By Alexander Kanengoni
Recently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
THERE were no celebrations at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa last week, only agreement on the daunting challenges confronting Africa and the obligation to tackle them.
Conflicts and conflict resolution overshadowed ‘Agriculture and Food Security’ which was the theme of the conference.
How couldn’t that be with the turmoil in South Sudan and the Central African Republic and Chad, the war in Somalia and the fragile peace in Mali?
The preparatory meeting by the continent’s foreign ministers ahead of the summit at a retreat in Bahir Dar, a hundred kilometres north of Addis Ababa, had set the tone.
There was unanimity the greatest threat that faced Africa was dependence on foreign aid and lack of control of its resources.
There was unanimity that Africa must change the mindset of its citizens by redesigning its education curriculum, away from the colonial education curriculum.
There was unanimity that to achieve these lofty ideals required a strong and courageous political leadership.
There was a remarkable attempt to return to the vision of Africa’s founding fathers.
In her opening address, AU Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Zuma amplified this return to the vision of the founding fathers in dramatic fashion.
In an imaginary e-mail to Kwame Nkrumah in 2063, she tells him how Africa had surpassed their vision of 1963 into a glorious united Africa cruising along a high-tech super highway and speaking one language – Kiswahili; an Africa not only growing enough food to feed itself, but to export; an Africa selling to the world products it had processed.
Madame Zuma called her dream ‘Vision 2063’ exactly 100 years after the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
But how will Africa get to 2063?
How will she lift her one billion people out of the prevailing poverty?
Driving through the streets of Addis Ababa to the gleaming US$200 million AU conference centre donated by the Chinese, Ethiopia represents an interestingly contrasting development model to that of Zimbabwe.
There is massive development taking place in Addis Ababa.
The roads are undergoing a huge face-lift with flyovers rising from the earth like awakening monsters.
There is also massive construction of high-rise office buildings dotting the skyline.
But on the streets below, these multi-million dollar projects is abject poverty.
Shoddily dressed children emerge from tin or pole and dagga shacks in the middle of the city to play ball.
Here and there, traffic slows down to allow someone to drive their flock of sheep or pack of donkeys across the street.
If you telephone a taxi, chances are it will be a 1970’s Soviet Union era LADA or a 1980’s Datsun 120Y.
There are moments when Addis Ababa looks like a shanty town.
American writer, Helen Epstein, in her book Cruelty in Ethiopia describes the poverty: “In the towns, slabs of meat hung in the butchers’ shops and donkeys hauled sacks of coffee beans, the country’s main crop, along the dirty roads.
“So I was surprised to see signs of hunger everywhere.
“There were babies with kwashiorkor, that disease caused by malnutrition.
“Many of the older children were clearly stunted and some women were deficient in iodine they had goitres the size of cannon balls.”
There is an unsettling rural outlook about Addis Ababa, almost medieval, and a quiet resignation the development happening above their heads is another world.
During the summit last week, there was a story in their papers about foreign corporates snapping up land in the countryside to grow coffee for the Chinese as part of a multi-billion dollar deal to finance the infrastructure development taking place in Addis Ababa.
It was reported tensions were high with peasants who were being pushed out of their land.
According to the World Bank, Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa with a growth rate of seven percent per annum. There is no evidence to show that the results of these dizzying statistics are trickling down to the people.
On the other hand, the reality on the ground in Zimbabwe is somewhat different.
In spite of the economic difficulties, production levels on the acquired land are rising and will soon surpass the previous production levels of the white farmers.
In town in spite of the low salaries, the streets in Harare are filled with fairly new, second hand Japanese vehicles that many people can afford to buy.
The majority of people own decent houses and many more are developing stands that they acquired through the government’s accelerated empowerment programmes.
The informal sector now accounts for 80 percent of people employed in the country.
The difference between Ethiopia and Zimbabwe’s development models is that one is business driven and the other is people driven.
In Ethiopia’s model of development, there is no guarantee that when Nkosazana’s ‘Vision 2063’ eventually arrives, it will be carrying the majority of the people with it because it is profit driven; the welfare of the people relies on the compassion of capital.
Once the profit margin is threatened, it will cut back expenditure on the welfare of the people, it makes perfect business sense.
On the other hand, there is certainty the people driven model of development such as the one in Zimbabwe, the year 2063 will arrive with the majority of the people on the model’s back because it is the people that determine its speed and intensity.
And yet some surveys claim Zimbabweans are among the poorest people in Africa!
Nkosazana Zuma has a dream to take Africa into the future, to 2063, but as the continent’s foreign ministers warned at Bahir Dar, it will be difficult to achieve this goal when some African national budgets, like Ethiopia’s, are 60 percent donor funded.
And as the preparatory meeting noted, it requires strong and courageous political leadership to steer Africa there.
Hanging high on the wall at the entrance of the imposing AU conference centre are the portraits of Africa’s founding fathers looking down at us including Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Leopold Senghor, Gamal Abdel Nasser etc.
Robert Mugabe’s portrait is already hanging up there alongside them! There was a remarkable attempt to return to the vision of Africa’s founding fathers.