“Give Africa 15 to 20 years and Africa will be good”, said a Turkish taxi driver.
Africanews.it correspondent Rhodah Mashavave, reports about how her recent travel to Germany made her thinking about her home country and continent.
She describes what Africa needs, by her point of view, to be finally “good”: stopping terrible diseases, stopping the arms trade, restoring use and proudness of African languages and accountability for African political leaders.
During my stay in Germany, I had the opportunity to meet a taxi driver from Turkey. He asked where I came from. “Zimbabwe,” I told him and he remarked: “Yah, Zimbabwe. Africa, good. Zimbabwe, any moslems?” “No moslems, but Christians,” I replied him. The driver was very nice to me, speaking in his broken English and at times frantically searching for the right words. “Africa is rich. Give Africa 15 to 20 years and Africa would be good. I tell you,” he was very optimistic and every time I met him he made sure I heard of his prophecy.
The driver always had many questions for me. “Zimbabwe…democracy?,” he would implore.
The taxi driver was giving Africa 15 to 20 years “to be good”. Throughout the conversations the driver raised fundamental issues like “Africa is rich” and enquired about “democracy”.
When a colleague asked me what I hoped for in Africa’s near future, it wasn’t just an easy question. Why? Because I had so many things I hoped for – too many: I hoped for an Africa that was ‘good’ (to borrow from the taxi driver) and peaceful. One that would share the benefits of its richness. A continent that would embrace freedom and democratic values. And whose political leaders are there to serve the people.
But this, according to the taxi driver’s estimate would take 15 to 20 years to achieve – if at all it happened!
Once, I was giving a presentation about Zimbabwe to a group of well travelled professionals in Germany and had an interesting conversation with a German national, a professor. He felt so sorry for me and my country folks after my talk which centred on the disturbing political, social and economic situation in my country. He remarked: “You know what you have just been describing resembles a situation we had here because of the second world war. We had inflation reaching the same level as yours and even higher, money was useless, but things are different today. You also talked about not having independent media but only those owned by the government – it was the same here in Germany too.” At the time of this discussion inflation in Zimbabwe was pegged at 600% and the highest in the world for a country that was not at war or coming from a war.
Life is like that. Remember the nightmare regimes of the Soviet Union or Germany circa 1930 – 1945?
Maybe the taxi driver was right after all. Africa, and indeed Zimbabwe can pull a surprise and be a model of success just like what Germany did to get where it is today. After all Russia, another world economic powerhouse today had at one time battled inflation.
But what could the taxi driver and the Germany professor say to me? They had to give me hope. They knew exactly what I hoped for and what kind of an Africa I yawned for. They wanted to help me build this dream – the dream of a prosperous Africa.
I am coming from a generation that has already lost. As the taxi driver predicts, I have to work hard the next 15 to 20 years so as to make Africa “good” and hopefully the generation coming after me will enjoy the fruits. The Germany professor also stressed a point: “I am from a generation that saw war and after the war built the country. It wasn’t an easy period. It was full of pain and suffering, but we worked hard and transformed. I am proud of the life we have today.
“Time will come in Zimbabwe and indeed the whole of Africa when you will be forced to build on your past mistakes and failures. This is just a passing phase. I see Africa as a whole changing. It might take time but it will eventually happen.”
While Africa has been plagued by all kinds of disasters that include drought, famine, malaria and Aids, the main problems have been of governance and the greed of power. This has led to civil wars and the disintegration of governmental authority. The social order has been destroyed leading to widespread abuses against civilians by war lords and brutal dictators.
In recent years Africa has witnessed political conflicts in Sudan, Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Rwanda. In most of these countries the governments’ military and security forces and government-backed militias continue to commit serious human rights abuses with total impunity. Political opposition supporters are intimidated and abused, along with persons who are believed to oppose the government by virtue of their religion, ethnicity or nationality.
Amidst the conflict, war lords and corrupt politicians have cashed on natural resources found in these African countries, from timber, oil or diamonds so as to fund wars by buying arms.
It is against this that I hope for an Africa free of arms of war. The abundant supply of small arms, ammunition, light weapons and explosives circulating in some African states since the end of the cold war, has made easy the escalation of tensions between groups in disagreement.
The problem with conflicts is that they create refugees. For example, in 2006 the six main group of refugees under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) mandate comprised four African countries Sudanese (686,000), Somalis (460,000), and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi (about 400,000 each). The other two contributors were Afghans (2.1 million), followed by Iraqis (1.5 million). And there were over 13 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 19 countries in 2004. Over 50 percent of the world’s IDPs live in Africa. In Sudan alone, up to 6 million people are thought to be internally displaced.
I also hope for an Africa that does not abuse its child. Across Africa, there are an estimated 80 million child workers, a number that could rise to 100 million by 2015. Most of these children are forced to work as slaves, prostitutes, employed in the drug trade and other criminal activities, and occupations that are especially dangerous to children’s health and security.
There are also disturbing estimates in which around 120 000 children, some as young as seven, are reportedly fighting in African wars. Most are boys, but girls are also forced to fight. It is estimated that between 10 000 and 30 000 under-18 year olds actively participated at some point during Sierra Leone’s 11 years civil war. The conflict was characterized by widespread abuses, in particular rape and sexual slavery, where girls and women were forced into ”marriage”.
I hope for Africa that is free from xenophobia attacks. I feel saddened with the ongoing attacks on African immigrants in South Africa. What kind of world are we building for the future generations? Where is our ubuntu? Where is our humanity towards others?
I hope for an Africa just as peaceful as Europe. A model of Europe is what I really hope for and this can be achieved by creating a strong regional framework with a move towards regional integration that would permit the relaxation of strict boundary demarcations, allowing freedom of movement and interaction between African peoples. This would do away with ethnic fighting as it will eventually reduce breakaways by disaffected groups. While in 2001 the African states decided to establish the African Union as a successor of the Organization of African Unity, I dream of an African intergration that will go beyond this body. Possibly a United States of Africa as advocated by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. United States of Africa is a long cherished dream first promoted by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president after independence from Britain.
But I have always wondered what Africa would be in the next 15 to 20 years if there is no breakthrough in the find of a cure for the HIV/AIDS virus which is wrecking havoc among families. It is my hope that a vaccine will be in place then to save millions of lives which are already at risk. Last year (2006) of the 38.5 million people living with HIV worldwide, more than two-thirds – 24.5 million – were in sub-Saharan Africa. As has been proved, HIV and AIDS have a huge impact on poverty because they affect millions of adult women and men whose work drives their countries’ economies and services, and who care for the young and the old.
Apart from finding an HIV/AIDS vaccine, much has to be done to improve health care in Africa to prevent killer diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. Diseases push more and more families into poverty and poverty makes them more vulnerable to infections.
The other thing I really hope for Africa is that she respects her languages and make them official in all her countries. The use of English or French in most former colonised African countries has been a bone of contention for a long time. A country without a language looses identity, its culture is easily eroded. Language is used in the arts, in communication, in music, in drama and films.
Until Africa restores its languages, works in its languages and speak in its languages, it will be difficult for it to match big economies like in China, Germany and Japan where their local languages have played a big part in the day to day communication.
Africa has to start writing its history in its own languages. It has to write its own school text-books.
It is never late – 20 years is enough!
I feel sorry for most African Presidents who when they grace world podiums boastfully speak in English or French while leaders from other continents confidently speak in their own languages. The colonial mentality still hangs in many of these Presidents years after they “freed” themselves from the yokes of colonialism. These African Presidents have to change and lead the way – they have to lead in the great restoration of their languages.
It is also my hope that African Presidents respect the notion that if they are voted into power they are employed as civil servants. They are employed by the people and the people have the right to replace them. They have to know and acknowledge that this is a job like any other!
An African colleague once remarked: “What is missing in Africa is the computer. Without a computer you can not keep data properly, hence accountability and stocktaking is very difficult. The politician in Africa does not want to invest in computerising operations because he does not want to be accountable.”
Photos by (in order of appearance): Leonid Mamchenkov, African Union, Babasteve
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