionist in town was. IDA was founded in 1960. Thirty-nine African countries, including Kenya, are members. Its mission is “to combat poverty by providing grants and low-interest loans to support programmes that foster economic growth, reduce inequalities, and enhance living standards for people in developing nations”.

It’s amazing how these kinds of organisations have developed a language that distorts reality. In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the totalitarian state of Oceania devises a new language. “Newspeak” limits the thoughts of citizens of Oceania so that they are incapable of questioning whatever the regime does.

Let’s juxtapose the reality in Africa against IDA’s mission. Africa has some of the poorest people in the world. It contributes a paltry two percent of international trade. It contributes less than one per cent of patents globally.

The continent has the largest wealth disparities in the world. Millions of people across Africa are food insecure, needing food aid. A study has indicated that Africa is among the most hostile regions in the world for women and girls, because of residual cultural attitudes and the failure of governments to implement gender equality policies.

Africa has the largest youth unemployment rate in the world. Africa’s political class is the wealthiest in the world. Africa remains unsustainably indebted. The people who live in Africa’s slums and unplanned urban sprawls have limited opportunities and are susceptible to violent crime and natural and manmade disasters.

As speeches in “Newspeak” were being made at the IDA conference, dozens of poor Kenyans were being killed by floods. These rains had been forecast, yet the government, not surprisingly, was caught flatfooted.

So in its 64-year existence, how has IDA reduced poverty and inequality in Africa? How has its work enhanced living standards when so many Africans are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea trying to escape grinding poverty and hopelessness?

As one watched the theatre of leaders of the poorest continent arriving at the IDA illusionists’ conference in multimillion-dollar vehicles, wearing designer suits and wristwatches, with men in dark suits and glasses acting a pantomime of intimidation, and then listened to their “Newspeak,” one felt like weeping for the continent. The illusionists had performed their sleight of hand.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

Continue Reading

EDITOR’S PICK

Culture10 hours ago

How South Sudanese singer John Frog moved from child soldier to Afrobeats star

John Frog may be one of South Sudan’s most successful musicians at the moment, but a little over 10 years...

Tech10 hours ago

American risk management solutions provider Archer opens business in Egypt

American risk management solutions provider, Archer, has announced expanding its operations to Africa with Egypt as the first point of...

Sports10 hours ago

South African Akani Simbine beats Omanyala to pick 100m gold at Atlanta City Games

South African sprint sensation, Akani Simbine, on Saturday at the Atlanta City Games further put a dent on Kenyan 100m...

Metro13 hours ago

Church in Northern Province cautions against cyberspace abuse, supports cyber security law

The church in Northern Province has issued a warning to Zambians regarding the misuse of cyberspace in the guise of...

Metro19 hours ago

Nigeria kicks as South African police torture citizen to death

The Nigerian Union South Africa (NUSA) has condemned the killing of another of its citizens, Prince Muoka Ebuka, who was...

Politics1 day ago

Nigeria 2027: Opposition party chieftain Atiku vows to support Obi if …

In Nigeria, the 2023 presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, has hinted that he would support the...

VenturesNow1 day ago

Nigeria: Court insists Binance executive can face trial on behalf of firm

In an ongoing tax evasion case, a Nigerian court decided on Friday that Binance executive, Tigran Gambaryan, may go to...

Tech2 days ago

How Nigerian online connection hub Workjeje helps with access to quality service providers

A Nigerian online connection hub, Workjeje, has revealed how it is connecting individuals and corporate bodies to quality service providers...

Sports2 days ago

Egyptian midfielder Elneny announces departure from Arsenal after eight years

Egypt and Arsenal midfielder, Mohamed Elneny, has announced his departure from the club at the end of this season after...

Culture2 days ago

Nigerian moviemakers Funke Akindele, Mo Abudu, Jade Osiberu named in Hollywood Reporter’s Powerful Women in Film list

Foremost Nigerian moviemakers, Funke Akindele, Mo Abudu, and Jade Osiberu have been named in the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the...

Trending