interviewBy Aliu Akoshile and Okello Oculi
Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman Chairperson of the African Union Commission. Before that, she held cabinet posts in her native South Africa. From her office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she speaks on Africa's youth, food security, energy issues, tourism, reviving PANA and more. Excerpts:
Weekly Trust: As the OAU/AU marks its 50th anniversary this year, and considering the challenges the continent has overcome, what does the future portend?
I think the future is very bright, but it is not a given. It depends on what we do - all of us as Africans. I think it is very bright because, looking at where we are now, Africa is free and we've got our sovereignty now except Western Sahara. But generally, we are all free. So, it means we have space to determine our own future. Secondly, our economies are growing, may be not at a sufficient rate but they are growing. We are a continent with a very large population, with a substantial part being young and energetic people. If we do the right things, the youth population will be one of our greatest assets. If they are healthy, if they are skilled and get into the field of technology, they will innovate and drive the modernisation of our continent. So, it is very important that we invest in them, that is why I said it is not a given. If we don't invest in them they are likely to rebel and cause instability in the continent. They are not going to sit-by and rot away. Of course some of them will take the perilous journey across the continent, moving through the seas, in the desert and in the process meet their fate, which should not be acceptable to us. But if we invest in them they will be a real asset.
Apart from the youth population, what other factors could lead the continent into the bright future you desired?
I will consider food security as a key factor. Luckily agric-business is spawning in the continent, and we have a vast proportion of arable land. Most developed countries are exhausting their arable land-up to 90% in some cases. So, they have to consider other options, including going elsewhere to look for food. But we are not faced with that challenge as 60% of available arable land is in Africa. If we can explore the potentials, we could move from being net importers of food to net exporters. But a number of things need to happen. We need to make the land available to both men and women, and especially women who are already working on farmlands. They have the skill to produce, but they don't have access to land. They must have access to improved technology to enhance their productivity. We need also to improve our infrastructure, even for agriculture. We need to irrigate and be able to store the farm produce. In this way agriculture can be a very big driver for industrialisation.
In addition to land, we have maritime and terrestrial space which could be utilised to develop our economies, in terms of maritime transport, highways and the sea ports.
Most of our imports and exports are undertaken by foreign vessels with foreigners working on then, with food on-board coming from somewhere else. So we are not involved as all those jobs are given to other people. And these are jobs that could have been given to our own people, our youth. Then, the industry itself and all the things in the sea that can be utilised for food, for industry, export, tourism. So we have the raw material but we need to turn it into wealth. We have the natural resources; we have probably a huge percentage of forest that is also arable. We have plenty of water. West Africa has a huge amount of water, Central Africa also. The place that is a bit problematic is Southern Africa. But if we capture the water through there, it will still be okay.
So, it is very important also that we add value to our resources. What do we export, for instance? We export logs; other people sell furniture to us. If we can harness our resources and add value to them before exporting, I think the continent has a bright future. There are minerals, oil, gas and we are still discovering more resources. But the structure of ownership is sometimes complex. We get taxes from there and even get some royalties, but the assets are not exactly ours. It is geographically located in our space. I think that must change. And the agreement between these companies and government must ensure that governments do get adequate revenue whilst the companies also make profit, because that is possible. It means we must also invest in the teams that are able to negotiate those contracts.
If you asked non-experts to negotiate those contracts on your behalf, they will be tricked. So, you need experts and we don't always have them. But companies we deal with have huge legal departments with fat budgets that are bigger than what is available to the entire department/industry doing the negotiation, sometimes bigger than the budget of a country. So, we do need to pool resources and assist those countries needing the specialists, because we lose money to many foreign companies due to lack of capacity on certain technical issues. They inflate their cost, they undervalue what they take and even the things we are supposed to receive free of charge, they still add it to their cost. So they give us very little. But if we develop our capacity, we would be able to determine, for instance, how much oil is being lifted, and where they submit invoice, we can be able to interrogate them for justification. We are losing more money than what is claimed we are getting in form of aid. Of course, the ownership of some of these companies is very opaque, you don't know who to chase. Above all, we have to ensure that our gold, our oil, our diamond and other mineral resources are utilised for economic development of the continent.
Availability of road infrastructure is another factor that will determine the future of our continent. I think our countries understand that we need to construct more roads and do it with speed to really boost trade and commerce. Energy is another very critical factor. All the things I have mentioned earlier, including industrialization, can't be achieved without sufficient energy. But we have water and we can have a renewable way of generating energy. We have the wind, sun, we can generate different kinds of energy, but we have not really taken full advantage of these energy sources.
What other sectors are you looking at, especially with the challenges you have mentioned?
ICT is another very critical factor because if our countries don't have broadband, it's going to be difficult to communicate smoothly. So, it's very important because a country that is unable to communicate can't compete favourably. Of course, all these things are means to an end and not the end in themselves.
They are meant to improve the well-being of our people. We must also trade amongst ourselves. We are already more than a billion people and by 2050 we would be about two billion people in Africa. The continent is a huge market which everybody is aiming at, but we are not doing the things that will make us access its market. If we don't have easy transport for goods and people, either it is rail, road, sea or air, then we will still have our biggest trading partners across the seas. Whereas every African country is supposed to have its biggest trading partner within the continent, or within their regions. Look at the Asians, Americans; if we were asked to name some of our trading partners, we are more likely to quote countries in other continents. Therefore we will never be competitive. So we need to increase the trade amongst ourselves. And with infrastructure, that is possible. But if we don't industrialise, what are we going to trade? If we don't manufacture the right items, what are we going to trade?
Tourism, especially intra-African tourism, is very important as it has multiplier effect on creation of jobs, because tourists will need food, accommodation, entertainment and transport. It is a good way of generating employment and also showcasing what we have. In any case we have the most beautiful continent, easily the most diverse. But a tourist in the year 2025 will not want to just come to South Africa or Nigeria. The tourist will want to explore a bit more of our various countries, and if we have efficient rail or road transport, they will be able to do that. What they do now is when they go to Europe, they don't just go to one country, they visit various countries. Of course we also need to deal with softer parts of integration, such as free movement of goods and people, harmonisation of law and customs at the border. All those things will eventually help in creating one free market in the continent. So, these are all the things we need to do. But in the process, if there are conflicts, we need to resolve them. We need to deepen our democracy, improve the healthcare delivery. We need to mobilise resources from alternate sources to bridge the funding gaps we have in projects implementation. President Obasanjo is very passionate about this and he is trying his best to assist. He also, through his recommendation to AU leaders, has to explain why we need to raise funds internally and externally to do some of the things like capacity building, training of women, training of entrepreneurs, youth empowerment and looking at areas that we need to strengthen. We hope that all the business people in Africa will contribute whatever they can to the fund. The UN Foundation was established by one person, Ted Turner, who gave a billion dollars to the UN. We think it's possible in Africa if we can ask every business person, even if they give $10,000 and you get a million of such givers, that is already a huge amount. We can do it collectively as we have done in our liberation and in many other instances when we do things together. If we could endow such money, it means we have a source of income to address some of the priorities. But for me, what is also important is for us as Africans to believe that we can be better than people of other continents.
You have canvassed at different fora that Africans should tell their own stories and not to allow other people to persist in the negative narratives about the continent. The Pan African News Agency (PANA) which was established to address the imbalance in news flow has been virtually comatose. What is the AU doing to strengthen PANA to enable it compete with other global news agencies?
They have said they would want to open a Bureau here in Addis, and we are willing to support them. And, of course, they have access to everything that happens here. But I don't think they have come yet. But we will need to check, because they were very keen to open an office here when we discussed with them early in the year. We are also working to have a network of media platforms - radio, TV, newspapers, online - so that we can feed what is happening to the continent. You see, people may not really know the role of AU, they see things happening in their countries in the areas of health, education, etc., but they may not know some of the policies are made here in Addis and relevant departments here are working with their home governments. So, many of the activities that take place are really not known. But we are very willing to provide information to people who request for it on any of our activities.
But I just think that if we believe in ourselves, we have more resources in Africa than some of the other continents. We only need to sharpen our human capacity, to take our destiny in our hand and run with them. When you talk to people they don't even understand that Africans are already putting a lot of funds into the development of their continent. The narratives out there are still about donor funding. There was an interesting story of a president who was said to have been given aid to build 50 toilets in a community, whereas the president had actually built hundreds of toilets with the country's fund. The impression out there is that Africans need aid to do even such a basic things as public toilets. And the donors want a lot of accounting for what they give. When I was in the health sector, for example, the European Union (EU) used to give us two per cent of our budget, but they will demand 80 per cent of our time, until one day when the Director General got fed up with the whole thing and invited all of us to a meeting. He analysed the budget, saying this 98 per cent is ours while two per cent is yours, and that from today you must understand that the time you demand from us must be proportionate to the 2% and not the other way round. Before then, we were used to writing memos, doing the accounting and rationalising the figures to the extent that sometimes you are not able to even spend the money. Which is less than ours, and we end up returning what is ours back to the Treasury. So all these are happening because of the mindset that we get most of our money from a donor which is not true. We get about R50 billion from donors but the rest of about R480 billion is our own money.
How is the AU tackling the challenges posed by international news media, especially on the issue of balance and objectivity in news reporting? Is it a difficult problem?
Really it is a difficult problem. But you see, I have been telling our communications people that we should be up there in the social media because a lot of young people don't bother even to read newspaper hard copies now. They read them online. Perhaps they can't afford to be buying, but they get them online. So, we should be in that space. Two, I think there are some media houses that are trying. I know in Nigeria there is TVC who are trying to build themselves, to use their words, into "Aljazeera of Africa". But of course we are not so much interested in the Aljazeera facts, because when I listened to Aljazeera, it's talking about everybody else's problems but not what is happening in their region. For us, we want to know what is happening in Africa. The continent consists of 54 countries. That means there is a lot to talk about, the AU, every country. If there can be a real source of news, not only good news but news from around Africa and put them in a way which is from our perspective. There are few stations trying to run 24 hours programming and I hope they will not do like some of the TV stations who pick news items from other news giants and report it without verifying the news. You will think you are listening to a local news station not knowing the information is from other news stations. This is one of the things you people who are media owners should look into. I know it is not going to be easy but you need to correct the situation. I know when Zimbabwe was under the British rule, they put their own news station there so that the stories can be transmitted from the perspective of Britain all the time. I believe in the next ten to twenty years we should be able to deal with this.