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Africa, My Africa – By Owei Lakemfa

African leaders gathered January 28, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia against the back drop of that country’s decision to free 2,345 Oromo  political prisoners. Another setting would have been a reaction to the vulgar remarks of United States  President Donald Trump who suffers from a diarrhea of the mouth.  The American Twitter-in-Chief had called some countries including African ones, “shitholes”

But the AU had been saved that diversion by Big Boy Trump who on Thursday January 25, sent what amounted to a letter of apology saying he “deeply respects” the African people.

He said  American soldiers are “fighting side by side” in Africa against extremism  but did not say what American interests are. Of course he repeated the usual trite about America  working to increase “free, fair and reciprocal trade”  which from our experience, is  one-sided  and essentially, the exploitation  of Africa.

The AU Summit with the theme: “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation” had too much on its plate.   It included the establishment of a Continental  Trade Area, CFTA (Not economic integration?) and,   fighting corruption with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria named as the AU “champion” to lead the anti-corruption war. There was also the establishment of a Single African  Air Transport, SAATM, which seeks to create a single, unified air transport network in Africa. Twenty five of the 55 Member States have signed up to this idea which will make travel easier and cheaper.

I  am curious why Niger President  Mahamadou Issoufou whose country is not running a viable airline was charged with delivering this while President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo whose country neither  has  a national carrier nor is it an aviation hub, is  made the pilot  for the full implementation of this policy. I know that his  country experimented with a national airline, Air Togo, which began operations in 1998 and collapsed two years later. Does that amount to much experience, or does the fact that the ASKY Airlines  (subsidized by West African countries) has its headquarters in Lome, confer the status of a hub on the city?

As expected, conflicts in the continent was a major menu. The irrational Civil War in South Sudan led by President Salva Kirr (who was at the Summit) and his former Vice President Riek Machar which has claimed over 50,000 lives and displaced some four million, was one. The spiraling violence in in Burundi where President Pierre Nkurunziza, and Democratic Republic of Congo where President Joseph Kabila are clinging on to power, the growing terrorism in Mali, and the anarchy in Libya and Somalia, were some of the challenges discussed.

Despite the hype, the programmes the Summit enumerated are essentially not new ones. For instance, that the AU which depends on foreign aid to finance 73 percent of its budget, should be self-financing   so it can make independent decisions, is an old one.  For this, 0.02 percent of the imports into the continent are to be paid to the body. This has been on-going and not so effective. To ensure the AU self-finances, for over a decade, the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) which I once headed, pushed that given the volume of foreign travel by Africans, a tax of $5 be added to all inter-continental tickets  and paid to the AU

There is also a lot of hype about the new 2018 AU Executive led by Rwandan President Paul Kagame who is doubtlessly a tough man. But his policies are not clear, that is  in comparison with those of late  Mouamar Ghadaffi of Libya  who left no one in doubt where he wanted  Africa to head. Yes, Kagame had some spat with France, but that does not amount to an ‘Africa First Philosophy’ He stabilized Rwanda and led  the stoppage of one of the most horrendous genocides in human history, but after a few visits to Rwanda and being a student of Rwandan history, I am not sure how much reintegration is going on in that country. Rwanda’s exploitation  of  the mineral wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo may not give credence to being a brother’s keeper. A very good policy of the Kagame administration is its No-Visa Policy  for anyone carrying the passport of an African country. But what I am  referring to is a coherent Pan-African Policy like those of Kwame Nkrumah  which  offered a clear direction for our continent.

I do not think there is much to say of the rest of the Executive. For instance the First  Vice Chair, President  Faiz El Saraj of Libya leads  a government that shares the governance of the capital, Tripoli with a rival government, and, has little influence  over the rest of a country with at least four governments. Second Vice Chair, President Jacob Zuma  of South Africa who I personally love for his anti-Apartheid struggles, has, following the loss of his group in the African National Congress elections, become virtually, a lame duck President.  The best one can say of the Third  Vice Chair, President  Dennis Sassou Nguesso of  the Republic of Congo is that he is an enigma. He had been Chair of the OAU/AU twice and ruled his country on    three  different occasions. The   first time,  for thirteen years, from 1979. The second time, he engineered a Civil War, overthrew the government of Paschal Lissouba and ruled for two years from 1997.  The Third Coming of Nguesso was 2002. In the current dispensation,  he has been  in office for  16 years and does not seem to be ready to allow fresh ideas. The Fourth  Vice Chair is the immediate Past Chair, President  Alpha Conde  of the Republic of Guinee.

I agree with Kagame when he told the Summit “We must create a single continental market, integrate our infrastructure, and infuse our economies with technology… We are running out of time, and we must act now to save Africa from permanent deprivation” Except that we do not seem to draw from the East Africa Community experience where all these and much more were achieved. As a first step, let us stick to the implementation of the AU 2063 Agenda.

My final   submission is that despite the   appearance of new faces; Liberia’s George Weah, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa and Angola’s Joao Lourenco (who replaced Jose Eduardo dos Santos after 38 years as President) Africa has a leadership deficit; a leadership that can drive it towards sustainable development. But we build on what we have,  and having the AU, no matter its shortcomings   is quite an achievement.

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