President Obama’s message to Africa’s rulers at the African Union in Addis Ababa today will encourage Africa’s economic growth but he will also be critical of the dictatorial tendencies that still abound in Africa’s politics. Africa, he says, needs strong institutions, not strongmen.
Never since the end of the Cold War has there been such a dearth of leadership on the continent. South Africa and Nigeria are the continent’s major powers but President Jacob Zuma of South Africa shows weak leadership at home and little interest in the rest of the continent. In Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, newly-elected President Muhammadu Buhari is struggling to establish a government. Continent wide, regional integration which should be driving bigger inclusive economies, has been at a snail’s pace because of lack of vision and each president’s fear of losing control.
In the early 1990s America promoted democracy, human rights and the free market to the world as the principles of global governance. The free market has taken off fast in Africa, largely because Africans have simply got on with it. African cities today are bustling and growing and trade has been at an all time high. But African rulers have never been less committed to democracy and human rights. Most countries hold elections but fewer and fewer lead to a change of government. Nigeria in April was an extraordinary exception. Respect for human rights is in the hands of the governments and respected in varying degrees.
Embarrassingly Ethiopia which hosts the African Union headquarters where Obama will be speaking tomorrow, has not a single opposition MP in its 547-strong parliament, despite being in power since 1992. The press is also very tightly controlled. The government makes no apology for its political repression but points to Ethiopia’s high economic growth rates – around 10% for the last few years – and the fact that a third of Ethiopians, about 1.5 million who were regarded as poor in 2000, are now better off.
A similar situation exists in Rwanda, another favourite of Western donors. Its government delivers health and education to its people while maintaining total control over their lives through a surveillance system that North Korea would be proud of. At least, its friends argue, they have good reason after the 1994 genocide. Elsewhere governments are increasingly rarely changed by elections and several presidents, including Rwanda’s, have removed or are trying to remove term limits from their constitutions.
In Kenya on Sunday Obama stood next to an uncomfortable-looking President Uhuru Kenyatta. Son of the country’s first president, he heads the country’s richest family. You could see Kenyatta’s discomfort when Obama spoke of Kenya’s rampant corruption, lack of gay rights and discrimination against women. Kenyatta bluntly refused to accept gay rights and I believe most of his fellow presidents will support him.
At one time presidents like Kenyatta would have smiled meekly and obeyed. Thanks to China’s engagement in the continent, African rulers have an alternative powerful ally and can push back against US demands. The outright refusal to accept gay rights shows Africa’s growing self-confidence. China has given Africa’s rulers an alternative trading and political partner. Its engagement in Africa over the past two decades has enabled African governments to ignore or reject demands from Britain, France and the US although there are signs that Beijing is now beginning discreetly to support western demands for better governance, not least to protect their own interests in the continent.
This is a crucial time for Africa. Today it has more than a billion people. By 2050 that will have become 2 billion. Until now it has lived by exporting commodities, vulnerable to the price swings of raw materials. If it can start adding value by manufacturing and exporting, it could become the next big global economic driver. But this requires vision and leaders who have their countries’ interests at heart.
Today I expect President Obama will speak to all Africa’s presidents about better governance, term limits, human rights and democracy. He will urge them to create space for their young populations to thrive in a corruption-free market. They will give him a standing ovation but at the back of their minds many will be thinking: “nice words and good ideas but will they help me stay in power?”
Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society.
This article was published in The Times on July 28th
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Date & Time: Tuesday 11 March, 7-9PM
Place: Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT), SOAS
Event in partnership with the SOAS Pan-African Society.
Speakers: Mick Csaky, Series Executive Producer; Gus Casely-Hayford, presenter, Lost Kingdoms of Africa; Professor Stephen Quirke, Institute of Archaeology, University College London; Dr Ayman El-Desouky, Senior Lecturer in Modern Arabic and Comparative Literature, SOAS.
The Royal African Society is proud to announce that it is hosting the 30 anniversary of Basil Davidson’s awardwinning 8 x 1hour documentary film series “AFRICA: A Voyage of Discovery” which first appeared in the UK on Channel 4 television in April 1984 and went on to play worldwide, with an accompanying book.
Basil Davidson’s seminal documentary series ‘Africa’ challenges the long held beliefs like the opinion of David Hume that Africa had ‘no ingenious manufactures among them, no arts, no sciences’. The series presents a pan-African conception of history from the origins of Egypt and Nubia to the liberation movements that Basil was familiar with, and newly independent nations in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
When Greek Historian Herodotus visited Ancient Egypt he described the civilisation he saw there as ‘different but equal’. Episode one shows that some of the world’s greatest early civilisations have their origins in black Africa, including those along the Nile Valley. The episode includes interviews with Senegalese mathematician, philosopher and Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop and explores the growth of African civilisations in West and Northeast Africa.
In the Q&A following the screening we will discuss the extent Victorian Egyptologists ‘whitewashed’ archaeology to fit in with their conception of Africa as a land with no intrinsic history.
About the series:
The series was produced in collaboration between Channel 4, The Nigeria Television Authority MBTV and RM Arts. It first aired 30 years ago in 1984 and won many awards, including the International Film & TV Festival of New York Gold Award. It has since been distributed, free of charge to many schools and colleges in the UK and Africa.
About Basil Davidson
Basil Davidson was a distinguished author and historian, having written more than 30 books on Africa. Prior to this he was a soldier working in Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during World War 2.
AFRICA - Episode 1: Different but Equal. Written & Presented by Basil Davidson. Executive Producer: Mick Csaky. 1983.
AFRICA - Episode 2: Mastering a Continent. Written & Presented by Basil Davidson. Executive Producer: Mick Csaky. 1983.
Join us for our live screening of Episode 3:
Many missed out on her April show at La Linea, as the tickets sold out quickly.
Hailed as a star in contemporary flamenco, Buika is blessed with a remarkable voice; raw and smoky but with a tenderness that hits right at the heart.
This is your opportunity to see her in an intimate environment, playing tracks off her latest release: "La Noche Más Larga"
Get your tickets now, her show at the Barbican is selling fast!
"Buika possesses the most haunting voice to be found on either side of the Atlantic” - Sunday Times
Watch the trailer for her Barbican Show Here
The concert follows her sold out show at this year's La Linea festival and the release of her stunning new album in June.
'Luminous…magnificent…superb!' New York Times
Ticket Prices: £15-£24
Jazz driven by Latin grooves.
Tony Dudu is an in demand session guitarist, appearing on over 100 records with artists from Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tome, Cape Verde and Brazil. Tonight Tony Dudu and his band “Gumbe Jazz” play frenetic jazz dance grooves powered by creative jazz solos.
Africa's Next Generation: A bright Future?
Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
The upcoming second African Development Forum will focus on harnessing the potential of youth for the continent’s development.
Africa is home to 350 million young people – and the numbers are growing rapidly. How can the African continent turn this into an asset? What if it becomes a liability? Which scenarios are likely?
Addressing opportunities and challenges in this context, the Forum will consist of two interactive panel discussions - ‘Mobilizing Youth’ and ’Innovating Africa’ -, involving a range of dynamic speakers from different industries and disciplines. The following questions will be tackled:
Employment: How will the continent employ 350 million young Africans?
Agriculture: How can farming attract Africa’s youth to compete with urbanisation?
Diaspora: What impact will the ‘brain gain’ have on African development?
Entrepreneurship: What is the role of young African women in business?
Leadership: Will the young replace the old and inspire real change in African politics?
Technology: Already pioneering in mobile technology, how can Africa do the same elsewhere?
Visit the African Development Forum website for more information
Organiser: African Development Forum
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
117th AGM of the Royal African Society (members only)
Date & Time: Monday 30 April, 16:15 - 18:15
Venue: Royal African Society, 36 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD
Members are invited to the Annual General Meeting of the Royal African Society, which will be followed by a reception with RAS staff and Council members.
Copies of the 2017 Annual Report will be available on the day.
To RSVP, please send your name and contact details to RAS Administrative Manager Lizzie Orekoya at email@example.com
Image: Amos Ruiz