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Another African meeting: Words, words

BY: Enimil Ashon
 Another African meeting: Words, words
Another African meeting: Words, words

Listening to President Akufo-Addo speak at the 57th African Development Bank (AfDB) Annual General Meeting in Accra this week was like listening to a 33rpm vinyl musical record whose pin is stuck in the groove. Check the speeches of every African leader in these 48 years: same words (almost).

Occasionally when the pin has moved, it has been to update the statistics: the debts and grants are now mentioned in trillions, when they were billions only three years ago.

If the AfDB has invested US$9 billion in African economies over the last five years – not to mention IMF debt forgiveness in billions of dollars, added to our oil and mineral revenues – how come in 2022, almost one person in five (about 1.2 billion men, women and children) of Africa’s 1,400,689,279 population is so poor and so hungry?

Over a period of 40-plus years, the only area in which Africa has made “progress” is its share of global poverty, though we boast, as President Akufo-Addo did this week, that our AfDB is ranked as the Best Multilateral Financial Institution in the world.

Africa boasts that 7,000 years ago, we were civilised, that we had scholars who, in some instances, were 2,000 years ahead of the Europeans. Kwame Nkrumah was insisting, 65 years ago, that Africans were capable of solving our own problems. So why are we, in 2022, whining that out of the IMF’s US$650 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR) approved in August 2021, Africa got only US$33 billion.

Model?

President Akufo-Addo’s plea for an “African Model” was received with ovation. Why? Answer is that everybody thinks so too; indeed, this appeal has been made - only in slightly different phrases - by almost every President since Africa’s self-government flags began to fly in 1957.

There was a round of applause when President Akufo-Addo announced that the AfDB Board had approved funding for the $1.5 billion Africa Emergency Food Production Plan to support food production.

I refused to applaud because I knew that it was good news only to African Presidents and other politicians for whom every loan or grant means new personal mansions, acquisition of large and multiple plots of land, three/four-bedroom apartments for girlfriends, popping of champagnes with girlfriends on luxury yachts in Europe and ownership of apartments to be rented out in Dubai.

An African Economic Model? That’s a pipe dream without a new African Political Model minus “Winner Takes All”, but that’s a no-no for the African politicians who want to eat with their two hands and entrench themselves in power, some for over 30 years!

An imperative for an African Model is industrialisation and hi-tech agriculture, but these two variables are possible only via research.

How is research possible when governments have money only to pay the salaries of our researchers, but never enough to fund the research itself?

Our research money comes from West European and North American “development partners”.

Even the African Union building was donated to us by China!

In the 1960s, President Nyerere of Tanzania tearfully remarked at an OAU meeting that “there is a devil somewhere in Africa”.

He asked: “How can African leaders meet with the speeches of the Presidents written in London, Paris and Lisbon?”

On April 3, 2010, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade unveiled the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar. The most remarkable aspect of the ceremony was his speech.

It was obviously written by a poet! He saw the monument as “the arrival of Africa in the 21st Century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands".

What rivalled his speech was the economics of the monument. The colossal statue cost Senegal US$27 million!

Meanwhile, President Wade was claiming that the work was conceived by him and, therefore, was entitled to 35 per cent of the copyright, brushing aside criticism that Presidents could not claim copyright over ideas conceived as a function of their public office.

Want to know why a new African Political Model is not possible? Listen to former South African Vice-President Thabo Mbeki.

In a speech on August 13, 1998, to mark the African Renaissance, he spoke about “how those who have access to power, or access to those who have access to power, have robbed and pillaged and broken all laws and all ethical norms and with great abandon.

“Their measure of success is the amount of wealth they can accumulate and the ostentation they can achieve, which will convince all that they are a success, because in a visible way, they are people of means”.

Mbeki thinks an African Model is not possible because “its upper echelons are a mere parasite on the rest of society”. We like words!

The writer is Executive Director, Centre for Communication and Culture. E-mail: [email protected] com