Views on contemporary African issues in an interview by Explo Nani-Kofi from Radio GFM

On Tuesday 23/8/2011 Radio GFM interviewed Ambrose Nzeyimana, on a number of African issues in their programme ‘Another World Is Possible.’ Covered topics included resources, development, unification of the continent, African diaspora, governance, external interventions in Africa, impact of global financial crisis on the continent, and ways forward. The radio programme offers a platform where Africa and Africans speak with the world. The following is an edited version of the interview.

1. To what extent do you see the African continent to be properly utilizing its resources – minerals, human and others?

There is some evidence confirming that Africa is trying to address its problems more than this was the case in the past. As early as the beginning of this century, particularly in 2000, Africa as continent moved away from its usual defeatist state of mind to an ambitious spirit, ready to challenge and overcome most of the barriers which kept countries away from utilizing effectively their resources (minerals, available skills among their people, government taxes, etc). Strategic reforms at the continental institutions’ levels were laid down for the necessary change: AU, NEPAD framework and Peer Committees for African leaders assessing governments how well they are doing on different important fronts for sustainable development. African countries faced a variety of challenges. These included wars, political and social conflicts, bad governance, lack of democracy, lack of entrepreneurship, etc.  Almost a decade after the rest of the world has acknowledged an initial and positive ground of what is possible on the continent. Today Africa is considered as the next frontier, where everyone is rushing from Brazil, China, Russia, India and Western countries. And the overall outcome is encouraging. But a lot remains to be done. It has only been a beginning in that sector of utilizing effectively African resources.

2. What do you think can be done better in this area?

  • Africans (leaders and citizens) need to be more resolute and bold in tackling African problems. The positive outlook the continent has achieved in terms of financial and economic performance of the last decade or so was only possible because Africans themselves decided to take responsibility. In fact, real GDP rose 4.9 per cent per year from 2000 through 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and ‘90s. Praise should go to Tabu Mbeki of South Africa and Abdulaye Wade of Senegal. They led their peers on that path of African recovery. That path needs to be revisited and reinvigorated as regularly as possible.  If this had been the case, there won’t have been situations like Ivory Coast or Libya.
  • More transparency is required in accessing power and managing public affairs. Accountability has to become the norm not the exception in African civic life. Term in office should be limited to 4 years and only 8 years maximum. Africa cannot afford any more ground for rebel movements which are the consequence of bad governance translated through leaders who don’t want to leave office.
  • We need to invest more in national and intercontinental infrastructures and education, and less in armies. A sort of African Marshal Plan is required particularly to tackle the serious problem of transport across the continent.  African Centres for Excellence are necessary to devise adapted paths for the continent development, learn from those countries that have been there before and avoid mistakes they committed in the process.

3. Do you have any proposals for how Africa can accelerate and protect the development of its resources against global predators?

  • The sooner Africa becomes one economic entity with one currency, a central bank, an African army, a common market, the better. This unity of action needs to start immediately, if it hasn’t already, with African governments which have democratic traditions, good governance and respect human rights. Others would join at different stages. Investments in industries of transformation of resources, in infrastructures, education, health, technology, etc and common defense would contribute to speeding up overall development
  • Global predators as I understand are all these multinationals (American, European, Chinese, Indian, Canadian, etc) backed by their respective governments which are criss-crossing the world chasing minerals and other resources on the cheap, sometime fomenting or supporting bad governance to get them. After they have transformed them, they come back to our African states selling us expensive products with components made out of our raw materials. We need well managed cartels for producers of resources originating from our countries. We need to dictate the right price and put in place mechanisms and policies to transform our resources locally as far as possible.  Individual countries may lack the expertise and finance to achieve that, but through partnerships of several countries, involving public and private interests, this would become feasible.

4. You were one of the delegates at the historic conference of African migrants in Europe in January 2011 in Tripoli, Libya. How did you think that conference was going to contribute toward Africa unity and progress?

  • The conference was one step out of many President Gaddafi had initiated in the past trying to unify the continent.
  • As it brought together the African diaspora from all the corners of the world (Africa, Europe, Americas, Asia, Australia, etc), I hoped Africans in general and particularly those living outside the mother continent, more than at any other time, were going to understand the role that the diaspora should play towards African unity and progress.
  • Africans leave their home countries for different reasons: wars, persecution, study, and work. While away, the majority of them send home money to support families. There are many African countries whose migrants’ remittances constitute a significant fraction of their foreign currencies.
  • The Tripoli conference was a waking call for African migrants around the world to get more organized and think more of Africa as our motherland, make people play more their part, not thinking that it should be somebody else’s responsibility. Most of us would do anything for the good of our mothers.

5. How do you think the possible overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya will impact negatively on Africa’s development?

  • Since the very beginning of the campaign against Libya I have claimed that what NATO and involved countries were after was not primarily that country or its resources, but more importantly the initiatives Gaddafi had initiated and were ongoing for the benefit of the African continent.  As he was doing in Libya, his government owned its resources and dictated how they would be used for the benefit of Libyans. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most African countries, where wealth is either owned by tiny elite and or shared between those elite and external interests.
  • Gaddafi’s overthrow will stop the funding of many projects that Libya supported on the African continent, and most significantly the African Union. Many other African countries received substantial funds from Libya. Will this continue? I have some doubts. Gaddafi was too Africanist to be seriously hated by those who killed previous Africanists before him: Nkrumah, Lumumba, Sankara.
  • The only chance of outdoing the negative impact of Gaddafi’s overthrow is counting on the potentiality of many Africanists out there, who need getting into his footsteps. He paid the price. There is no gain without pain. Those who kill Africanists work day and night, 24/7, 365 days a year. Africans to defend their continent need to work as hard as their detractors, if not more. The bombing of Libya has not stopped since it started in March this year. It was day and night.

6. It seems it is becoming clear that Africa is impotent in stopping western-instigated regime change in various African countries as we have seen in Ivory Coast and Libya now. What do you think is the solution to this problem?

The only solution is to make Africa become one. This is the only way that Africans will understand that an attack of one state by an outsider means an attack to the continent, their motherland. Of course a campaign of making Africans feel more belonging to Africa than to their narrow tribes or nations, need to be effectively pursued.

7.    At present some say that there is shortage of skills on the African continent whilst there are so many Africans with the needed skills living outside Africa. Why is this so and what proposals do you have for solving this problem?

  • I explained earlier the reason why people leave Africa. When they get in America, Canada, Europe, and other places, the majority of them settle there because conditions back home are not conducive to their return. The same reasons which make them leave in the first place don’t change much. Consequently, they settle, study, and a fraction of them gain employment, but the majority are unemployed and hold postgraduate qualifications.

8.Explain how you see Africa’s chances in facing a global crisis such as the current one affecting financial markets more effectively.

  • Africa should stop from being passive in many global events which affect it undoubtedly. We had the credit crunch in 2008 with bad loans from banks. In 2011 we have major Western governments (US, Italy, Spain, Greece, etc) incapable of paying back loans they have taken from banks.
  • I may be wrong on this, but if since the last crisis, African central banks, economists, academics, business people, development agents, have not come together to assess the impact and help devise protective mechanisms against these replete crisis, people need to be fired somewhere.
  • For example, it is inconceivable that African countries continue to receive aid from donor countries which are faced themselves with acute social problems and funding cuts. The whole situation does not make sense.
  • Presently, Africans nations are better positioned to name their terms in a number of areas. And aid sector is one of them. Everyone wants to do business with Africa. It’s up to Africans to get rid of their mentality of dependency.
  • Lastly, and not least, global financial markets, the way they operate it is like a casino for gamblers. Does Africa really want to build its future on speculation?

9. Kindly explain how you think that Africa can protect its resources by getting most out of them through local transformation.

  • Radical approaches need to be adopted. Unless AU or African citizens themselves take the lead on that front, otherwise it will be difficult. What has been happening in that sector is that each African country is approached individually by global predators and or their respective governments. Since most African governments are corrupt, terms of contracts are negotiated at the expense of national interests.
  • AU can set the directives that should be followed by individual countries. For example stating that such mineral or other resources cannot leave the continent if they have not been transformed locally or by another African country up to such a particular level; or getting African companies have important stakes in multinationals which are transforming the continent’s resources.
  • Africa had in 2008 a combined consumer spending of $860 billion. If Africans have the power to buy, why African governments don’t produce or transform locally up to a certain stage at least. I consider there to be some irresponsibility on the part of African leaders. There are challenges to overcome but not impossible problems.

10. How necessary is it to bring African countries together so that they can work together? What will this achieve?

  • It is the only possible way of survival of the continent as a relatively independent entity. What we experience today in Africa is a multitude of countries which are so dependent to the West and corrupt that they serve neither their people’s interests, nor the continent. African leaders may not be ready for that unity that many of us long for. African citizens need to get them there.
  • Europe is gearing to become one entity soon even with its own government, this  following a recent suggestion from Sarkozy, the French president. This was in the aftermath of the initial shocks of the ongoing global financial crisis. Individually, European countries cannot face it effectively. Consequently, it is becoming critically vital for Europe to operate as a government and not as individual countries. Now if this is the best way of being effective in addressing important issues, for those African leaders who learn or borrow many practices from the West, why would it be a bad initiative for Africa to operate in the framework of a continental government?
  • Africa Unity under one government, one parliament, one military command, one continental criminal tribunal, one common market, and continental policies on infrastructures, technology, education, energy, climate change, etc will make the continent’s voice accounted for among other world groupings.

11.You participated in a protest recently on Hands Off Africa in London. What do you think was the achievement of this protest and what foundation has it laid for the future?

  • Yes on August 10th, I was with other brothers and sisters Africans in a public demonstration in front of the American Embassy in London – UK. The theme of the protest was Hands Off Africa. The message was to tell the US government and other countries interfering in African affairs that we Africans disapprove of a number of actions they pursue on the continent. For example, the bombing of Libya through NATO, AFRICOM (the US Military Command for Africa), unconditional support of African dictators who kill their compatriots in millions, not hundreds of thousands, but continue being supported by the West as long as they serve Western interests.
  •  Organizers of the demonstration confirmed that in the future there were many more planned demonstrations at other embassies. Africans who really care about their motherland are warmly invited.

12. We have been informed that you are an Executive member of the Ubuntu Pan African Network which started on face book. How do you see the chances of this group actively contributing to bringing the various ideas you are talking about into fruition?

  • There are many good things that can be achieved using social media and new technologies in general. The world is changing faster than never before. Ubuntu Pan African Network started in May 2011. It is a forum of pan Africanists, people in this specific context who see Africa as one and are willing to do whatever it will take to get that vision accomplished.
  • There are many people bringing ideas on the drawing board. There are many challenges to overcome, but also plenty of opportunities
  • We are optimistic and confident in the spirit around in the forum. There is a momentum for action that everyone needs to help guide in the right direction.
  • Please don’t miss the train. Change to Africa is coming. We are inviting Africans wherever they are, on the continent or in Europe, America, Canada, and Australia, and other parts of the world to play your part.

13. What are your last few words for our listeners tonight?

In life, we pursue many things. In some we succeed and others we fail. But what we generally want by doing all that is to live a decent and fulfilling life. Martin Luther King said: ‘if you haven’t found something you are willing to die for, you are not fit to live.’

Can Africa be that something you can die for? If not can you find something else, which can make you be fit to live?

Ambrose Nzeyimana is an
Africanist and Human Rights activist. He coordinates Organising for Africa, an organisation and a plaform advocating continental solutions rather than national to problems the continent faces in its development. He is also member of the Executive Committee of Ubuntu Pan African Network.

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