The election of South Africa's Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the chairperson of the African Union has earned high points for the regional body on several indicators.
Before her election, when asked how she will bring about change if elected, Dlamini-Zuma responded, "I don't think my contribution is about doing different things from the incumbent." One must excuse the experienced diplomat and medical doctor by classifying that statement as the measured speech of one who wants to maintain the favour of the incumbent and his supporters, prior to the final votes being cast. Now that she has clinched the wheels to steer the ship, Dlamini-Zuma must immediately embark on far-reaching transformation of the regional body to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the over 1 billion inhabitants of the continent.
Since its christening as the African Union, the organization has failed to come up with ideas and strategies that will herald the desperately needed transformation across the continent. Africans now wait on Dr. Dlamini-Zuma to come up with novel ideas in all sectors the African Union is involved in, and to add-on more areas of intervention.
In articulating her strategic action plan, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, first and foremost, must be cautious of advice and suggestions from outsiders on how to run the African Union. On the heels of her victory, several Euro-American leaders in sending congratulatory messages stated that the greatest threat to Africa is insecurity of lives and property. In apparent agreement, one of Dlamini-Zuma's first comment after her victory was that a major task of hers would be to "strengthen the AU's Peace and Security Council so that it [could] deal effectively with conflicts and security matters affecting Africa's stability."
Nothing can be more distracting for the chairperson, and farther from the truth about the major needs of the continent. Dlamini-Zuma's statement can be likened to the Association of South East Asian Nation's (ASEAN) Chairperson saying that the greatest threat to East Asia's development is the South China Sea; or President Obama saying that the greatest threat to the United States' advancement is insecurity, occasioned by the shooting incidents. Conflicts are at an all time low across much of Africa. A United Nations recent report notes that as against 14 African states embroiled in armed conflicts in the end of the 1990s, only four states are currently embattled, and in very limited degrees.
Of course, security is important to the growth of every economy, but by overplaying that singular issue, Dlamini-Zuma will be diverting precious energy that should be focused on building the continent in more strategic areas. Focusing on security when it has long ceased to be an issue plays back to the age-old perception of the African as a barbarian and forever wielding the sword. It was the same perception and rhetoric that fuelled slavery and colonialism and supported the proxy wars fought on the continent during the Cold War.
Ulterior motives cannot also be discounted in this clarion call, especially with the United States determined to establish Africom in Africa. Focusing on security further implies patronizing the west, China, Russia and other countries in purchasing arms for the AU troops.
The areas that call for Dlamini-Zuma's innovative, in-depth and sustained interest and focus can be grouped under four categories: trade, education, health, and the drive towards a united Africa, in no particular order.
The strengthening of intra-African trade - discouraged by colonial divisions, which favoured asymmetrical trade relationships with the colonial masters - must be strategically embarked upon. The AU should actively support trade missions among African states and establish platforms such as an annual African trade exhibition/fair for made-in-Africa goods and services. More sea ports should be constructed in pre-determined locations across the region and more road networks should be built to connect countries. More efforts should be invested in dismantling the numerous tariff and non-tariff barriers that continue to hinder trade among African nations. Tax rebates for transcontinental airlines should be championed across countries. Kenyan Airways and Precision Air Services of Tanzania are currently negotiating with the IFC for funds, and taking on substantial debt that may cripple their operations. The AU must find ways to build strategic partnership with African-owned companies that operate in core sectors of the continent's economy. In the airline sector, the AU may want to start by mandating its numerous staff, consultants and all whose air travel are remotely funded by the agency to fly only African owned airlines.
Still on trade, AU should come up with an African trade policy that should guide trade in goods and services between African countries and the rest of the world. Since several African leaders are at their wits end on how to address the continued unequal trade that exists between them and the West, China, India and just about any other country outside Africa, the AU should utilize its expertise and generate a guiding document that should be a novel approach to the form of trade relationship that should exist across Africa. This document will include details of operations in the extractive industry; agriculture with as much emphasis as possible placed on land acquisition, cash crop export and other forms of investment; intellectual property rights; transnational higher education etc.
Related to trade is the issue of aid harmonization. It is mandatory for African countries to wean themselves off dependence on aid, but while that is being seriously implemented, aid harmonization is an urgent task across the continent of Africa. Despite the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005), and the Accra Agenda for Action (2008), aid fragmentation is still routine across much of sub-Saharan Africa. The African Union must champion the call for all aid flowing into a country to be channeled through one single body to make for effective distribution. In Rwanda, this has been achieved through the creation of the Aid Coordination Unit; from 85% percent dependence on aid, the country is currently at 45%. Under the auspices of the AU, the rest of Africa should actively pursue this first step towards ending dependence on aid.
In the area of education, it has perplexed the world that despite the number of graduates churned out of the continent annually, most African countries are still lacking in a critical mass of entrepreneurs and required skilled labour. But the perplexity is limited to only those who have not glanced at the curricular of study across African schools and colleges. Subjects and courses, case studies and examples, text books and languages that bear little resemblance to the reality of the African student's environment are the norm. The effect is that students graduate, still clueless as to how to contribute their knowledge to societal advancement. African education trains students to believe in the west, and not in themselves and their environment. From the kindergarten to the Ph.D. level, and across disciplines, education in Africa in terms of content is lacking in almost all the six basic functions of education; socialization, social control, social placement, transmitting culture, promoting social and political integration and as an agent of home-grown change.
The education that Africans need should, among others, focus on building fiercely independent, critically conscious, innovative and creative minds that look to their environment for inspiration and not to the west. . Paulo Freire would argue that "projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry." Freire's abhorred form of education has thrived across Africa since the first missionaries stepped foot on the continent. The particular kind of education needed in Africa should build the self-worth of students, and not shatter it by making them feel like mere recipients in the global generation of knowledge. Informally, formally and non-formally, such education should also aim at promoting the concept of a united Africa by breaking down the numerous superimposed mental barriers to inter-ethnic and inter-state cooperation.
The emphasis on sound curricular is expected to go hand in hand with what has been done for the past 60 years with minimal success - the building of schools, training of teachers and the drive towards higher enrollment figures. The later is still important as a stop-gap measure, but has not, and will not be able to transform the mind of Africans from dependency to creativity and innovation. The AU must immediately start to reverse the foreign laden content of Africa's education, which is one of the greatest impediments to the continent's advancement.
Health is wealth. The African Union must take active steps, beyond the provision of primary healthcare, to make Africans a healthy people. In Development as Freedom, Nobel prize winner, Amartya Sen contends that the foundations of development is founded in the removal of such "unfreedoms" as high mortality rate. In other words, the establishment of adequate healthcare to free citizens to pursue their dreams, should be top priority.
One of the surest paths to transforming Africa from a consumer of foreign healthcare products and processes to an industrial giant in healthcare is to begin to take the research into indigenous African medicine seriously. There is no justification as to why African countries should still be importing malarial drug, for instance, from India, China and Europe. Aside from the exorbitant costs, emerging news reports indicate that the continent is increasingly exposed to fake and adulterated medicine from these sources.
Euro-America has contributed much to medical advancement, but it is increasingly failing in several areas. Severe and deadly side-effects, absence of cure for several diseases, treachery of pharmaceutical companies, lack of interest in tropical diseases, greedy and uncaring medical practitioners, to mention few have combined to make "alternative" medicine an imperative field of research.
One of the last bastions of indigenous knowledge and forests still remaining in the world, Africa appears to hold the key to the numerous incurable diseases that now plague humanity. The African Union should actively support and encourage, in fact, should institutionalize the study and dissemination of research findings on indigenous medical knowledge, practices and systems.
Of course, this emphasis on empowering indigenous healthcare research in Africa is not meant to substitute the age-long efforts to make healthcare more accessible, through the construction of more hospitals and clinics, and the training of doctors and nurses and other temporary actions. These actions remain important to save lives in the interim, but can never establish Africa as an industrial giant in the field of medicine. It can only slightly ameliorate symptoms, but will indeed make the continent more dependent on the west, China and India for her healthcare.
On the issue of strengthening African unity, the words of Nelson Mandela, spoken to African leaders in 1998 at the OAU summit in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso must form Dlamini-Zuma's policy text: "...we charge you with the responsibility to lead our peoples and Continent into the new world of the next century - which must be an African Century - during which all our people will be freed of the bitterness born of the marginalization and degradation of our proud continent of Africa." Since its inception as the Organization of African Unity, and after most of the continent obtained its freedom from the colonialists, the AU has paid a little more than lip-service to the active promotion of unity across the continent.
One of the first practical ways to unite Africa is by declaring 18th July a mandatory public holiday across Africa - Mandela Day. On that day, the media should focus on broadcasting the numerous positive aspects of pre-colonial Africa, the evils of colonialism, and discussions and debates should be held - in the villages and cities - on how Africa can indeed become free, mentally, culturally, economically, socially, and yes, even politically.
The AU must champion the promotion of Continental figures as Africans, and not just as Zimbabwean, or Nigerian or Ghanaian. Further, Swahili as the most widely-spoken language in Africa should be promoted by the African Union and advocacy should be made for it to be included as one of the United Nations languages. The AU should also consider the setting up of a platform, like Nigeria's National Youth Service Corp, where young Africans will be required to spend a mandatory amount of time in another African country in order to advance their career. The above are only some of the numerous ways - apart from routine, costly, ill-devised and low impact conferences and workshops- that the AU can embark upon in order to unite the continent of Africa.
Speaking to the Association of Commonwealth Universities in 1998, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere declared that "decades ago, as President of my country, I told Tanzanians that the choice before them was to change or be changed. I was wrong. There was no choice. They had to change, and would still be changed." The task of radically transforming the AU is not optional for Dlamini-Zuma. There are several forces already transforming Africa, whether the African Union recognizes it or not. It is to its advantage and continued relevance to identify these centrifugal and centripetal forces of change and act accordingly.
In the words of Joseph Shabala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, "the tasks ahead of us can never be greater than the power within us." The tasks ahead of Dlamini-Zuma must be addressed with a singleness of purpose. She must focus on the more pertinent issues of building a strong and solid foundation for the transformation of Africa, and in advocating for an end to the exploitation of the continent by the rest of the world.