An Alternative Perspective on Africa Rising

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Is Africa’s growth trajectory overhyped? Is it as Omidyar Network’s Ory Okolloh call, ‘a fetishisation’ over some of the continent’s development achievements at the heavy expense of turning a blind eye to the weighty issues? As she concernedly asks, “will technology ‘save’ the continent from its poorly run resources, bad leadership and ineptitude?” Is Africa really rising? And if she is indeed rising, who are the beneficiaries? This was the subject addressed by Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International when she spoke at LSE on 12 October 2015.

Credit: Africa at LSE

“As I prepared to come here to give my views on this topic, I promised myself I would not be an Afro pessimist,” she announced. “My job has me talking about poverty everyday but being an African girl, I can say that I am proud of what Africa has achieved. I am proud of my country, the continent and her people and at the grassroots especially, you see a true reflection of the resilience of her people.”

“Africa has witnessed four centuries of slave trade, one century of colonialism totalling five centuries of domination with just 60 years of independence,” she continued. “Growing up in Uganda, I know what it feels like to have false freedom and false independence. I grew up with a leader, Idi Amin, who would decide overnight new legislations pinning them to what he claimed lucid dreams; dreams of women without make-up, skirts, and more aggravating, education. But regardless of this, we took on the risk of getting an education with the support of ordinary people who inspired resilience,” she reminisced.

Today, African economies are growing at an average rate of 5% per year and Foreign Direct Investment has expanded by over 30%. Fewer mothers die in child birth and the rate of child mortality has decreased tremendously. The continent boasts several of the fastest growing economies in the world and is posited to leapfrog in development through its ever growing innovation and technology. “The universities are hotbeds of innovation,” the speaker stated with a smile. “However, despite all this, one in two Africans lives in extreme poverty. Women are the hardest hit earning 30% less than men.”

“The most important question I would ask you today is, Africa is rising but it is rising for whom?” she poses.

“Jane is my mother’s god-daughter. She was married at 16 years old and not out of choice but for labour. She was a successful farmer tilling her husband’s land. She lost three of her children to curable diseases but due to poverty, she had to bear the burden of burying her own. Her husband too passed on. I am helping her to build on her husband’s land but now she wants to leave it to her son. Under Ugandan law, she can claim the land but as a second wife, the land belongs to the son of the first wife. When she came to ask for money to buy the land from her son, I challenged her to claim what was rightfully hers to which she opposed.” Through this poignant story, Winnie Byanyima unmasks the reality of Africa, her people and the challenges they face on a daily basis; challenges of legacies of discrimination regulated by traditions and custom.

“Increasing the income share of the poor and middle class increases growth; illicit financial flows alone make Africa a net creditor to the rest of the world,” she informs. “Tax reforms need to be fit for purpose.”

“I have worked in several positions but none compares to working at Oxfam International where I feel that I can challenge elite capture. I love this job because I can speak truth to power,” she affirms. “Power lies with organised citizens because it is through solidarity that power shifts. Africa is the youngest region yet the oldest and by the year 2030 we will see a demographic dividend. My hope is that we will have halved the tax gap and these resources will be channelled to health, education and social protection thus investing in Africa’s true wealth, her people.”

This article is based on a LSE Public Lecture with Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. Follow this link to listen to the full lecture.

Article Originally posted on Africa at LSE 

I long for an Africa…

I long for an Africa where we no longer are shackled from our past, a continent no longer riddled with death, destruction and disease; A continent where children and adults alike are rooted in their being, that being a people of diverse and rich history, resource wealth, immense kindness and profound intellect. A people rooted in the essence of who they’ve always been.

I long to see a continent that exemplifies Ubuntu; an inner and outer knowing that I AM BECAUSE WE ARE. Socially one, politically and economically integrated, no longer plagued by the vices of corruption, class division and that imminent disease…individualism.

I long to see an Africa where the child born this hour in Ghana and the one born within the next in Lesotho are healthy and wealthy not because of aristocracy or other family affiliations, but because of the immense wealth generated by the governments and the governed through legitimate egalitarian systems of development.

I long for the day when my friend Ines from Cape Verde, will call to give me the good news of her newly born child and I will readily and easily hop onto the next flight unfettered by cost or connection; a continent wide unmatched strong infrastructural system. That when Patrigue from DRC calls to inform on the same, I will be elated from it as well as at the ease at which she was able to deliver. That her health is of top priority to the government. That her well being before, during and after child birth have been catered to, same goes to her husband. Maternal deaths and child mortality a thing of the past.

I long for an Africa where leaders have a proclivity for action over rhetoric. That they will continuously strive to build a strong nationhood, unbridled by external forces. That they will do this first among themselves and then with pragmatic partners continuously and tirelessly, with utmost dedication,discipline and zeal.

That one day the East Asian Tigers will finally remark with exasperation and joy, “What took you this long?” “Let us forge on!”

I long for the day my yet to be born children will tell me of their ambitions to be budding entrepreneurs in Lagos, Banjul and Abidjan and I will wish them well with unwavering confidence, not because of favoritism in the system but because of a robust, healthy and competitive African market that inspires and rewards innovation and creativity.

That when the world looks on and marvels at this continent, they will immerse themselves in the beauty of our transformation, the beauty of our well written and documented stories, because after all….behind the glory there’s always a profound story.

I earnestly long for an Africa that is integrated, prosperous and at peace with itself.

Ten reasons why 2015 is a crucial year for Africa

Source: Africa Progress Panel

Lessons from South Africa

Pic: Afronline.org

I still am at a loss for words on the xenophobic attacks in South Africa and have engaged with a number of friends in this discussion in the last couple of days. Some have voiced that it is quite obvious on why this happened and indeed keeps happening; increased inequality, lack of jobs and poverty levels in the country. Others have blamed it on a poor education system in South Africa while others have pinned it on the growing ineptitude in  leadership both within and out of the country. A former member of parliament from Zimbabwe recently came out vehemently blaming the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, for the unfortunate events because scores of Zimbabwean refugees have found themselves helpless and hopeless in a country that they envisioned to deliver them out of these very misgivings when they ran away from their native homes due to a collapsed economy. Indeed all these observations are true but I still can’t grapple with how one would pick a machete or light a fire to cause harm to one’s fellow brother and sister. Is this what we have become? A continent doomed to display the 4 D’s? Death, Disaster, Destruction and Disease? Is this what we are destined to be? Hopeless?

I like many of you are angry, this is both unacceptable and a grave embarrassment. South Africa which is seen to be a big brother to many nations across the continent could and should have done better! I pray that the families there do receive optimum security and that even those being evacuated may one day return to their jobs with renewed hope and dexterity. One school of thought believes that creating more jobs will stop this menacing attacks but I tend to disagree.

One hard lesson that South Africa has taught a couple of us is that rating economic progress in its individuality is regressive. A country cannot be successful without the success of its people and I do not mean success in the economic sense. No amount of jobs can teach a nation to be tolerant, compassionate and ethical to their fellow man. It takes conscious undoing of imbibed warped social ideologies to do this. Borrowing from Kwame Nkrumah, one of our founding fathers, independence from colonialism is not independence in its entirety, independence stems from the mind and Africans alike need to begin having difficult dialogues on who we are as a people. One cannot know where they are going as a continent if we cannot address our past and the challenges that come with it. For those of us with siblings we know that from time to time our older loved ones do need to be held accountable where they have failed, or even told off when they are out of line. Sometimes it also calls for tough love and assistance. South Africa cannot deal with this challenge alone. Does addressing our past mean a complete repudiation of colonial ideologies that are embedded in identities? Or does it mean embracing the old and finding solutions to it? What does Pan-Africanism mean to you and I? Our brother’s down south have posed us with a great number of questions.

All the misery on the planet arises due to a personalized sense of ‘me’ or ‘us’. That covers up the essence of who you are. When you are unaware of that inner essence, in the end you always create misery. It’s as simple as that. When you don’t know who you are, you create a man-made self as a substitute for your beautiful divine being and cling to that fearful and needy self. Protecting and enhancing that false sense of self then becomes your primary motivating force.”- Eckhart Tolle

Women’s Liberation and the African freedom struggle

BY THOMAS SANKARA
The question of women’s equality must be in the minds of all decision-makers, at all times, and in all the different phases of conceiving and executing plans for development. Conceiving a development project without the participation of women is like using only four fingers when you have ten. It’s an invitation to failure.

In the ministries responsible for education, we should take special care to assure that women’s access to education is a reality, for this reality constitutes a qualitative step toward emancipation. It is an obvious fact that wherever women have had access to education, their march to equality has been accelerated. Emerging from the darkness of ignorance allows women to take up and use the tools of knowledge in order to place themselves at the disposal of society. All ridiculous and backward concepts that hold that only education for males is important and profitable, and that educating women is an extravagance, must disappear in Burkina Faso.

Parents should accord the same attention to the progress of their daughters at school as they do to their sons, their pride and joy. Girls have proven they are the equals of boys at school, if not simply better. But above all they have the right to education in order to learn and know—to be free. In future literacy campaigns, the rate of participation by women must be raised to correspond with their numerical weight in the population. It would be too great an injustice to maintain such an important part of the population—half of it—in ignorance.

In the ministries responsible for labor and justice, texts should constantly be adapted to the transformation our society has been going through since August 4, 1983, so that equality between men and women is a tangible reality. The new labor code, now being drawn up and debated, should express how profoundly our people aspire to social justice. It should mark an important stage in the work of destroying the neocolonial state apparatus—a class apparatus fashioned and shaped by reactionary regimes to perpetuate the system that oppressed the popular masses, especially women.

How can we continue to accept that a woman doing the same job as a man should earn less? Can we accept the levirate* and dowries, which reduce our sisters and mothers to common commodities to be bartered for? There are so many things that medieval laws continue to impose on our people, on women. It is only just that, finally, justice be done….

As we go forward, our society should break from all those feudal conceptions that lead to ostracizing the unmarried woman, without realizing that this is merely another form of appropriation, which decrees each woman to be the property of a man. This is why young mothers are looked down upon as if they were the only ones responsible for their situation, whereas there is always a guilty man involved. This is how childless women are oppressed due to antiquated beliefs, when there is a scientific explanation for their infertility, which science can overcome.

In addition, society has imposed on women norms of beauty that violate the integrity of their bodies, such as female circumcision, scarring, the filing of teeth, and the piercing of lips and noses. Practicing these norms of beauty is of dubious value. In the case of female circumcision, it can even endanger a woman’s ability to have children and her love life. Other types of bodily mutilation, though less dangerous, such as the piercing of ears and tattoos, are no less an expression of women’s conditioning, imposed by society if a woman wants to find a husband. Comrade militants, you look after yourselves in order to win a husband. You pierce your ears and do violence to your body in order to be acceptable to men. You hurt yourselves so that men can hurt you even more! …

Comrades, no revolution—starting with our own—will triumph as long as women are not free. Our struggle, our revolution will be incomplete as long as we understand liberation to mean essentially that of men. After the liberation of the proletariat, there remains the liberation of women.

Comrades, every woman is the mother of a man. I would not presume, as a man and as a son, to give advice to a woman or to indicate which road she should take. This would be like giving advice to one’s own mother. But we know, too, that out of indulgence and affection, a mother listens to her son, despite his whims, his dreams, and his vanity. And this is what consoles me and makes it possible for me to address you here. This is why, comrades, we need you in order to achieve the genuine liberation of us all. I know you will always find the strength and the time to help us save our society.

Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence. I hear the roar of women’s silence. I sense the rumble of their storm and feel the fury of their revolt. I await and hope for the fertile eruption of the revolution through which they will transmit the strength and the rigorous justice issued from their oppressed wombs.

Comrades, forward to conquer the future.
The future is revolutionary.
The future belongs to those who struggle.
Homeland or death, we will win!


* The levirate is a marriage in which the widow weds a brother of the deceased, with varying degrees of compulsion.

This is an excerpt from Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle by Thomas Sankara. Sankara was the central leader of the popular democratic revolution in the West African country of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) from 1983 to 1987. This excerpt is from a talk he gave to several thousand women commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8, 1987, in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital. Copyright © 1990 by Pathfinder Press.

Article Cross posted from The Militant

Moving from early Pan-Africanism towards an African Renaissance

Like the famous mythical Sankofa bird symbol, Africans must look into their past to create their future; acknowledging our previous mistakes and learning from them but also celebrating our successes and building on them.

A focus on African Renaissance gives an opportunity to reflect on Africa’s self-reliance trajectory and the need to demystify, appropriate and popularize our history, our shared values, and our narrative about the state of Africa today, in honor of the generations that went before us and to inspire current and future generations.

Pan-Africanism at its inception was more than just a search for racial or geographic identity. Initially led and popularized by Africans in the Diaspora such as Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois, it was a clear rejection of the laughable fallacy that Africans did not have a history. It was also a strong refutation of the mindset that defined Africa and Africans from the perspective of the historical experience of slavery, colonialism and racial discrimination.  Rather it was the affirmation of the rich cultural heritage of African societies and the importance of achieving freedom and continental unity.

Since then the concept of Pan-Africanism has continued to evolve, measured by the challenges and aspirations of the African continent. During the independence period, this ideology enabled Africans to overcome domination and oppression by ending colonialism and apartheid in the continent. The possibility of rapid socio-economic transformation of the continent was another goal promoted from early days. As noted by Emperor Hailé Selassié during the launch of the OAU, “Unless the political liberty for which Africans have for long struggled is complemented and bolstered by a corresponding economic and social growth, the breath of life which sustains our freedom may flicker out.” This statement still rings true. [1]

Despite strong political mobilization for the liberation from oppression, Africa has failed to fulfill its full potential. It is well known that in the early 1960s, at the time of the establishment of the OAU, there was high optimism that the continent will perform well. Several African countries were at par or had even higher GDP rates than their counterparts in Asia. It is now common place to mention that, the GDP per capita of Ghana and South Korea were at the same level in 1960. Up until 1975, the fastest growing developing country in the world was Gabon. Botswana’s growth rate exceeded that of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Thailand. Despite the optimism of the time, Africa failed to complete the transformation journey which Asia has to a large degree now traversed. While East Asia’s share in world global exports grew from 2.25 % to 17.8% over a period of 40 years (1970 to 2010), Africa’s share in world global exports drastically reduced from 4.99% to the current 3.33%. This led to Africa being called the ‘hopeless continent’, ‘a scar on the conscience of humanity’ and many other Hegelian fallacies.

As we entered the 21st century, Pan-Africanism reflected Africa’s conscious need for not only political independence, regional integration and the improvements of its living standards, but also the throwing of the shackles of economic bondage and democratic stagnation that had seen it reverse the short lived prosperity of the independence era. This meant devising a new economic positioning and new forms of partnership in which Africa, as an equal partner, would negotiate with the rest of the world, with fierce defense of its own defined priorities.  Without losing the key elements of unity, cultural heritage and freedom, the reinterpretation of Pan-Africanism in the form of an African Renaissance is very relevant. It is a new phase that requires popular participation and mobilization of the African people behind the goals of structural transformation and improved governance.  Indeed, Africa’s Renaissance can only be complete when the African voice will be heard and taken into account.

The relevance of the Pan-Africanism ideal, and its continuous attraction to intellectuals both on the continent and in the Diaspora, will be measured by the ability to adjust to new demands and new generations. Indeed, the ability to continue to provide inspiration and conviction to Africans across ages is the trade mark of Pan-Africanism. Thankfully, things have changed for the better since the turn of the century. Six out of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa, there is a marked reduction in the number and size of conflicts in the continent, democratic governance and the respect of human dignity are on the rise. Africa is therefore ripe for change. It must seize this moment for re-strategizing.

The AU’s proclaimed vision is for ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena’. Laudable in its aspirations, what guarantees do we have that it will not remain rhetoric? We must ask ourselves how we reach these goals.Agenda 2063 identifies the prerequisites for Africa’s sustained transformation in clear and unambiguous terms and offers a reinterpretation of the continent’s trajectory and claim the 21st century as Africa’s!

What might draw Africa back from achieving its objectives?

In pursuing any bold transformation, there are a few risks that must be appreciated and tackled head on. Current challenges facing any developing countries are very different from past two decades. These include addressing borderless problems such as the impact of climate change, creating jobs while building an educated and innovative workforce, tackling the scourge of disease, famine and conflicts, as well as ensuring that Africa’s vast natural resource wealth benefits its people. Economic inequality, expanding opportunities for all, reducing illiteracy and creating the enabling conditions for the growth development and protection of nascent local industries are just a few examples of a myriad of tasks that will certainly continue to drag Africa down in the world scales.

Towards an African Renaissance.

One thing is sure; Africa must act very differently, if it is going to take advantage of the current momentum. African leaders need a paradigm shift in their thinking. This transformation has already begun and it shows itself in diverse ways. For example, the perceptible change in the orientation of current African leaders from a dependence on external aid and external actors to an Afro-centric and internal support system.In an interview he granted in 1993, Issa Diallo questioned the rationale behind Africans expecting foreigners to build their countries for them[2]. An aid dependence mentality is slowly giving a space to a more assertive leadership.

Starting from the original OAU Charter, there already existed a myriad of resolutions, treaties, accords and inter-governmental agreements to sustain Africa’s ambitions. What is needed now is for African leaders to move their agenda forward. The advantages of regional integration were recognised by Africans through the Pan-African ideology long before others and even longer before the term ‘globalisation’ was coined. The OAU’s creation simply reflected this awareness. The benefits of regional cooperation – increased investment, sustainability, consolidation of economic and political reforms, increased global competitiveness, prevention of conflict- are accepted, but sometimes just that: accepted.

If Africa is going to own its narrative, it has to preserve its policy space and try out its own development approaches. Renaissance means ‘revival’ or ‘rebirth’ and in the context of its usage now, not only offers an opportunity to awaken the spirit of Africa in the 21st century, but also a rallying call to rid the continent of poverty, instability, corruption and neglect. This new mindset means the need to rethink the traditional models of growth and development. In conclusion, the spirit of African unity is alive. It still lives amongst Africans. As Patrice Lumumba said so long ago, ‘The day will come when History will speak… Africa will write its own history… It will be a history of glory and dignity. Long live Africa!![3]

[1] ECA, AU. 2013. Celebrating success: Africa’s voice over 50 Years 1963-2013. Speech of Emperor Haile Selassie during the inauguration of the OAU in 1963
[2] Interview with Issa Diallo in ‘The Courier’ Jan 1992. http://collections.infocollections.org/ukedu/uk/d/Jec131e/1.1.html
[3] Patrice Lumumba, 1961. Letter from Thysville Prison to Mrs. Lumumba.http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/lumumba/1961/xx/letter.htm

By Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary Economic Commission for Africa

Article Cross Posted from the Executive Secretary’s Blog

Marxism and Anti-Imperialism in Africa: Letter from Thysville Prison to Mrs. Lumumba

My dear wife,

I am writing these words to you, not knowing whether they will ever reach you, or whether I shall be alive when you read them.

Throughout my struggle for the independence of our country I have never doubted the victory of our sacred cause, to which I and my comrades have dedicated all our lives.

But the only thing which we wanted for our country is the right to a worthy life, to dignity without pretence, to independence without restrictions.

This was never the desire of the Belgian colonialists and their Western allies, who received, direct or indirect, open or concealed, support from some highly placed officials of the United Nations, the body upon which we placed all our hope when we appealed to it for help.

They seduced some of our compatriots, bought others and did everything to distort the truth and smear our independence.

What I can say is this—alive or dead, free or in jail—it is not a question of me personally.

The main thing is the Congo, our unhappy people, whose independence is being trampled upon.

That is why they have shut us away in prison and why they keep us far away from the people. But my faith remains indestructible.

I know and feel deep in my heart that sooner or later my people will rid themselves of their internal and external enemies, that they will rise up as one in order to say ‘No’ to colonialism, to brazen, dying colonialism, in order to win their dignity in a clean land.

We are not alone. Africa, Asia, the free peoples and the peoples fighting for their freedom in all corners of the world will always be side by side with the millions of Congolese who will not give up the struggle while there is even one colonialist or colonialist mercenary in our country.

To my sons, whom I am leaving and whom, perhaps, I shall not see again, I want to say that the future of the Congo is splendid and that I expect from them, as from every Congolese, the fulfilment of the sacred task of restoring our independence and our sovereignty.

Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.

Cruelty, insults and torture can never force me to ask for mercy, because I prefer to die with head high, with indestructible faith and profound belief in the destiny of our country than to live in humility and renounce the principles which are sacred to me.

The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations.

It will be the history which will be taught in the countries which have won freedom from colonialism and its puppets.

Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.

Do not weep for me. I know that my tormented country will be able to defend its freedom and its independence.

Long live the Congo!

Long live Africa!

Thysville prison

Patrice LUMUMBA

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