PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe handed over his African Union chairmanship to the President of Chad Idriss Déby in Addis Ababa last week. His speech received standing ovations not only in the lobbies of Addis Ababa, but across many African nations watching.
I watched part of the speech with my Kenyan friends who could not resist the stinging bites from the African comrade. There is no doubt that they loved what he said.
Of course, there is this question on why Zimbabwe has collapsed under the watch of a leader who has been known for saying the right statements every time he steps on to the international podium? Certainly, Zimbabwe’s problems cannot be understood on the basis of good speeches. It is more than that. It is a combination of lack of sound domestic and foreign policies. And it is not about winning oratory battles, but amassing power by channelling energies into productive sectors.
This leads me to a few of the punch lines expressed at the African Union meeting. Part of the key messages which drew applause from the audience included that: Africa wanted to be treated equally in the global governance institutions, Africans are equal human beings and not ghosts and if the set up continues that way Africa may consider walking away. If spoken to an audience such as the African Union, these three messages will certainly draw applause and standing ovations.
I will attempt to analyse these within the matrix of power. The United Nations Security Council permanent members are made up of five states: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States. These members represent the five great powers from the Second World War.
With time, the power of their economies has come to play a part which gives each member the power to vote, enabling them to prevent the adoption of any “substantive” draft Council resolution, regardless of the level of international support for the draft. While questions maybe raised over the historical determination of membership, it is equally important to note that these countries earned their power. They did not receive it as a donation, as implied at the 26th African Union gathering.
Did Africa earn power and not get the attention it deserves? Having said that, there are several options for African countries. First, is to build their own power — economic and political power — to the extent needed to influence global decisions at that higher level.
Doing so means not depending on the same powerful countries to help African countries to achieve equality. Power does not have the habit of threatening itself and is also not donated.
Secondly, is the “the walking away” option cited during the speech. The futility of this approach lies in that it is an empty political gesture because it lacks the social and economic material backing to sustain itself. Since colonisation, African lifestyles have been configured to replicate and depend on the West.
In short, our lifestyles cannot be disconnected from the West. We follow their consumption patterns. We want to be like them and speak like them. We are no longer our own people and, but a creation of the West and the admirers of the East. For instance, we walked away from the Commonwealth and yet we are still stuck in the British way of life.
This links to the third punch line, that we are equal human beings and not ghosts. Again, we are in a world where capitalism is the key determinant of everything. The concept of egalitarianism is hollow if it does not acknowledge material and capital power and their role in social ranking. In the world we live today, equality is not anymore presumed on the basis of human beings having the same natural attributes as other humans but by the power each holds over others and how others resolve to claim their space.
We live in a scenario resonance of the abridged Seven Commandments in Animal Farm, where: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
In the final analysis, these messages should not have been directed to the West, but to African countries.
Doing so is as good as asking a tall person not to take advantage of his height to enjoy the highest fruits, but also allow short people a chance to the same fruits even when they don’t seem to have the means to access them. But I do understand that our President comes from the revolutionary background.
Maybe, the African Union should encourage African countries to find ways of working together for the benefit of their people and avoid dependence. For example, how Angola and Mozambique’s oil can benefit Southern African countries or Nigerian oil benefit West African countries as this would reduce the price of energy in these regions and stimulate economic production. I was expecting to hear about how Zimbabwe, being central to southern Africa, can rebuild its roads and railway lines to facilitate trade in the region.
I was hoping to hear how African countries can use the River Nile to improve transportation and agriculture production. The masterplan of how Africans seek to exploit the massive gas deposits in Tanzania was missing in the speeches.
Unless we can hear these, we are far from being independent.
● Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa