Africa’s 5,000 legends, icons & superstars – Africa Day

OPINION – On 25 May 1963, 30 of the 32 independent African states represented at a summit held in Addis Ababa approved a charter creating the Organization of African Unity (OAU), a pan-African organization.

In 1991, the African Economic Community (AEU) was established as an organ of the OAU and in 2002, the African Union (AU) was established.

Tomorrow marks the 46th anniversary of the founding of this noble idea to create a united states of Africa. As we celebrate Africa Day, let us pause to think about the things we have not done and the missed opportunities that could have helped to create the kind of Africa we want to see. I hope we will be able to use tomorrow as a day to celebrate the things that we have not done thinking that it was someone else’s responsibility and not ours. African citizenship imposes obligations on the holders and the question is whether we truly understand our responsibilities to the continent.

The founding fathers of the One Africa project were men of vision who saw strength in diversity, unity and purpose. They were determined to shape the future of a continent poisoned and fragmented by an unjust colonial past but were challenged by an uncertain future in the knowledge that the African brand was indivisible.

Of the 32 leaders who signed the charter in 1963, none are still alive and two of the driving forces of the project, Emperor Haile Selassie and President Kwame Nkrumah fell victim to military takeovers.

Africa Day is celebrated today less because of what Africa has achieved in terms of economic emancipation but in terms of decolonizing the continent as a first step in the quest for a shared future.

What was in the minds of the founding fathers in 1963? How far has their vision been realized? Is there cause for celebration?

On 2 July 1776, the founding father of the United States of America (USA) approved a declaration of independence and this year, the republic will celebrate its 233 years of existence. The project has endured and like any journey has gone through multiple peaks and depressions. Its setback and mistakes has helped shape America into a civilization of opportunity and promise that last year made it possible for an unlikely face and name to be the first African American to be elected President.

Yes, the world is going through a correction and what is clear is that a civilization that encourages human creativity and ingenuity will endure. The genius of America was in its construction as a multicultural theatre of human endeavor where people from different heritages could melt in one pot to produce a solid rainbow civilization. However, the implementation of the noble idea called America was demonic in that it was race-based rather than merit driven but the system was structured is such a manner that change could be realized through peaceful struggles and not military takeovers. By expanding the perimeter of opportunity, it was then possible to assimilate new stakeholders whose interests, values and principles were vital in informing the future.

What cannot be denied is that at the core of the noble idea that created the USA was an appreciation that human beings value freedom, justice and equality. More importantly that a nation of laws can be created and with the right environment, ordinary human beings can accomplish extraordinary outcomes.

At its foundation, the USA was a concept that could only grow if people believed in it. The best minds were welcome to be part of the project. Success was celebrated. It is common cause that success attracts attention and the fact that America was able to climb the ladder of human development positioned the country to be an enduring vacuum cleaner of global intellectual capital. Good minds were and are still inspired by the American promise.

Notwithstanding its current challenges, there is no doubt that no other human civilization has been able to aggregate 300 million people to make the kind of impact that Americans have made since the journey began from humble beginnings. When the founding father adopted the declaration of independence they were serious about independence unlike many who rushed to raise the flag of independence while constructing a future of dependency. What is instructive is that the future of America has been determined less by state action and foreign aid but by the actions of individual citizens.

The viability of any nation state is directly related to the contribution of citizens in terms of tax. Regrettably, Africa has not been able to escape the aid dependency syndrome and most of its states were brain dead in that they relied for stability more on the benevolence of the former colonial powers than on the contribution of citizens.

An open society inspires hope but a society founded on a weak institutional foundation cannot expect to capture the imagination of progressive citizens. The responsibility to make a civilization work rests with citizens who after all are and should be the custodians of any nation-state building enterprise.

I think it is important to contextualize my comments above. In using the USA as an example, it is not my intention to make the case that it has been a perfect civilization. What cannot be denied, however, is that the model has delivered what it was expected to offer to the target groups and later to the unlikely beneficiaries including President Obama and many other people of color who have managed to climb the opportunity ladder. In many countries, it is not unusual for the opportunity ladder to be thrown away so that the people in the valley remain poor and hopeless while the connected climb on makeshift ladders. The racial injury is accepted as a poison pill in what could have been a good demonstration case on how to build nations.

With respect to Africa, the wealth remains concentrated in the hands of the minority. Very few black Africans have made it to the top. Africa’s past makes it difficult for people to rise above racial categorization and labeling. Those who have climbed the political ladder rarely want other citizens to even dream of assuming the same position. Glass ceiling are erected so are personality cults cultivated to ensure that the highest office in many African states is reserved for a special class of citizens.

With a few at the top of the economic and political ladders, it has been difficult to inspire hope among the majority who remain trapped in the valley of despair.

After 53 years of independence, I am confident that it is possible to still identify at least 5,000 reasons why we should celebrate the journey travelled so far hence the Banking on Africa’s Future (BOAF) – 5,000 Points of Light (POL) initiative.

When we look up we rarely take time to pause and reflect on what kind of Africa we want to see. I have accepted that Africa belongs to all who live in it. Its heritage is a shared one and cannot be simplistically reduced to a skin color based one for there have and continue to be people who are not black but are passionate about the continent and whose lives have made a bigger impact on the continent that many of us who call ourselves more African without anything to show for it.

The law of gravity dictates that what it means to be African must necessarily have a black aspect to it. The continent’s stability lies in our collective ability to point at and document all the success stories that have been registered in the continent. The future of white South Africans lies on their ability to see the future as a shared one and assist in building bridges and bridging the gaps that may exist in terms of knowledge, capital and execution. We must accept that we know little about the people who have contributed immensely to make Africa the kind of civilization we see today. We need to know the stories of all Africans and place them in a continuum of human attempts to make life easier and meaningful.

The concept of what it means to be an African is and must be broader than just restricted to black people who were and are born in Africa. It should and must embrace all the faces, voices and experiences that define what it means to be African. The face of an African need not be the face that you see on your mirror when you look at yourself. We must accept that the face of an African can be different from what one looks like.

White Africans must accept that there is little that they can do to change what they look like in as much as black Africans cannot defy the law of nature. What is evident is that all black skinned persons automatically qualify to be Africans and their success or failure has a direct bearing on the quality and value of the African brand. Accordingly, a project that aims to identify African progress and success must embrace all people who help to change the perception in Africa that one needs to be white to be economically privileged in a sustainable manner.

What is instructive is that many of the services and goods that are exchanged in the African market place, are produced by the very people we have and are failing to embrace as Africans.

If we are serious about the kind of Africa we want to see then we have to start by acknowledging that the choices we make at the transaction point are what determines whether Africa remains permanently contaminated by its unjust past or can rise above such limitations to embrace the best in humanity.

I have been encouraged by the response to the BOAF-5,000POL initiative. I do hope that through this initiative we will be able to discover the best that Africa has and is offering to humanity. In being part of the initiative, I am acutely conscious that the integration of Africa can be accelerated by our own ability to realize that working together we can create the kind of Africa that we want to see.

After 53 years of uhuru, can you name, for example, the lawyer, accountant, doctor, businessman, politician, sports person, musician, etc whose life best projects the kind of Africa you want to see. We need to know and encourage those that inspire us so that his(tory) becomes the story of human beings who pursuing their own self interest have contributed to creating the best that humanity can offer.