It was a moment of truth telling and reality check at the just-concluded 5th Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa when former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan insisted that African countries must stop begging, cap-in-hand, for assistance from foreigners to address challenges confronting the continent.
Annan, who gave the keynote address at this year’s forum in Addis Ababa, said the solutions to the problems the continent is facing must come from within. He added, however, that the continent must build up its ability to do so, including in financing its institutions.
“We cannot always pass a hat around and insist we want to be sovereign, we want to be independent. We should lead and get others to support us, that support will be much more forthcoming when they see how serious and committed we are.” ~ Kofi Annan
The former UN scribe also noted that the African Union (AU) has struggled to get members to pay their dues, which will allow the organisation to run its operations and programmes efficiently, a recurrent theme addressed by leaders at the forum. He further observed that such budgetary concerns were constraining the work of the continent in strengthening stability and required creative ways of resourcing.
“I was happy to hear them [African leaders] say ‘we must be prepared to pay for what we want; we must be prepared to put out our own money on the table and fund issues that are of great importance to us’,” he added.
Annan’s warning touched on a growing concern amongst African scholars, economists and African affairs commentators who have been involved in controversies and debates trailing the issue of overdependence on foreign aid and donations by African countries over the years.
At one point, it was estimated that a huge percentage of the national budgets of most countries in Africa was dependent on foreign aid. While apologists of the trend say African countries need such support, critics kick against it, saying that such aid amounts to a Greek gift that is invariably making African nations indolent and prodigal in the public spending.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria and current chairman of the Tana Forum, shared the same sentiment recently when he spoke at the Commonwealth Day Service and Commonwealth Africa Summit in London. Chief Obasanjo was a Keynote Speaker at that summit, where he harped on the need for Africans to look inward and help themselves.
“We as Africans should remember that nobody will do anything for you unless you do it for yourself. In my part of the world, when you want to carry a load, you put a pad on your head and stand by your load, then they will see you need help and come to help you. We need to put our pad on our head as Africans and stand by our lead ready to carry, then they will help us.” ~ Chief Olusegun Obasanjo
Annan, the Ghanaian-born, renowned international diplomat, expressed optimism, however, that the ex-leaders have what it takes to brainstorm and proffer solutions to the challenges militating the growth and development of the continent.
“I think it is a very good idea that ex-leaders come together with current leaders to share experience and try to talk very frankly about the challenges facing the continent and also about our relations with the international community,” he further stated.
Annan also urged African leaders to leave office when their mandated time is up and to avoid excluding opposing voices if elections are to cease contributing to conflicts on the continent. While unconstitutional changes to government on the continent had reduced, he cited exclusionary politics that threaten to reverse the gains made.
“I think Africa has done well: by and large the coups have more or less ended, generals are remaining in their barracks, but we are creating situations which may bring them back,” he stressed.
The Nobel laureate posited that if a leader does not want to leave office and the stays on for too long, elections could be seen as being gamed to suit that leader’s personal desires. The longer such a leader overstays his elected terms, the greater the likelihood that people will believe the only way to get him out is through a coup or people taking to the streets.
“Neither approach can be seen as an alternative to democracy, to elections or to parliamentary rule. Constitutions and the rules of the game have to be respected”, he added. Annan was the first to advise the AU not to accept coup leaders among their midst during an OAU heads of state summit in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2001.
The winner-take-all approaches to elections on the continent also came under scrutiny, with Annan stating that they leave out citizens who hold an opposing view and raise tensions around elections.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbe, Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and Sudan’s Omar al Bashir were among the heads of state and government present. Former leaders Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Festus Mogae of Botswana, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Pierre Buyoya of Burundi and Joyce Banda of Malawi and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria were also in attendance.