AFRICA AND THE LONG SEARCH FOR MEANING (By Babatunde Fagbayibo)

Posted: March 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

Underlining the variety of political and economic issues in postcolonial Africa in the past 5 decades is the search for meaning and relevance. The key terms and concepts that have shaped relational dynamics, be it external or internal, all carry the complex task of reframing and restructuring how Africa sees itself and wants to be seen by the rest. Terms such as decolonisation, Pan-Africanism, regional integration, democratic governance etc., have all contributed to this important discourse. Many have thus argued that context is very essential in unpacking and discoursing these variables. In this sense, it has been rightly argued that if Africa is to become relevant and move from the periphery of global political economy, it has to devise its own path.

Agreed. But now the question is how should the continent carve a path amidst the numerous self-inflicted problems it continues to grapple with? For example, some continue to argue that democracy is contextual and does not have to follow the neoliberal, western approach but how then should we conceptualise the idea of freedom of citizens? Even if we were to make our democratic agenda conform to our socio-cultural contexts, could we not find a way in which the voices of our people are not forcefully muted, and their lives endangered by state apparatuses?

The debate in the early 1990s by African scholars was on how to draw the link between democracy and development, with some arguing that if democracy doesn’t bring development then it is irrelevant to Africa. I still pitch my tent with the likes of Thandika Mkandawire, who argued that the instrumentalist conception of democracy is problematic, as it has a way of condoning the activities of tyrants who push the “development before democracy” agenda. Mkandawire argued that democracy need not be seen as instrumental but as an ideal on its own, an ideal that advances liberty and freedom.

Similarly, the idea of advancing regional integration and cooperation on the continent remains entrapped by numerous obstacles. The sad point is that there has always been some form of consensus among African leaders on the centrality of regional cooperation to development yet they show no serious sign to activate the fundamentals necessary for this. Even where there are ideological differences on how to proceed, the logical, but often ignored, expectation is that those with similar ideological approach should coalesce and show the rest the workability of their appoach. The routine disregard of organisational objectives has unfortunately become the moniker of regional integration in Africa. The successes are sadly the exception rather than the rule.

Africa’s engagement with the outside world is another aspect of its search for meaning. China’s role in Africa has now become one of the definitive features of this engagement. However, the question is whether or not Africa has a coherent and decisive plan of engagement. Beyond the high level meetings with Chinese officials, the rhetoric of “we are now looking east”, and sweet deals that only benefit the politically connected, to what extent have our political elites crafted a national/regional development plan that ensures a sustainable, win-win partnership with China? Civil society is often left out of the loop, with the average African having little or no idea about how China-Africa relations impact his or her condition. Yet we are often told that this partnership is our ticket out of the province of irrelevance.

Through its Agenda 2063, the African Union has once again come up with a plan to move Africa into relevance. This 50 year plan says nothing new as it restates many of the ideas that have been included in previous plans. It is vague and shows no concrete plan of implementation. One suspects that like other plans before it, Agenda 2063 will slowly fade into oblivion, to be replaced by another buzzword.

The long walk to and search for meaning is not and cannot be a smooth linear trajectory. History shows that such move can be messy and fraught with a number of missteps. But one lesson from history is the importance of determination and seriousness. Africa will have to find its own path but one suffused in clearly thought out plan and programmes, with concomitant level of willingness.

Beyond the quantitative conception, it is important to ensure the qualitative point of such move. In terms of quantity, some would argue that the raft of normative instruments at the regional level, “Africa is rising” story, infrastructure development by China… all point to things we can count as markers of advancement and meaning.

But the question remains: what of the quality of such move towards meaning? This is where we need to look at the mirror, to understand the enormity of our problems. It begins with understanding that our afflictions are more psychological than physical. The self-inflicted problems of not committing to regional and national development agendas, butchering and silencing real and imagined opposition, engendering xenophobic policies, calling France before ratifying or implementing regional programmes , endorsing the actions of tyrants (“without him the country will collapse”), endorsing electoral irregularities (and failing to learn lessons of how this easily snowballs into armed conflict)… are some of the actions that ensure that our march towards the promised land of meaning is a sluggish 2 steps backward, 1 step forward motion.

You can follow the writer on twitter @babsfagbayibo, and facebook: https://www.facebook.com/babs.fagbayibo

 

 

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