Sonala Olumhense writes | Why I am not excited by this week’s USA-AFRICA summit

by Sonala Olumhense

Africa-Jonathan-and-Obama

Hopefully, Washington has a solution for leadership indifference and hypocrisy.  Otherwise this week’s summit has only a relevance span of one month. 

Tomorrow in Washington, DC, the United States hosts the US-Africa Summit, a three-day meeting with Africa’s leaders.  I hope the event is a tremendous success.

I am not sure how that success is to be measured.  Summits tend to end with pious resolutions or declarations: some kind of promissory note that reflects the scripted story of the event.

In that respect, Africa is a wealthy continent, for she owns large mountains of resolutions from summits and conferences.

Hopefully, this week’s summit will not be remembered as just another talk show about Africa, but I am not holding my breath.

We only have to cast our glance back a little bit to remember that following the collapse of the United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s, the international community in 2002 put together the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  I happened to have been present on that occasion in New York as one African leader after another eloquently pledged to ensure the success of NEPAD, and therefore, the development of Africa.

Twelve years later, however, it is difficult to see how NEPAD has transformed the fortunes of Africa.

But there was life before NEPAD, just as there has never been a shortage of multilateral initiatives aimed at attacking the problems of our continent.

Among them: the United Nations System-wide Special Initiative on Africa; the Lome Convention (also known as the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement); the Cairo Plan of Action; the United States’ Partnership for Economic Growth and Opportunity in Africa Initiative; the Tokyo International Conference for African Development; the G8 Okinawa Declaration; the Africa Process and various other processes such as Skagen and Copenhagen and Cotonou.

Of particular significance, world leaders met in New York in the Millennium Summit in 2000.  Following their reflection on the world and the challenge of the future, they issued the Millennium Declaration, upon which the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were subsequently developed.

That was particularly significant for Africa.  No peoples, no continents, and no futures stood to benefit more from the MDGs that those of Africa.

Next year, the MGDs would have run their full course.  Regrettably, of the countries or regions that will declare respectable returns, Africa is unlikely to be listed.  When you think about it, this week’s Summit in Washington DC is proof of that.

Africa’s problems have continued to mount.  We continue to lack infrastructure.  We continue to suffer reverses in health and education.  While some progress has been made in the area of AIDS, which was a dismal concern 15 years ago, corruption and poor governance continue to hamper political and economic development in many African countries.

In other words, 15 years of the MDGs, and the African child still lacks as much basic essentials as hope for the future.

Here is a personal story: In the past couple of months, I have attended several graduation ceremonies in my neck of the woods, and spoken to other families whose graduations I could not attend.  These are African students, many of whom graduated at the top of their classes.

The sad part: few of those graduates want to go to Africa to work or study; none wants to go— or return—to Nigeria, my country.   They all cite such concerns as insecurity, bad governance, infrastructure, and unemployment.

This is not too difficult to understand: In 2002, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo stood before the UN General Assembly and called for an international convention against it.  The UN listened to him, and just the following year, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

The irony is this: three years later, Obasanjo tried to buy himself an unconstitutional third term as Nigeria’s president.

When that failed, he single-handedly chose his successor president and vice-president, and got them into office.  That political lineage will represent Nigeria at the United States summit this week.  It is perhaps little surprise that Nigeria’s current president, despite at least two direct promises to President Barak Obama in the past, is strongly resisting accountability.  It is also of no surprise that sitting close to him will be one of Nigeria’s most ethically-questioned Ministers.

My point is this: it is not a shortage of conferences or summits or resolutions that Africa suffers from.  The principal challenge is that the philosophy of democracy, and the accountability that underpins it, has yet to be accepted by most of Africa’s so-called leaders.  They love to wield the power, but resent the responsibility that comes with it.

I offer one proof: Africa’s four famous Calabashes.

In 1991, the African Leadership Forum, a Nigeria-based non-governmental organization, working with the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations Economic Commission, organized a massive four-day conference, perhaps the most important in post-independence Africa, to focus on Africa’s problems.

Held in Uganda and known as the Kampala Forum, it was attended by well over 500 people, including serving and former African Heads of State and Government.  It deliberated on a proposal to launch a Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA), and adopted the Kampala Document, which is remembered for boldly mapping out a framework for governance and development in Africa into this millennium.

A report of that conference shows that in that same year, the OAU Summit of African Heads of State and government acknowledged in its final communiqué that a link exists between security, stability, development and cooperation on the continent.

The Kampala Document called for a Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA) that would provide a comprehensive framework for Africa’s security and stability, as well as measures for accelerated continental economic integration for socioeconomic transformation.  The CSSDCA established four bundles of issues, called Calabashes: security, stability, development and cooperation.

In each of these areas, the Kampala Document made significant recommendations.  The spirited conference was then over, and forgotten.  That was 23 years ago, and I doubt that the current generation of African leaders even knows anything about it.

The current generation does know all about the MDGs, but look at its abysmal performance on that file over the past 14 years!

This is why there is little thrill for me to applaud this week’s summit.  It is obvious that the post-World War II development infrastructure is broken because it was founded on several false assumptions.   They have left us with two kinds of African nations: those that are poor, and those that do not care.

Hopefully, Washington has a solution for leadership indifference and hypocrisy.  Otherwise this week’s summit has only a relevance span of one month.

That would be when Africa’s leaders again fire up their gleaming jets and return to the United States for more speeches at the United Nations.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

 

Comments (2)

  1. Is it leadership indifference and hypocrisy of African leaders or the manipulation of the inept African leaders by the west to serve their interests against those of Africa?
    Indeed conferences will continue to hold. Else how do they ensure the hold on the jugular is kept firm and sustained for their benefits, to the detriment of Africa ?
    To change the direction, Africans must wake up from the slumber that has overtaken us to the reality of the situation, Africans only will develop Africa and no one else. Otherwise, we continue to provide raw materials as well as being dumping ground for obsolete technologies.

  2. i agree wit u dat it is nt a shortage of conferences and summits dat africa suffers frm. The
    principal challenge is that the philosophy of
    democracy, and the accountability that underpins it,
    has yet to be accepted by most of Africa’s so-called leaders. They love to wield the power, but resent the responsibility that comes with it.

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