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Putting Africa from Being Last to First: Does Africa Stand Now?
ArticlesNES COMMENTARY. 35.                  

Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES)

May 25, 2010

Putting Africa from Being Last to First: Does Africa Stand Now?

1. Inspiration

“Africa must travel together as one or no part of it will arrive at its destination” Julius Nyerere

“If Africa fails to unite, then a potentially great nation will go to sleep forever… K.Nkrumah

“Open up a new vision, where the last becomes the first!”

Quoted from the book, Muchie et al (eds.) Putting Africa First: The Making of African Innovation Systems, Aalborg University, Aalborg University Press, 2003, p.1

“The stone that the builders rejected can become the cornerstone of the arch.” From the Preface, Quoted from the book, Muchie et al (eds.) Putting Africa First: The Making of African Innovation Systems, Aalborg University, Aalborg University Press, 2003, p.1

2. Introduction

1960s marks the seminal period of post-colonial independence in Africa. It is the year that saw the emergence of the most number of the current African post-colonial states. In 2010 this year some 17 states celebrate their jubilee anniversary.

2010 also marks the 125 years of the European Scramble for Africa. It is also the year where openly Africa is said to be under the threat of a new scramble for Africa.

Either for good or bad this year is special. It marks a jubilee as it also signifies the divide and rule year that tore Africa apart. It also marks the time when the Fifa World cup went to Africa.

May 25, 2010 is also a special day when in 1963 the Organization of African Unity was founded thirty seven years ago. This day has been designated Africa Liberation Day. In fact the whole of May is designated also African liberation month.

Where does Africa stand today? Has Africa stood up with liberation or is it still in the process of trying to stand up against its humiliation?  When will Africa’s humiliation end? Is the liberation of Africa tied to acquiring real agency to determine and shape Africa’s future? If Africans recognize the need to end their humiliation once and for all, they need to come together and unite for their voice and liberation?  “Since Africans are humiliated as Africans, they have to be liberated as Africans.” May 25 every year reminds Africans how much they have travelled along the road they have travelled less so far, the unity road.

3. Still the Last Remains Last!

The world is going through turmoil now and the Africa the builders condemned has not yet become the cornerstone of the arch. It is not only those from outside of Africa who have learned to know how to continue to exploit Africa’s mineral and human wealth condemning Africa to remain where it has been for over 500 years-in the last place, but also the rent-seeking and public service shying elites in Africa who have developed the currency of corruption to make, retain and condemn Africa to remain last with so much private vice. If Nigeria produces 2 million barrel of oil a day and sells this about 100 dollars per barrel, why is it that Nigeria does not still have reliable energy infrastructure given it revels with all these riches from oil? If Angola harvests 700,000 barrels of oil from Cabinda, why is it that it continues to harvest war rather than electricity for the people especially in Cabinda? What else can we say about those who harvest so much wealth by digging Africa’s mines and still have disproportionate sections of the people in abject poverty. Why not put the vast riches to provide food security, modernize agriculture, health, education, water, sanitation, reliable electricity, information and computer technologies and all the things that build and expand human and ecological well being. Why not start changing the conditions of the least advantaged to enjoy decent livelihood allowing them to have entitlement to enhance their productive powers and their differential capability? Why are those who export abundant energy are energy poor themselves and whilst those that import their energies are energy secure? We can only say that for these elites who plunder Africa, Africans and/or Africa is not their priority too. Their real priority is their pocket.

It is 125 years today when European powers tore Africa apart into bizarre pieces. It is 50 years since a third of Africa including Nigeria attained what has been described post-colonial independence. The problems from that cynical project of the divide and rule of Africa continue to fester and hurt Africa. The moment of Sudan’s independence was also a moment of rebellion that has not been settled to this day. Cabinda is carved as a small independent enclave between Angola and the two Congo Republics. The DR Congo has huge minerals that have attracted protracted instability since gaining independence from the Belgian kings. There are states within a state like Lesotho and Swaziland within South Africa. The list of clubbing together disparate groups and splitting apart cognate groups is endless. Every African state has this problem inscribed in the artificial borders others drew with callous indifference and greed.

In spite of this negative legacy, Africa today faces great opportunities before it and it also confronts many problems. What remains open is whether the possibilities will overcome the problems or the problems will undermine the opportunities.

4. South Africa Has the Potential to Provide Leadership

One of the greatest potential opportunities for Africa is the coming of South Africa from its exclusion to be part of Africa and the rest of the world. In 1994 South Africa declared a society where there will be freedom and democracy for citizens and for the rest of the continent, a grand vision of propelling Africa into a renaissance and a 21st century that is going to be African. The twinning of freedom and democracy at home and an African renaissance and African century were the distinctive hallmarks that emerged with South Africa’s successful emergence from a racialist era to fire the liberation imagination of the African universe. Its liberation constitutes part and parcel of the long African struggle best signified by the long Ethiopian resistance never to surrender to colonialism, slavery and imperialism since the 15th century proxy war was fought on Ethiopian soil by the declining Ottoman Empire and the rising Iberian power of Portugal.  The final freedom of South Africa closes the long degrading and humiliating chapter of African colonization and opens the historical era of freedom, independence and unity. This historical significance of South Africa’s freedom needs to be fully appreciated. Such an appreciation means that South Africa has to provide leadership for realizing the unity of Africans and Africa. This means that South Africa today should be prepared even to change the constitution to accommodate the African Renaissance and the African century. South Africa should be prepared to say that when the time is ripe, it will be willing to rescind its current borders and enter into agreement to forge, consolidate and sustain an African unity or the African-unification nation. As a leading African economy, its clarity on its readiness when the situation is appropriate to unite with the rest of Africa by not fearing the loss of sovereignty is a paramount principle we should have been hearing from South Africa’s intellectuals, media and Government since 1994. In fact all African post-colonial states must allow the opportunity when appropriate; they are willing to unite by sacrificing their current sovereignty. The freedom of one is the foundation for the freedom of all.

Today we have a situation where it is not clear how South Africa is relating to the rest of Africa and how the rest of Africa also sees the role of South Africa’s important leadership role in Africa.

South Africa has access to forums that many other African states do not have. It matters deeply whether South Africa speaks for Africa or dissipates or squanders that energy by not following through the magnificent vision of its rebirth into a non-racial democracy into an overall African imagination. South Africa is often invited to G8 and G20 and it also has various linkages with the transition states like Brazil, China and India. At the Climate meeting in Copenhagen, it was not the Africa Union or the European Union the USA chose to negotiate with, it was South Africa, Brazil, India and China. But as South Africa continues to focus attention to these transition countries, it may be losing its pivotal role to inspire the unity of Africa and may render, inadvertently Africa open to forces that may even undermine South Africa itself in the long run. The determination and clarity that above all South Africa must put Africa first in all its policies is paramount to make overall progress that expands the African liberation imagination forward ever and ever. Which African country has the infrastructure South Africa has, for example, to invite, the Fifa World Cup?

5. Concluding by Proposing a New Challenge

May 25 is particularly significant to remember because the movement to unite Africa has not been as successful as it should have been. The founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity have been attacked in their own home countries. President Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown and later died in exile. He has since been rehabilitated and on May 25, 2010 impressive gathering of African leaders from Kenneth Kaunda to Museveni of Uganda are in Accra to launch the Nkrumah chair on African integration.

In our own country, Emperor Haile Selassie who worked very closely with Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown by a military junta. He has not been rehabilitated and awareness of his powerful contribution to African unity in Ethiopia remains patchy and controversial. As there are many sectarian interests in the country, Ethiopia’s epic role and her last emperor’s contribution to Africa unity remain unrecognized in Ethiopia itself- the home ground where May 25 was chosen to become Africa liberation day. Like Nkrumah, there is a need to open a Haile Selassie Chair for African Unity in Ethiopia. If the degrading ethnic politics of the current time prevents it from being launched in Ethiopia, there is no doubt the Haile Selassie who has been reputed to be the first advocate for establishing the Pan-African University for Africa would be recognized by others in Africa, at least with a research chair, if not more.

If Ethiopians celebrate Africa liberation day on May 25 every year, they have to come to terms whether they like it or not the Haile Selassie who was the Nkrumah of Africa from Ethiopia has to be rehabilitated too. This rehabilitation is not just for Haile Selassie per se, it is for Ethiopians and Ethiopia as a whole, and indeed for larger Africa too! It is to respect Ethiopia. It is to respect Africa. It is to retain a positive memory of May 25 every year, the Africa liberation month! Ethiopia needs to upgrade its national reality to the African one not go down the ethnic vernacular involution and convolution. What is needed is building the idea of the Africa- unification nation. If Africa is to go through a renaissance, the African unification nation is the means to realize it. Nothing but the productive united power of Africans can bring this unification- nation of Africa. The positive data that has been rejected must be acknowledged to forge this unity with enduring time and sense of fairness and justice.

Mammo Muchie, DST/NRF Research Professor of Innovation Studies, Aalborg University, Denmark, & SLPTMD, Oxford University:,,

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