There is this joke told in Ghana about a middle aged person (can be male or female) who is writing an exam with other (mostly younger) students for prospective entry into the university. Toward the end of the exam the character asks for extra paper but is given less than the number asked for by the invigilator. Afterward this friend of ours protests to those who will listen: “in 2000, they [the invigilators] gave much more extra sheets. In 2001 they gave plenty extra sheets again. From 2002 to 2012 they continued to give a lot of extra sheets. So why not 2013???” Most Ghanaians have heard and understand the joke (I won’t be surprised if there are variations in other West African countries at least), and the punch-line concerns the fact that the person has taken extra paper (ostensibly to write more which should guarantee success) yet repeatedly fails and still does not understand why. I will return to this joke later but most of you probably see the connection already.
The African Union observes its Golden Jubilee today, and the response to the anniversary is the usual disillusionment, annoyance and the general “so what” question. One cannot blame people for being so disenchanted with a body whose biggest achievement is to meet regularly in spite of (if not because of) the coups, economic challenges, disease, etc.
That the AU is a symptomatic embodiment of problems plaguing the continent should be no surprise; if it is made up of over 50 relatively failed states then it is 50 times the problems of any African country. You can argue semantics over the denotation/connotation of a failed state but the reality is that abject failure in the majority of the constituent countries makes for grim reading. The AU was also borne out of the creation of the modern African state which many have argued was doomed to fail from the start because of artificial borders, colonialism, foreign structures, etc. Thus in terms of past, present and future the word that recurs is “problematic”.
It is easy to reel off the usual suspects who have brought the continent so low: the Western/Chinese donors who fling a dollar and rake back $5-$8; the leaders who gleefully grasp that dollar and let ten cents fall out of their greedy hands; the populace who fight over the residual ten cents and then beg for more from the leaders who beg the foreign donors who seize the opportunity. Whether these groups are not necessarily mutually exclusive or monolithic in their make-up is not as crucial as examining how the populace especially can appropriate agency to their own ends.
In the meantime peruse the objectives of the AU: http://www.au.int/en/about/nutshell
Read them out loud one by one, and you might laugh halfway through. The venerable people who crafted this save the best for last with Number 14 (To work with relevant international partners in the eradication of preventable diseases and the promotion of good health on the continent), boasting of the need to “work with” (read “rely heavily on”) “international partners” to eradicate “preventable diseases” (not even the wild diseases, mind you). Needless to say, out of 14, they/we score a clean and shiny zero if we grade according to the high standards we deserve. We can take the easy way out though: use words like “gradual” (in point 12) to redeem a point; or compare the present to the tragic past. Is the AU achieving great things? If they are then their PR machine is useless. Or maybe I live under an African rock. But I digress.
So the African Union is 50. Good for them. Let them enjoy their per diem and sit in the resplendent air-conditioned Chinese built edifice in Addis to agree that the next time they sit in the said air-conditioned edifice is the best time to discuss the next time they can do what they are in power (by vote or gun) for.
The major significance of Africa Day for me is a time to reflect on Africa itself and not the AU which as I have said, is a representation of magnified failure. Africa itself is much older and despite its problems there is greatness – past, present and future.
As I rant there is an abundance of the proverbial hope: people are doing wonderful things all over the continent and it is heartwarming to see publicity of some of these projects which cut across all spheres – geographical, political, national, social, economic, cultural, religious, etc. I hope such people will continue to strive in the face of challenges. I will dedicate full blog posts to such people in due course because they deserve more than mere mention. Africans abroad are also generally contributing their quota to development back home while helping improve the image of the African in their respective settler countries.
These are good things which remind us that the people who will propel (or are propelling) Africa in the right direction are the ordinary people. While it is tempting to be co-opted into the quagmire, it is much better and fulfilling to do something – no matter how small – to improve society.
Just as we cannot switch our parents, we cannot change our leaders. Such “democracies” as Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa (I had to spend 5 literal minutes coming up with examples of these – I hope the duration was due to my limited knowledge on these things) have proven that irrespective of leaders, the corruption and ineptitude will largely remain. The AU will thus stay with us but we can work with (I mean to say around) them and their constituent governments in many ways. How? By doing the right thing. It sounds cliché and simplistic but it is true. If from the individual level we do what is right – and we know these things – then we have already come a long way.
Oh the joke, you ask? Substitute the remedial student with any one of the grandpas of the continent (my current favorite is the Equatorial Guinea president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has served since 1987), the exam hall for the air-conditioned Addis Ababa building, the invigilators for foreign donors and the exam paper for Africa’s resources. It’s a big joke. But good luck to them. Let’s celebrate Africa!
*Taken from http://mimimagazine.blogspot.com/2010/05/snapshots-hope-africa.html*