I am sure whoever coined this term “Afrocentrism” must have been narcissistic in nature or had some narcissistic qualities ingrained in their psyche (but then again, a lot of us do have some narcissistic tendencies). Please do not mistake Pan Africanism for Afrocentrism though the latter was influenced by the former. It is believed that W. E. B. Du Bois came up with that term though this has been a hotly contended subject, so I am not even going to go there. However, I know the whole idea behind this ego-centered term was for a way for African-Americans (those who embraced the ideology) to help validate their identity in a society that had made them feel less than significant and told them that they didn’t matter. But I am of the school of thought that any concept that denies or lessens the contribution of different cultures and ideologies so as to promote and elevate their own concepts already calls for some concern and is trouble in the making. I mean isn’t that how Hitler got started? The problem lies when the society is already in a vulnerable position which makes them susceptible and open to all types of spheres of influence.
I think the mistake we make as the human race is when we allow our diversity to become a crutch in which society can then use against us. Then we continue this vicious cycle by retaliating and doing the exact same thing, ensuring that this malicious progression doesn’t get broken. It is very easy to hate those that hate us and to take an eye for an eye and want to lash back to those who have wounded us and broken us and mistreated us, but how does that make us any different from the offenders? I beg (Nigerian style)! Please do not think I take lightly what happened to Black people and in a lot of places what is still happening. Being a black woman from Africa and having lived in various continents has allowed me to be exposed to different cultures and societies and belief systems. I have lived in radical societies where any form of dissent was met with the threat of death to open societies where people were free to express themselves and all that has taught me this: We are fundamentally all the same.
Living in these different societies and always being the minority helped me understand how important it is to know yourself and understand where you came from because that in turn will help you define who you are as a person. That is why history is so important, but what happens when history is clouded or altered? Such thing like Afrocentrism contributes to this issue by twisting history and the focus so as promote an ideology. I know how important it is to embrace our culture and our heritage, but we should be aware of how we are not isolated in our existence and we impact and influence other cultures and systems through our interactions whether positively or negatively or both! I don’t like the fact that I experienced racism purely because of my color skin, but I don’t hide behind that and make it my ultimate truth. I will probably continue experiencing racism throughout my life, that’s the unfortunate fact, but there is more to my story and I won’t allow that to be my basis of classification for all non-black people. We cannot treat racism with reverse racism and unfortunately that is what Afrocentrism promotes!
We need to come to a place where we acknowledge that globalization is inevitable and we do not have all the answers as a continent and it is OK to allow exchange to take place. We should also look at how we can use this as a leverage to advance collectively and see a brighter future for the African people and the African continent and essentially the world at large.
Whenever I tell someone that I am a Pan Africanist, they look at me as if I have grown an extra head and/or I am speaking a whole load of rubbish. Or when someone describes something that resonates with the Pan-Africanist rationale and I tell them as much, they react as if I have insulted them and deny all affiliations with the ideology. In fact one of my friends went so far as to tell me that she believes in what Pan Africanism stands for, but doesn’t want to be labeled as such because of what people may think of her!
Pan Africanism has become this commercialized term in an effort to try to generalize and describe a diverse continent and thus watering down the term to become almost insignificant. I have come across people who call themselves Pan Africanist and I am disturbed at the picture they perpetuate by refusing to contextualize the essence of being a true Pan Africanist and twist it to try to make it marketable to the masses. I come into conversations with people who call themselves Pan Africanists and they are to busy idolizing and worshipping the past to be to concerned about what it means to be a Pan Africanist today. Don’t get me wrong, anyone who knows me knows the amount of respect I have for the founding fathers and mothers of Pan Africanism and those who set to unite a continent so divided. But what does it mean for me as a Tanzanian living in Africa? Or for the South African? Liberian? What does it mean to be Pan Africanist and how can I practically apply it to my everyday life?
To define Pan Africanism we must start at the beginning. Though there is no definitive definition of Pan Africanism, it started out as movement during the transatlantic salve trade and was more or less a social concept. During the colonial times it became a more political movement and during the post colonial era it became a more sociopolitical ideology for the unification of native Africans and those of African descent. A lot of scholars say that OAU, now AU, arose from the ideologies and sentiments of the Pan African movement as a means of uniting the continent in the light of globalisation. Slavery is not over as we are still slaves in today’s neocolonialism- ” The last stage of imperialism” according to Kwame Nkurmuh.
Pan Africanism isn’t just about getting down with my roots and connecting with the African in me and all the other Afrocentrism crap that appeals to cultural marketing schemes for black people. It goes beyond me wearing my hair in an Afro and rocking African prints. It is not a religious cult or an anti white hate campaign created as a supposed answer to racism by promoting reverse racism. I think it is great when I see people embracing what is African and celebrating their heritage and their God-given traits, but that is a very small part of what being a Pan Africanist is about.
A true pan Africanist looks at Africa as a country in terms of development economically, socially, politically and culturally. We always hear how Africa is richly endowed with natural resources and raw materials and how we have the potential to be a superpower if we learn to cultivate, produce, and manufacture our own goods. A Pan Africanist ultimate goal is not to have a United States of Africa (though I personally think that would be awesome) but an Africa that has learned to share resources through trade and commerce for the economic empowerment of the country and essentially the continent as the whole. Through economic empowerment can we experience a rich cultural and social interaction as the trade and commerce is not limited to commodities but the exchange of ideas and intellectual property as well, just to name a few.
Some may say this is idealistic, but when one grasps the concept you will actually understand that this appeals to both the capitalist and the socialist, the idealist and realist because everyone gets something out of it. We will spend less money if we trade within our borders, communication won’t be a major hindrance, and transport will be less thus saving money just to name a few benefits. This is not to say that we should never trade with anyone outside of Africa. No! If I live in A street and they sold apples in both B and F street (the distance being measured by the proximity of the letters) and I went only to F street though the apples in B street are better and not to mention closer but I have grown use to buying my apples in F street and have formed a good network so it is really hard for me to go to B street despite how good the apples are! That in a nutshell is the dilemma we are facing here in Africa. Now exchange A with any African country and B with any African country and F as any country outside of Africa and you will have a better understanding of the dynamics of some of the interactions.
Such organisations such as Africa 2.0 which is a “Pan-African Civil Society organization that consists of young and emerging leaders from Africa and the Diaspora who share a collective vision for Africa and a commitment to finding and implementing sustainable solutions that will in turn leapfrog the development of the continent.” <<< That is what we need to be doing as Pan Africanists! We need to be moving and consolidating our efforts as we are stronger together than apart. That is why I get annoyed when I hear people going on about how they are not going to succumb to the white ways and never wear a relaxer. That is all good and it carries its own empowerment but don’t end there, because there is always more that can be done!
Before I go, I stumbled upon this blog written by a pan Africanist and he goes more into detail about what I touched on here. I will encourage you to read it paying particular interest to where he talks about the African economic potential: http://therisingcontinent.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/pan-african-today/.
I can sum up 2013 as the year I learned to love. Anyone who knows me, truly knows me, knows that I struggle to let people in. Yes I am a social person and yes I enjoy meeting new people, but very few people actually see beyond the surface into both the beautiful and the ugly. This is the year I learned to love, to forgive, and to let go. I experienced some of the worst moments in my life so far as well as some of the best moments. I recall spending the first few months of the year virtually depressed and miserable and wanting to call it quits, I couldn’t understand why things were going the way they were going especially when I was so sure that 2013 would be my year and it would be smooth sailing. Ha! Joke was on me! Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Just when I thought I had hit rock bottom, someone took a drill and a shovel and I fell further in. But it is during this time that I got to experience some of the strongest bonds of friendship and I also learned the power of prayer. And it was also during this time I learned to let people in.
I didn’t realize that a lot of the negative that was going on in my life had to do with my surroundings. My turnaround came after I started letting go of some people and some things. I slowly started coming out of the dark hole I was in and could actually see and feel the light. Not to say that all my problems miraculously disappeared, but I had a better grip on what I needed to do and doors started just opening everywhere and I was finally doing things that mattered to me such as my project African Queens. 2013 was also the time I met a man who showed me that good guys still exist and he had opened my eyes and my heart to a world of possibilities.
Just as doors had opened this year, others have shut, however I am not afraid of what 2014 may bring. I have never been so thankful for life as I am now, and though this year ends with an unexpected twist, I can only take everything that I learned this past year and use that as my foundation for the new year. I look forward to continuing to strengthen my old friendships and to making new ones. I am excited for the new adventures that are in store for 2014 and I know a lot of people will be surprised when they see what I have got going on behind the scenes.
I also want to say a big thank you to all my faithful readers and subscribers of this blog in over 116 countries around the world. Wow! I am humbled and blown away. All I can say is you will definitely not be disappointed in 2014 as I plan to turn things up. I am going to really expose myself in the hopes that people learn from my mistakes and hopefully they will also see what I am doing right and apply it in a way that makes sense in their own life.
I leave you with this quote from one of my favourite authors: “Our histories cling to us. We are shaped by where we come from.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
African Queens Project wins at World Summit Youth Awards
So a post has been long overdue, but I have been busy working on building a project very close to my heart called “African Queens Project“. A lot of people have been asking me who is behind this project and how did it come about. So I have finally decided that with recent events that have taken place (which I will happily share) this will be the best time to let you guys in on the behind the scenes of “African Queens Project”.
First to address the questions of who and/or what is behind ‘African Queens Project’ I must take you to the beginning to where it all began. It was the summer of 2012, in the bustling city of Accra, Ghana. I had just landed and was busy taking in my surroundings and praying that the people who were to pick me up were not operating on African time. I saw a tall lady holding a sign with my name on it and made a beeline for her pushing my luggage on the trolly as I went. I did not know what to expect, all I knew was that I was going to be surrounded by 27 women from different parts of Africa for the next 3 weeks. My prevailing thoughts were: PMS and a whole lot of Estrogen! If someone had told me that I would form life long friends and inspirational connections with my fellow African women, I would have given them an, “In your dreams” look.
So I bet you are now wondering why was I in Ghana with 27 other women? I had been selected to attend a prestigious fellowship whereby they look for 25 young African women leaders each year in Africa, and bring them to Ghana for intensive training and workshops and upon graduation you become a part of a prestigious network of women known as MILEAD Fellows. Part of the fellowship requires each fellow to carry out a project that targets women and children in their home country for at least a year.
So I remember taking my time while I thought about what I could do that I could willingly and happily put all my heart and soul into that would make a sustainable impact. I went through a lot of ideas in my head trying to think of the best way I could go about doing this while still staying true to my passions which is media and journalism. I knew I didn’t want to do just another program or project that would eventually die or be forgotten. I continued to ponder this as I went through the fellowship, listening to the intensive lectures and taking part in some of the workshops. We got to the part where different fellows shared their stories and backgrounds and what they are doing to revolutionize their country and community. As I sat listening to these stories, I was moved to tears several times when I heard stories of hardships, defeats, triumphs, and accomplishments from women who were still relatively “young”. That’s when I knew what my project would be about: providing a uniform platform whereby inspirational women can share their stories thus inspiring other young girls and women to aspire for more. ‘African Queens Project’ was born and the rest is history.
So currently I have seen ‘African Queens Project‘ taking shape and growing and becoming even more than I had imagined. I can happily and officially say that ‘African Queens Project‘ is an award winning project, and we will be honored in Sri Lanka as part of the World Summit Youth Award winners event. So that is it in a nutshell, you can read the press release to fill you in more about the award: http://africanqueensproject.com/awards/. I like what the Professor Peter Bruck, Chairman of the World Summit Youth Awards Board said about ‘African Queens Project’:
“African Queens Project’ is helping many women in Africa to exchange vital experiences and share a new world of possibilities and opportunities. It is important to make visible the struggles, triumphs, and victories of anonymous African women who are making a difference in this continent.”
So I leave you with that and be sure to check out the website as well. Until next time, inspire to aspire!
If you had read one of my last posts titled, ” Nyerere disgraced at the AU,” you would have seen how they had shamefully removed Nyerere’s portrait from the AU, and replaced it with Emperor Haile Selassie citing really weak reasons as to why they did this. Now, after a hard-fought campaign by the Tanzanian Foreign minister who joined forces with the Tanzanian Ambassador to Ethiopia, in which many African countries supported this campaign, Nyerere’s portrait has been reinstated in its rightful and true place at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
What bothers me in the first place is why we should even be debating whether or not Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s portrait should be featured in the Headquarters of the AU! Anyone who knows their history will understand the absurdity that I am talking about. However, let me be thankful that order has been restored and not get into the nitty-gritty of things (you can refer to my previous post where I did). Below is the article detailing what took place in order to right the wrong. A big thank you to everyone who campaigned for this!
At last, the portrait of Tanzania’s founding president and one of the pioneers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) – later renamed African Union (AU) – Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, is back at the reception gallery of the Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere
Tanzania – and most of Africa – had ‘taken to arms’ during the Union’s 19th Ordinary Session over what was described as ‘’notable absence of Mwalimu’s portrait in the lineup of OAU pioneers in the new AU headquarters and demanded an immediate reinstatement.
Foreign Minister Bernard Membe and Ambassador to Ethiopia Joram Biswaro had led the campaign last July that was supported by most African countries. Rising on a point of information during an AU ambassadors’ meeting on the sidelines of the summit, Tanzania’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr Joram Biswalo, had expressed concern over the omission of Mwalimu’s portrait in the lineup.
He had called for an immediate reinstatement. An explanation that the portrait lineup represented African zones – and that Emperor Haile Selassie, represented others in ‘their’ zone, including Tanzania, had failed to convince the Tanzanian delegation, compelling it to press hard on the matter.
The rest of Africa supported Tanzania. Dr Biswaro’s concern was shared by several speakers from other African countries who felt that it was not right to exclude Mwalimu Nyerere from the portrait lineup of pioneers of the continental body, geographical representation or not, judging from the Tanzanian leader’s key role in the liberation of the continent.
AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma had on December 28, last year written to one of the campaigners in the portrait’s reinstatement crusade, Tanzanian scholar and author who resides in London, UK, Mr Harid Mkali, saying that Mwalimu’s portrait is ‘’now among the other five leaders who were initially selected on the basis of regional representation.
The letter, with reference number BC/Z/1881/12.12, signed by the commission’s Chief of Staff, Bureau of the Chairperson, Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Natama, on behalf of Dr Dlamini Zuma, informed Mr Mkali that the ‘situation has been accordingly rectified.’’
The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, with 32 signatory governments, including Tanganyika (later renamed Tanzania). It was disbanded on July 9, 2002 by its last chairperson, South African President Thabo Mbeki and replaced by the African Union (AU).
Imagine a day, ordained and enforced by the government, where men take on the role of women, such as going to the market and taking care of the kids, so they can understand what women go through? Or a president who would rather ride his bicycle to the office than get a Mercedes-Benz? Imagine a country that has nationalized its mineral wealth and oil, where foreign aid is the thing of the past and African unity is no longer just an idealistic dream, but a tangible reality? Well there was such a place for a period of time and that place was Burkina Faso and it was led by the great revolutionary Thomas Sankara.
Thomas Sankara was and is probably one of the most revolutionary and progressive leaders this continent has ever seen. He didn’t just plan for the present, but he looked into the future and would implement provisions to make sure Burkina Faso was well taken care of. Yes, he used controversial methods to make sure that his plans went forth and were implemented, but the results and effects of his plans, such as the increase of women in leadership positions, the doubling of wheat production, and the pulling of Burkina Faso from one of the poorest countries in Africa to a country that one can be proud of, far outweighed the controversial methods. A week before he was assassinated he said something very powerful and I believe to be absolutely true: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
A friend of mine sent me an article about this charismatic leader knowing how much I love reading about such African greats who have influenced this continent both positively and negatively. I would like to share this article with you guys and hope we can be inspired as a continent and know that such leaders can exist. The article is below, but you can also check it out at the website and you can also read more about this great man on Wikipedia!
“Debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa” – Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara, former leader of Burkina Faso, was the apparent opposite of everything we are often told that success should look like. Mansions? Cars? Who? What? Get out of here. As Prime Minister and later as President, Sankara rode a bicycle to work before he upgraded, at his Cabinet’s insistence, to a Renault 5 – one of the cheapest cars available in Burkina Faso at the time. He lived in a small brick house and wore only cotton that was produced, weaved and sewn in Burkina Faso.
Going by his lifestyle, Sankara was the antithesis of success, but it is this very distinction that enabled him to become the most successful president Africa has ever seen, in terms of what he accomplished for and with his people. Sankara would not have chopped P-Square’s money given twice a chance – in fact, he might have sat him down and taught him a thing or two about the creeping menace of pop culture patriarchy – because Thomas Sankara, “The Upright Man”, was a feminist. In this and many other ways, Sankara was the African dream come true, the only living proof that hopes of African independence are not dead on arrival.
His life ended with a bullet which, according to the testimony of some involved in his assassination, was ordered by former Liberian president Charles Taylor with the support of the French and American governments, and delivered via Blaise Compaoré– Sankara’s long-time friend and colleague, and the current president of Burkina Faso. Four years prior, when Compaoré and Sankara had jointly staged the popular coup of 1983 that made Sankara president, Burkina Faso was one of the poorest countries in the world. Under Compaoré it still is – so much so that the dire circumstances led to a series of violent protestslast year.
During the years of Sankara’s administration, things were turning around, especially in the areas of health, education and the environment. Mass vaccination campaigns were rolled out with a level of rapidity and success that was unprecedented for an African country at that time. Infant mortality rates dropped. School attendance rates doubled. Millions of trees were planted in a far-sighted effort to counter deforestation. Feminism was a core element of political ideology, manifested through improved access to education for girls, and inclusion of women in leadership roles. Sankara introduced a day of solidarity in which men switched traditional gender roles – going to the market, running the household – so as to better empathise with what women handle on a daily basis. It was Africa’s greatest success story.
How was this achieved? In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Sankara reflected on the state of Burkina Faso at the time that he had come to power, stating that “The diagnosis was clearly sombre. The root of the disease was political. The treatment could only be political.” And Sankara did not hold back with the treatment. As soon as he came into power, he set about razing the conventional structures of power and inequality.
Gone were the days of politicians living lavish lives sponsored by taxpayers’ money – Sankara issued salary cuts across the board, including for himself. The fleet of Mercedes Benzes for high-ranking officials was done away with, and the cars replaced by Renault 5s. Land and oil wealth were nationalised. While the masses celebrated, the country’s elite was enraged as decades of class inequality, which had previously favoured them, suddenly came into jeopardy.
The international community, whose interests were vested in the status quo, were also disturbed by Sankara’s radicalism, not least when he started calling for African countries to reject debt repayments. From the 1970s onwards, newly-independent African governments had begun to rapidly accumulate huge amounts of debt from rich countries and the Bretton Woods institutions: the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As the Cold War intensified, such loans were increasingly used as a tool for securing political support from key countries – even governments that were patently corrupt and would inevitably default on repayment, such as Mobutu’s in the DRC, were readily provided with billions of dollars in credit.
In one of his most famous speeches [above], delivered at the summit of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) in Addis Ababa in 1987, Sankara issued a passionate call for a United Front Against Debt. “We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before,” he declared. “Under its current form, that is imperialism-controlled, debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave…”
At the time of his speech it was clear, just a couple of decades into independence, that African countries were quickly becoming financial slaves. Interest rates rose sharply in the 1980s, but governments continued to borrow more and more. Between 1982 and 1990, African debt doubled from US$140 billion to US$270 billion. Sankara rightly predicted that this would cripple African development for generations to come. Despite debt relief programs, which have resulted in increased spending on health and education in African countries, Jubilee Debt Campaign estimates that in 2008, low income countries paid over US $20 million a day to rich countries.
Their decision-making power is also constrained within the limits of orders given by the institutions and countries to which they are indebted. Strangely enough, while these orders demand decreased public spending for example on health, they don’t seem to have made a dent on the perpetual rise of Africa’s waBenzi clan: politicians rolling in flashy Mercedes Benzes bought with taxpayers’ money. And to make matters worse, with access to new creditors – especially China – many African governments are once again sinking into the vicious cycle of debt dependency that Sankara foresaw.
His Foreign Policy Advisor, Fidèle Kientega, explains how this foresight was shared with ordinary people. “Sankara did not dictate to people or force them to work. He told them about the mechanisms of getting loans…He said that they could relax at home and ask him to borrow money from the neo-colonialists, but that they would have to bear in mind that they and their children would have to pay back the loans with interests. Consequently, his government would find it difficult to provide universal education and health care because he would have to spend a greater chunk of the meagre tax revenues in servicing the debt. They could also beg for aid but then they would remain beggars forever. The people got the message and were motivated into working harder.”
Stories of Sankara tend to focus on his radical policies, but it is this approach that was probably the most radical of all – his efforts to bring discussions and decisions, “the apparatus of democracy” as Kientega puts it, to ordinary people. He was able to do this not only because he had political commitment to the proverbial grassroots – as many leaders claim to do – but because, through the choices he made, he positioned himself as their equal. Sankara made personal sacrifices that no other president has ever made, and did not view them as sacrifices, but as an act of solidarity, of African pride. In his view it was only through collective commitment to such sacrifices, which he hoped would one day be viewed as “normal and simple” actions, that Africans could begin to work their way towards self-reliance.
“He who does not feed you can demand nothing of you,” he said.“We however, are being fed every day and every year. We say, ‘Down with imperialism!’ yet we can’t ignore our bellies… Let us consume only what we ourselves control! Many people ask, “Where is imperialism?” Look at your plates when you eat. These imported grains of rice, corn, and millet—that is imperialism. You need look no further.”
Despite Sankara’s incredible oratorical gift, the message came across even more eloquently through his actions: it is better to live a simple life in freedom, than a fabulous lifestyle in economic chains. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, most African governments did not share his philosophy. In a recent series of debates on democracy organised by TIA, people from Ghana, Kenya and South Africa all expressed a lack of faith in their countries’ democratic systems. Why? Because, they said, existing political systems across the world don’t answer to ordinary people – they answer to money. African governments are first accountable to rich countries, then to their own local elites; and finally, if convenient, to the people.
In a world that only answers to money, everything is for sale – democracy, freedom, dignity, integrity. Thomas Sankara bucked this trend, and in so doing struck at the very core of the international system of control – because for once, the world was faced with an African leader it could neither buy nor co-opt.
And because he was not for sale, Sankara had to be eliminated, buried in an unmarked grave whose whereabouts are still unknown. To this day, Sankara’s family and supporters in Burkina Faso and around the world are still fighting for justice, some in the face of death threats. Meanwhile, despite the fact that some of the fastest growing economies in the world are now African, and the fact that poverty rates are falling, so much of our energy now and for the foreseeable future will have to be devoted to further reducing poverty levels relating to decades of political selling out. And the selling out continues, even as our economies are bouncing back. Why do our leaders keep selling us out? Same reason we all sell out – for nice things. “Where does this debt come from anyway?” Sankara asked. “Did we need to build mansions…or foster the mentality of overpaid men among our officers?” This last question, in particular, has become more relevant as we learn of just how much moneyAfrica’s elite have been salting away in foreign accounts even as their countries’ foreign debts mount: ‘Capgemini and Merrill Lynch estimate in their latest World Wealth Report that Africa has about 100,000 “high net worth individuals” with a total of $1.2 trillion in liquid assets. The debts, on the other hand, are owed by the African people as a whole through their governments.’
Of all the holy cows in the world today, materialism is probably the deepest and most universally entrenched – from home to school to pop culture. This entrenchment is necessary to preserve the current system of inequality, because it opens us all up to compromise, to co-option. How much would you sell your values for? How much do you sell your values for? Sankara demonstrated that the make-or-break of freedom is not so much about heroes and politics as it is about the very personal struggle between principles and cash-money.
A week before he died, Sankara said, “revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, but you cannot kill ideas”. And so, for us today, the final challenge rests not in finding more Sankaras, but in becoming them – in bringing these ideas to life.“You have to dare to look reality in the face and take a whack at some of the long-standing privileges,” Sankara said, “so long-standing in fact that they seem to have become normal, unquestionable.” And that’s the most daunting thing of all, because it requires a struggle with the person in the mirror.
“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.” – Thomas Sankara
There is a shifting, a reshuffling if you will, that is happening in Africa that has seen some fundamental changes in the last 10 years. From the election of the first woman president in Africa back in 2006, to the political uprising in Nairobi in 2008, then the revolutionary Arab springs in 2010, and recently the passing away of a pair of great african leaders this past year. We shouldn’t view these significant events as individual occurrences, but instead as collective developments in the progression of this great continent.
I have taken an excerpt from a blog post written by Ahmed Salim, someone I am getting to know and respect, on his take on Meles Zenawi, which gives us a glimpse into the funeral of this controversial African leader that took place earlier this month that Ahmed had the honor of attending. I wanted to share it with you guys, because I really liked the practical approach in Ahmed’s writing of this and I know you guys will also appreciate his writing style as much as I did.
Ahmed had posed the question in the title of his blog, “Can Africans have it all?”. Theoretically speaking, I don’t think anyone can have it all, but I know we can defiantly strive to be all we can be. The fact that Africa alone as a continent accounts for almost 50% of the worlds natural resources, I say give us a pretty good chance to do just that.
The Death of A Prime Minister: Can Africans Have It All?
On Sunday, September 2, 2012 Ethiopians and Africans officially bid farewell to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during a state funeral in Addis Ababa. Mr. Zenawi died on August 20, 2012 after a battle with an illness that rapidly deteriorated his health in what seemed like a matter of weeks.
I am not sure if there has ever been an African leader who’s immediate death caused such uncertainty more so regionally than nationally. If you asked me a few months ago to imagine a post-Zenawi Ethiopia, it would have been quite hard for me to do so. For one thing, Mr. Zenawi was quite young compared to his African counterparts and due to his significant influence over the country, one would have a hard time thinking about Ethiopia without Mr. Zenawi and Mr. Zenawi without Ethiopia. However, from all the obituaries, narratives and analysis, the most common thread is the uncertainty that East Africa is left with as a result of the significant vacuum left by Mr. Zenawi. Ethiopia has been the regional anchor for security and stability in the region for over a decade.
Ethiopia has the most battle-tested army in the region and is bankrolled significantly by the United States. Mr. Zenawi played the counterterrorism game that started on September 11, 2001 brilliantly. In addition to this, he was able to use the funds given to him by donors efficiently. Like President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, development partners have praised Mr. Zenawi in the way he has used the funds and the relative lack of corruption associated with his government. Of course, this has been at the expense of political freedoms and democracy. I lived in Addis Ababa from 1989-2001 and although I was young, I lived under two distinctly different regimes, the Derg Regime led by Mr. Mengistu Haile Mariam and Mr. Zenawi’s regime. People tend to forget that Mr. Zenawi was a liberator after dethroning the Derg, which was seen as a sincerely brutal government that happened to be in power during one of the worst famine crises in history. You don’t have to be a development specialist or political scientist to notice that Ethiopia was a much better place in 2001 than in 1989. The last time I was in Addis was in 2004 and the differences I noticed between 2001 and 2004 alone were remarkable.
The changes are obvious. You can point to them and see them; everything from new buildings, ring roads, coffee shops, vibrant malls and so forth. Other changes are more quantitative such as the high GDP growth rates. However, political freedoms and freedom of the press was not a norm in Ethiopia and they are not in many countries, but would people be concerned about these freedoms if they have their bread and butter? The answer is always obvious when we do not have bread and butter but it gets complicated when citizens are able to feed their families, have a decent job and see tangible evidence of development in the country. Prime Minister Zenawi was hailed for transforming his country. I can attest that the Addis today is not the Addis of 1989 or 2001 for that matter. Mr. Zenawi ruled Ethiopia for 20 years, a short time in the context of African strongmen. How much longer can Africa rely on the strongman form of government?
Tough Year For African Leaders
The past 18 months have not been kind to African leaders. We have seen an array of forced exits by African strongmen. This was all exacerbated by the ‘Arab Spring,’ which was led by the African countries of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. If we really want to dig deeper, these forced changes in leadership began with the mystery that surrounded the illness and eventual death of Former President Umaru Yar’Adua of Nigeria who died in May 2010. Since then, six African heads of state have died, five due to illnesses and one who was murdered, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi (The Colonel). Prior to this, you had the forced exit of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, one of the most commanding African leaders of one of the most powerful African nations, as well as the exit of Tunisian President Ben Ali.
A Presidential Funeral for a Prime Minister
On Saturday, September 1, 2012, wheels were up at about 10:30 am as I made my way to Addis with my father to attend the funeral of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. I was honored to accompany my father and the Tanzanian Presidential Delegation to attend this monumental funeral.
The plane ride was one of reflection and remembrance. My conversations with those on board varied between analyzing the successes of Mr. Zenawi’s economic transformation to the challenges that lie ahead for a now nervous East Africa. There was an understanding that things will never be the same and there truly won’t be another individual like Mr. Zenawi. Hints of Mr. Zenawi’s misgivings and polarizing leadership style were also expressed.
“He’s done a lot for the country but in a twist of fate and irony he has ruled the country with an iron fist just like Mengistu and [Emperor ]Haile Selassie, that type of leadership has been common practice throughout.” Some took this further and expressed their current frustrations with leaders in Africa “they don’t listen, they are part of the struggle but then forget things and never want to leave. This ‘I-I’ mentality and arrogance that the country will not move forward without them can have dire consequences.” I listened intently to the various candid conversations going on around me and could not help but think about the challenge we Africans have in trying to find the critical balance that is necessary between economic development, political stability and democracy. Strong and effective leadership is essential to development, especially in Africa, however there have been many instances of strong leaders undermining human rights, freedom of expression and the press. Can we strike the proper balance?
I posed this question one of the members of the Tanzanian delegation and he said: “There can be a balance between development and democracy, it can work so long as there isn’t too much of the other. Sometimes you can have too much democracy and too little development and you end up talking and being free but with nothing to really show for it. On the other hand, you can have too much strongman leadership with no development. Mr. Zenawi and now Mr. Kagame have admirably tried and to a certain extent succeeded in balancing strong leadership and development but they may have sided too much on the strong side. This is mostly due to fear of exposure and allowing slight freedoms that could potentially destabilize all of the progress made. It is hard to convince leaders to change their leadership style when on the whole it’s worked.”
Why are African leaders all dropping like flies? For one thing, we are finally learning that African presidents are human; they are not immortal, even though President Robert Mugabe serves as a counterfactual. Another thing many of us should come to terms with is that we should stop looking for the next African visionary, for that matter the next President Paul Kagame or even the next Mr. Zenawi. An over reliance on a single individual, no matter how cerebral he or she may be, is always a risky affair. The cult of personality has been ingrained into African leadership style that we sometimes forget that institutions are essential to holding a country together when a crisis hits. By getting so caught up with the cult of personality, many people are left in shock when that personality is removed, something we are currently seeing in Ethiopia.
It is said for every dollar that enters Africa in the form of Aid, 7 dollars leave Africa. Why have we become progressively worse instead of better when we are receiving billions of dollars in aid? Dambisa Moyo, who is an international economist and New York Times bestselling author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa and other acclaimed books, speaks about why we do NOT need foreign aid and goes on to explain what she feels through her studies is the future for Africa.
So I am back home in Tanzania and feel like I have woken up from a dream. Was I really in Ghana and surrounded by such incredible women, lectures, and leaders that have left me both humbled and inspired? Well, I know this for a fact: I was in the presence of greatness. I went into the experience skeptical and a bit pessimistic with thoughts like, ” This is going to be the same old type of conference, with the same old boring lectures, surrounded by a bunch of tired and worn-out workers and volunteers.” Boy, did I have another thing coming! I can honestly say I came out a different person, a better person because of the experiences and knowledge imparted to me from the MILEAD Women’s Fellowship (http://www.moremiinitiative.org/.)
I honestly wish that everybody could be a part of the greatness that I was immersed in, from the lectures, to the activities, to the friendships developed as well as to the mantle that has been imparted on the 2012 MILEAD fellows. This expeirience only established the fact that I am not a feminist, I am a humanist, someone who will stand up for injustice irregardless of race, creed or color. Though I support feminists who are fighting for women’s rights everywhere.
We are called for so much more and I know that Africa is going to be a force to reckon because of such women that I had encountered when I was in Ghana. Below are photos of my last day in Ghana and the completion of the program. My friends, watch this space because their are exciting things to come. We are one!
Me accepting my certificate on graduation day
Giving a very short speech about my experience and what is expected
The 2012 MILEAD Fellows and some of the board members up front.
This is just the 2012 MILEAD fellows. An amazing, inspiring, awesome bunch of women changing the face of Africa and emerging leaders of this world