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Is This Africa’s Century?   
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Last week, Ghana’s President, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time.

The speech was well-written and delivered—except for a few glitches that can be pardoned.

He discussed Ghana’s role in peace-keeping. He talked about the Ivory Coast, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the UN Security Council and the US embargo on Cuba.

Along the way, the President took on the role of Africa’s spokesperson and promoter.

Towards the end, the President got carried away a bit. He said, “The 21st century is fast being described as the century for Africa. Last year, of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, six were African.”

Then in a dramatic conclusion, the President declared after calling for a partnership of equality with the world, “Africa is ready for that true and sincere partnership. Our time has come.” Really, Mr. President?

Now, before I proceed to discuss whether indeed this is Africa’s century and this is indeed our time, permit me to make a few comments about the President’s speech in general.

My first reaction was: What in the world happened to “Dzi wofie asem”? This speech was the complete opposite of the late President Mills’ famous dictum. This was not a speech about school uniforms and other such stuff. Then I saw and heard the same people who had lauded “Dzi wofie Asem” celebrating its abandonment and I wondered about the sincerity of the praise-singers around all of our leaders.

To return to the question of whether this is indeed Africa’s century, let me concede that it is not only the President who has been saying such things. There are a number of African leaders saying this. Another very outspoken exponent of this view is Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and the World Bank. Amongst other things, she declared during her unsuccessful effort to lead the World Bank that based on how Africa’s economies are performing, we may have a trick or two to teach the rest of the world!

Now, that is bold.

While I understand those who feel like talking Africa up, are we really doing that well?

First, let me take the President up on the statistic that he cited, on Africa’s economic performance. Having six of the World’s 10 fastest growing economies from Africa sounds impressive till one realizes that Africa accounts for less that 2% of the world’s GDP. It means that even if 10 of the top 10 growing economies came from Africa for the next decade, it would not affect the world economy’s outlook one bit. And we say “Our time has come”?

Second, turning to the Millennium Development Goals, it seems that with only three years to go, Africa has underperformed virtually all across the board.

On the goal of reducing poverty, which is perhaps the most fundamental of all, between 1990 and 2008, according to the World Bank, the number of Africans living on more than $1.25 per day, outside of North Africa, has decreased from 56.5% to 47.5%. And this is our century?

The same UN report stated that on both the goals of Improving Maternal Health and Reducing Child Mortality, Africa is “Off track.” Indeed, when President Mahama stated that “Ghana is on track to achieve the targets set under the Millennium Development Goals,” he was, to put it delicately, exaggerating quite a bit. Ghana is not on track to meet the MDG’s.

To be balanced, we have increased primary school enrolment to over 80% across the continent and are making progress on reducing the scourge of HIV.

However, we must take those achievements with grains—major grains of salt. The school enrolment gains have been accompanied by massive failures by schoolchildren and rising graduate unemployment. Indeed, in Ghana, about half of all children fail their BECE exams with most of them dropping out of the educational system. Of course, these problems did not start with this NDC administration—they just worsened under it.

Most of the achievements in HIV have been on the backs of massive investments by external donors, mainly the United States. That is why during his speech, the President urged external donors to continue financial support for the programme.

Indeed, on the democratic development that was touted as evidence that this is Africa’s century, our record is rather spotty. Just in this supposed African century, elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe were followed by violence leading to significant loss of lives, while Ivory Coast needed the French and the Americans to settle an election at the point of the bayonet. Suffice it to say that Africa is still home to some of the world’s most infamous dictators. And this is Africa’s century? This is our time?

In Nigeria, “Boko Haram” is running rampant with law-abiding citizens in many cities afraid of getting blown up each time they walk out of their houses. And this is Africa’s century?

In South Africa, miners marching peacefully to protest working conditions were gunned down in cold blood under a post-Apartheid government. And this is our time?

Across this continent, as the New York Times reported in a front-page article on July 22, 2012, there is a tide of illegal drugs rising to engulf our continent and we seem helpless to confront it.

Indeed, on the President’s return from the US, he will be confronted by reports of back-to-back seizures of marijuana and cocaine from Ghana by British authorities while Ghanaian officials looked on in blissful ignorance. These seizures are of course not the first and will not be the last. Indeed, I warned of this approaching menace in my book, ‘THE DRUG INVASION OF WEST AFRICA.’ My warnings echoed those of the former UN Secretary General, Busumuru Kofi Annan and have been echoed by experts across our continent.

So given all these facts, is this indeed Africa’s century?

The honest answer is “Not Yet.” This is still a young century. To look at it in terms of a soccer game, we are not even midway through the first half. Therefore, while we have not yet done enough to claim it, it is possible that by the time this century hits the half-way mark, we may be ready to claim it as the African century.

Why do so many of our leaders, who should know better, insist on claiming for us achievements we have not made?

There are some possible answers.

The first is that our leaders, upon realizing that they cannot move the continent forward, decide that we should declare victory anyway to make us feel better.

The second possible explanation is that, we confuse individual achievements for collective achievements.

Thus leaders mistake their personal achievements for collective achievements. Unfortunately, the fact that Africa has produced a UN Secretary General, a Pele in soccer or some Nobel laureates does not mean all of Africa is doing well.

In looking for achievements, we must look for collective achievements.

Here are a few that will make me start believing the talk about Africa’s century.

— Meeting the MDG’s, even by 2020.

— Cutting graduate unemployment in half and having every African President and Finance Minister know his/her country’s unemployment rate.

— Having an African country win the World Cup in soccer a couple of times.

— Having most of our cities clean, safe and well-lighted at night.

— Having drug seizures connected to Africa that are rare and done mostly by our own security agencies.

Finally, like every true African, I cannot wait to celebrate this as an African century but calling it so will not make it one.

Only the hard work of our leaders and citizens, from Cape to Cairo, will make this our time and this century THE AFRICAN CENTURY.

Let us work together—to make this really THE AFRICAN CENTURY.

Source: Arthur Kobina Kennedy

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