Africa Rising? Talking to the narrative

The ACTION Support Centre as part of its Applied Conflict Transformation Course collaborates with the SARChI Chair for African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg, to participate in discussions on the African narrative. This year the ACT course deliberated and explored the narrative of Africa Rising.

The debate saw over eighty diverse participants, academics from the University of Johannesburg, groups of women and men from various townships in Johannesburg who are members of the Local Peace Committees, a group of 18 participants who were attending the Applied Conflict Transformation Course by ACTION Support Centre, with participants from various nationalities such as Syria, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Zambia and Angola was amongst the audience.

“Political systems must be nimble, transparent and adaptable to Africa’s shifting terrain.” These were remarks of Dr. Westen Shilaho as he contributed to the debate on exploring the narrative of Africa Rising by articulating the concept on leadership and institutional rebirth as indispensable to Africa’s transformation. In his opinion for Africa to rise he urged the need for a new breed of visionary, dedicated and committed leadership, which respects the constitution where term limits are clearly set. He criticized the third term phenomena, which he viewed as grappling expansion of the democratic space and as a source of instability and insecurity in Africa.

Professor Mammo Muchie’s crucial points were on unity of the African continent, which would contribute to Africa Rising. Emphasis was made that Africa should own its agency, self-reliance and independence. Africans share similarities and should celebrate their differences. A critical point crucial for Africa’s rise was that even though there has been political independence, it is not necessarily enough for economic independence. Richard Smith reiterated the point in his presentation on Prospects for Peace and Human Security in the Post 2015 development Agenda. He urged that it is imperative that Africa inculcates its own ideological position and charts its own development trajectory. Theories of dependency have to be nullified. Towards this end, we proffer a new critical discourse that has to be adopted by Africa and for Africa.

Richard Smith contributed that violence poses a real threat; therefore there is need to contain it before it spills. For Africa to rise corruption and poor governance should be prevented. African countries need to realize their interconnectedness, and establishment of shared principles, which are important for long-term commitment to sustain the integration. There is need to identify our own African rising, a Pan African people-to-people solidarity.

On African competitiveness, Petrus de Kock of Brand South Africa highlighted the continent’s reputational and competitive strengths and weaknesses. A highlight was that the “Africa rising” narrative often appears to be emotive and one-dimensional. Its focus on broad-gauge measures of economic growth such as gross domestic product (GDP) glosses over the mixed experiences of the real or perceived progress that has been achieved over the last decade. A critical issue is the opening up of free trade zones, which will help to better improve integration and the rise of Africa.

The representative from the Cuban Embassy presented on the experiences of Latin America which is one of the progressive forces despite being neighbours with a superpower, America. His contributions highlighted the lessons learnt on becoming a progressive force and the good practices that can be emulated as Africa rises. A major highlight was on Cuba’s achievements of integration which were made through devising mechanisms to do trade in their own currency which is not the US dollar. He pointed out that it is critical for Africa to start trading amongst themselves as currently Africans trade only 10% amongst each other and 90% with Europeans.

The debate left the participants with a series of tangential but critical rhetorical questions. Who, for example is benefitting from this phenomenon called Africa Rising? Has there been a positive trickledown effect? Have the subalterns benefitted? Has this new economic agenda benefitted the masses in terms of poverty reduction and food security? Is sustainable development evident? But the key point is a rising population, boosted by deepening stability and better policies, can bring about a new and more sustainable growth path in Africa.

The event was supported by a dedicated panel comprising of the facilitator, Prof Chris Landsberg the SARChI Chair for African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, and the presenters were as follows; Petrus de Kock, the Brand South Africa’s general manager of research; Richard Smith of ACTION Support Centre, Dr Westen Shilaho from Kenya, of the University of Johannesburg and the Cuban Embassy Representative in Pretoria and Goitse Maswabi who represented Prof Mammo Muchie.