By Joni Akpederi
President Paul Kagame’s final “tweet” at the seminar themed Is this Africa’s hour? is typical of one of Africa’s most affable yet courageous and down-to-earth leaders: “Optimism about Africa, yes. But this means more work, not less. We need to continue to invest to serve our people and get our people to serve. We need to invest in the women since demographics show that they are a force that cannot be ignored”.
Well, the Rwandan leader did crave the audience’s indulgence to exceed the popular social media network’s standard “140 characters”. BBC anchor Kumla Dumor had introduced the President as “twitter savvy” and his Excellency wanted more space than the rules permit to drive home his message.
Yes, it would be Africa’s hour to rise and shine politically and economically but everyone, leader and the led, must work hard at it as “no one — not even the aid-dispensing developed world — owes Africa a thing”.
Bottomline: Africa must take responsibility for its own development.
As President Kagame laments, Africa has seen booms like the current one, and each, unfortunately, left the continent with little or nothing to show.
Meetings host Dr Kaberuka buys into the President’s position, recalling Albert Einsteins’ immortal line that one cannot keep doing a task the same way and expect a different result. African leaders must, in the AfDB chief’s opinion, “figure out how to make growth sustainable and inclusive, this time around.
Philanthropist and passionate Africanist Mo Ibrahim is also optimistic, albeit a little sad that the old guard of leaders has not done enough. He is encouraged by the growth of civil society organisations and the teeming youths who are asking the question “why are we so rich and yet so poor”.
The founder of Mo Ibrahim Foundation for Leadership is encouraged that Africa now has more democratically elected leaders but hopes that politico-economic activities can be improved with regional integration. “If Africa must compete, we need to break up our borders”, he says. The continent, a bloc of over fifty weak, separate states cannot withstand China or the US”, he argues. “The world is a jungle and only the big and strong flourish”.
Incidentally, Rwanda has taken the lead in the race towards integration, with relaxed visa requirements that President Kagame says have served the country well. Tourists and businesses are moving into the country without any serious problems since the immigration, laws and processes are adequate to handle emergencies. “We did it to demonstrate that it is possible”, he says.
Talking about Africa’s hour, South Africa’s Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan is philosophical. Africa, he says, is in “the first hour of the new epoch and there’s still 23 to come” to make the African day. He is more concerned, however, with the model of development Africa decides on; one which avoids the kind of inequalities seen in the West. “Technology,” he says, “is useful, but over-mechanisation means fewer jobs. We need to find a midpoint”.
While Gordhan agrees that integration is desirable and inevitable, “borderless Africa,” he says, “cannot solve all of our problems”. He however acknowledges, as Dumor notes that it is easier for one to move around Africa with a European passport than an African one and concedes to Dr Kaberuka that real “growth will not come to Africa with 54 passports and 54 different currencies”.
President Kagame probably settled the growth and integration palaver when he asked rhetorically: “what better way is there to solving Africa’s problem than just doing it?”
Certainly, Africa has done enough talking. It is time for action.