By Owei Lakemfa.
THERE is a widespread belief that Africa’s problems are basically leadership. It does not seem it can be otherwise because it is a continent of paradoxes; naturally the richest part of the earth, yet the poorest. But such unscientific analysts could not have read How Europe Underdeveloped Africa as brilliantly presented by Walter Rodney whose young life was terminated by a bomb.
Just as Africa had the wretched of the mind like Jean Bedel Bokassa leading us, so have we had brilliant minds like Nelson Mandela and world class leaders like Kwame Nkrumah. We produced chilling butchers like Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko, but they were like apprentices to King Leopold II and Adolf Hitler. We can disagree about leadership, reasons for universal poverty in a world of plenty, ideology and transformational leaders, but what is not in dispute about Africa is that we are a continent beset by unending conflicts.
The African Union, AU, might also have reached that conclusion by dedicating a separate structure in its headquarters to its Peace, Security and Political Affairs Commission, PSC.
Peace and security are perhaps the oxygen the continent needs to continue breathing because some three quarters of it is embroiled in one armed conflict or the other. The Boko Haram insurgency which Nigerian leaders allowed to fester, has consumed a lot of time, resources and lives of people in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroun and Chad while similar terrorists groups have taken two thirds of Mali and significant portions of Burkna Faso.
Terrorism is also claiming lives and limbs in Somalia and neigbouring Kenya. The West turned prosperous Libya into a basket case with at least four governments, while Central Africa has been in turmoil for about six decades. Sudan and South Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Mozambique are infected by armed conflicts while Morocco would not allow peace reign in Western Sahara. The AU has tried to steer the continent towards peace by developing a programme to ‘Silence the Guns by 2020’.
Four years ago, Big Brother Nigeria decided to give the peace process a boost by seeking to head the PSC. Its candidate was one Ms. Fatima Kyari Mohammed. It was one of the most scandalous and most embarrassing decisions of the Muhammadu Buhari government because its candidate for this very important position, was unknown not only in the AU, but also in Nigeria. Fatima who? The search engines could give no more information than was available. She had read economics in some school in Costa Rica, and, for experience, had worked in the subsidiary of a limited liability company in Nigeria. For a position that demanded some horse power, Nigeria presented an ant; for a post that required an elephant, it presented a squirrel. It just did not make sense and the rest of the continent must have made Nigeria the butt of jokes.
The lion Nigeria decided to pitch its cub against was the incumbent PSC Commissioner, Ambassador Smail Chergui, former Algerian Consul General to Geneva, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation, and Ambassador to Ethiopia. For those who understand the workings of the AU, it is actually the African ambassadors in Ethiopia who conduct the day-to-day business of the AU and take decisions in-between the meetings of the Foreign Ministers and Heads of State. The election was a disgraceful outcome for Nigeria.
At the AU Summit this week which ended on February 7, 2021, Nigeria contested for the same post. But apparently it had learnt from its 2017 joke; this time, it put up a real candidate; Ambassador Bankole Adeoye was like a winner even before the votes were cast. A distinguished career diplomat with over 35 years experience, he had served as a Minister Counsellor in the Nigerian embassies in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia; was former Ambassador to Ethiopia, Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the AU and United Nations Commission for Africa. A known advocate for Africa’s Regional Integration and Partnership, Bankole was thrice Chairperson of the African Union Peace and Security Council in 2017, 2018 and 2019, a position which afforded him invaluable experience working with United Nations Security Council and the European Union Commission on Human Security. He led AU field missions to the Lake Chad Basin in 2017 and South Sudan in 2018. Also, Bankole serves the Addis Ababa Diplomatic Community as co-convener of the Group of Friends on Children affected by Armed Conflict, GoF-CAAC.
I have attended a few AU summits and have some experience in the intricacies that are AU elections, including protest or absentee votes, but Bankole’s candidacy was so formidable that all 55 African countries voted for him. It is like scoring a hundred per-cent in a tough examination. Apart from the prospects of a Bankole headship of the PSC having the potentials of vigorously driving the war against terrorism and conflicts in the continent, Nigeria and pan African countries need to give him strong backing because the AU may potentially be weaker in the next few years.
First, wily France is known to back the AU Commission Chairperson, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, who was re-elected for another four-year term. As we know, France has been playing a destabilising role in the West African economic integration, including its strenuous efforts to sabotage the evolution of a common currency, the Eco in the region. Also, in comparison to Mr. Faki, a former Chadian Prime Minister, his predecessor, Dr. Nkoasazana Dlamini Zuma was a fiercely independent-minded and pragmatic leader. Secondly, President Felix Tshisekedi of the highly destabilised and politically unstable Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, is the new political Chair of the Union for 2021. His predecessor, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, came from a politically stable and economically stronger country which could withstand pressures from foreign countries.
Also, the short term does not offer much comfort as Tshisekedi’s successor-designate for next year is President Macky Sall of Senegal who along with President Alassane Quattara of Cote d’ Ivoire are identified with France’s continued stranglehold on West African economy. If Nigeria can look back at its 2017 folly, re-strategise and return with a way forward in its quest for leadership in the AU, so can Africa.
In my view, the AU priority areas are five. The first is silencing the guns and restoring peace. Secondly, allowing the will of the people prevail, especially on needs, electoral choices and good governance. Thirdly, in the face of underdevelopment, poverty, enslaving debt servicing and the crippling COVID-19 pandemic, there is the need to rebuild the economy, giving priority to human development like education and health rather than exploitative ‘market forces’. Fourthly, driving integration through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement which became operational last month. The fifth is implementing the liberating AU 2063 Agenda.