Heed Not the Cynics, Africa

Image: Flickr, Steve Cadman
Image: Flickr, Steve Cadman

Africa, Henry Kissinger writes in his book Does America Need a Foreign Policy?, is destined to become 'the festering disaster of our age'. In his view, only the 'moral commitment of the American people and the international community' can save us from that fate.

Many of those whose ‘moral commitment’ Kissinger summons would reflexively accept his underlying premise regardless of whether they were interested in heeding his call. The premise is that Africans lack the capacity to save themselves and must rely upon the kindness of strangers. Conscious or unconscious, this assumption pervades discourse on Africa.

Thus, as six African leaders participated in the recent G-8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia, US, the fifth such consecutive summit to which we were invited, we expected to be portrayed by some as mendicants. This was not the intent, or fault, of our hosts. To the contrary, by making our attendance routine, the leaders of the G-8 have indicated a very real and welcome desire to mainstream Africa into the global agenda.

Nonetheless, in the public imagination of the North, we were still poor relations crashing the party. We can argue about who is to blame for that perception – and we Africans are far from blameless – but on this all surely can agree: Africans will be objects of compassion and contempt until such time as we have become demonstrable masters of our own destiny.

From Miraculous to Commonplace

There will be a time when the democratic transition South Africans achieved 10 years ago will no longer be considered a miracle but instead will be regarded as typical of the inclusive way in which the people of our continent are capable of resolving their deepest differences.

There will be a time when a highly respected columnist for one of America’s best newspapers will not casually dismiss South Africa’s achievements of the past decade as the result of luck, but will point instead to the character of our continent’s people and the substance of the policies of the governments they elect.

There will be a time when the donor-recipient paradigm dies and South Africa will be just one of dozens of countries south of the Sahara able to raise reasonably-priced capital on international debt markets.

It is up to Africans to create the conditions for that to occur. No one can do it for us. But this we can confidently say: The whole world will be better off when the market is as hungry for low-cost debt issued by, say, the Democratic Republic of Congo, as it was for South Africa’s latest 10-year $1 billion global bond, which was oversubscribed at a 1.95% spread over US Treasury Bills and a 6.5% coupon.

An Africa with the capacity to secure the welfare of an economically active population through policies that promote human dignity and economic sustainability will be an Africa in which South Africa is merely typical, not confined – as we still are by some – to the status of historical curio: the so-called miracle. South Africa today, in its undeniable successes, is the product not of magic but of an old-fashioned hard slog and the collective efforts of a serious and productive citizenry.

We ask that the West abandon its hoarding and protectionism. We ask for equitable access to the world’s markets for a highly diversified range of exported goods and services. In such a world there would be space for an Africa with the infrastructure to enable its companies to be fully competitive and to move up the global value chain, an Africa that unlocks and retains the talents and skills of its people.

It will be a continent of nations at peace, within and between themselves, where the scourges of poverty and disease are being effectively and sustainably tamed, where human rights are sacrosanct. It will be a continent that neither breeds nor harbours – but in fact helps to suppress – the terrorism conducted by lawless states and lawless non-state groups, a terrorism that threatens us all.

Brick by Brick

There are no quick fixes or magic panaceas to get us to that point. We ave to build brick by carefully sequenced brick, conscious that mistakes we make in haste now can damage the project for decades, deferring the dream for yet another generation.

So we must be able to set our own priorities based on our own realities, experience and needs, rather than those of foreign donors and the organisations through which they channel their funds. The foundations are being laid. With the African Union, a new generation of African leaders has created a vehicle for continent-wide transformation.

The AU Constitutive Act, which has statutory effect in each member state and will soon be enforceable by the African Court of Justice, commits members to democratic principles and respect for human rights and the rule of law.

In the New Partnership for African Development, we have created, and the international community has accepted, a detailed and unified blueprint for meeting our social and economic goals. To promote good political, economic and corporate governance we have instituted the African Peer Review Mechanism.

In combination, these should be tools that will enable us to make the best possible use of donor funding as an instrument of policy and not a way of life.