My membership in the African Union Youth Advisory Board
Zürich, Saturday 12th August 2017
This past week has been an absolute whirl wind. I’m currently sitting on the plane, on my way to Denmark just digesting this current moment and the events that have brought me to this particular state of clarity, appreciation and renewed drive.
Spending three days at the beacon of African governance and pan-african thought, The African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, all deeply rooted in my love for my continent and its people. However, this is not going to be one of those romanticised blog posts on Africa littered with hyperbole and irrational passion. Instead this blog is a call to action – practical, tangible, non-rhetorical ACTION. I was inspired by the words of Ibraheem Sanusi, Deputy Head of African Governance Architecture (AGA) Secretariat in the African Union Commission’s Department of Political Affairs. During his presentation to us, the 2nd African Union Youth Advisory Board (AU YAB), he said “the point is we have to rescue this continent” .. ok it’s definitely one of those – you had to be there – to feel the power in which he delivered it.
Very simple words, obvious even. However, in the context of his presentation which highlighted fundamental challenges particularly around participation and the need to mobilise micro agency on the ground, these words resonated with me quite significantly. In my opinion, constructive participation and collective action is integral and crucial to this cry for salvation. So how exactly do we go about rescuing our beloved continent? I have some thoughts. But before I go on, I have to preface my contributions with the appreciation and acknowledgement that the complexities, nuances and varieties in trajectories on the ground mean that my solutions are going to be at worst dimensionally limited and at best food for thought.
At the moment, and for many decades before now, Africa has been in some form of crisis or another. The forms and dimensions of these crises come in many different shapes and size; conflict, corruption, terrorism, poverty, negligent health care, unemployment, crime and the list goes on. Parallel to this of course is the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative which alternatively highlights the economic successes of the continent. This is welcomed but for me, economic development should not be celebrated at that rate when it is so exclusive and only enjoyed by a few elite (many of which reside outside of the continent). All these issues however, in my view, are merely symptoms of underlying structural forces that as a continent we are yet to aggressively and collectively address. I have divided these forces into 3 main sub-themes 1. Neo-colonialism 2. Collective identity crisis 3. Lack of Leadership. To unpack and dissect these issues which are systemic and deeply entrenched, we need bold, innovative and ambitious ideas which abandon our current solutions which only perpetuate and pacify the status quo. And this can only be achieved with the commitment and involvement of everyone. This is why participation is key.
I’m an avid believer and advocator of participation however participation in and of itself will not save us. A more holistic approach to participation will be needed in order to redirect our development paths. Aptly put by John Gaventa (2004) “Participatory governance is not simply achieved from above with new policy statements, but requires multiple strategies of institutional change, capacity building, and behavioural change”. This means reforming what we mean by participation to take it beyond its current form which has been reduced to empty token procedures which yield no real results or consequence.
Effective participation is directly dependent on the strength of the citizens, and in this case strength means intellectual leverage and awareness. Without this we have ill-informed citizens making ill informed decisions and reaping ill-informed results. This is why many participatory mechanisms – not only in Africa – are becoming obsolete and merely ceremonial. A critical mass of enlightened and informed citizens who, when called to engage and participate will not be reduced to passive bystanders but focal drivers of the narrative.
The existence of the AU YAB is definitely a step in the right direction. It’s focus on creating direct platforms, activities and solutions for harnessing the demographic dividend is a great example of participatory mechanisms which yield tangible results. But more needs to be done.
We need to take a deep dive assessment into our education systems. We need to ask ourselves if we are truly nurturing and cultivating people who are ready to participate and engage whilst also being constructively critical of their governance institutions. We are not. Our curriculums are western impositions of intellectual control and power. They fuel and perpetuate the divide and conquer rhetoric which was embedded during colonialism. Our curriculums do not reflect the wealth of power, diversity and innovation of our histories. Our histories are instead reduced to having started at the arrival of western ‘explorers’.
Feminist Pan-Africanism is the Answer
“Feminist pan-Africanism emerges as the visionary ideological frame of its times, to fast become a transnational political movement concerned with nothing less than the complete liberation of all African people.”
Our forefathers and mothers were onto something. Something huge. Something, if utilised and deployed right could be the beginning of real change on the continent. I have built on the need for constructive participation and education being the greatest vehicle/avenue to achieve this. But I must stress that it needs to be the right kind of education. Education that reflects us, empowers us, breaks down divisive barriers, builds bridges and unearths the treasure trove of greatness that is African history, present and future. We are giving in to private conglomerates who want to solely exploit our people and make profits of our gifts. We are fighting among each other over land, territory and resources which we originally shared.
Knowing what we share, what unites us and what empowers us, is the beginning of ending the cyclical patterns of neo-colonial exploitation and capital flight. The beginning of healing conflicts between ethnic groups, countries, sexes and races.
The solution I propose is a pan-African curriculum. Each African country adopting and integrating curricula which is integrally Afrocentric and pan-African. This idea is very ambitious and exists in a context and ecosystem which makes it’s deployment logistically, politically and economically challenging. So many variables to be considered. It’s definitely something that I need to refine and explore more. But so much work around this has already been done by initiatives such as Open African, Feminist Africa, Africa Matters, OkayAfrica, Everyday Africa and so many more!
So ultimately participation, mobilisation and collective agency is the nail and pan-Africanism is the hammer. Stay tuned as I build and develop my idea further. And please feel free to join me in this mission.