Africa: Building on Hopes?

By Onadipe, Abiodun | Contemporary Review, February 2000 | Go to article overview

Africa: Building on Hopes?

Onadipe, Abiodun, Contemporary Review

AFRICA has experienced numerous changes during the last century. Some were progressive, others were setbacks. Colonialism brought about fundamental changes both economically and socially. The Cold War wrought changes in very profound ways - politically, militarily and technologically. Globalisation, at the turn of the twenty-first century, will change Africa even more, for good or bad. The fervent hope is that this new millennium will mark the re-emergence of Africa: the dawn of Africa's renaissance, as Africa re-discovers itself.

The continent is moving in multiple directions simultaneously and at different speeds and levels that defy characterisation. Some countries are implementing economic and democratic reforms, which are ominously overshadowed: privatisation is synonymous with corporate greed and elections have pre-programmed winners. Even aid promised to countries implementing reforms has not materialised. Debt relief and/or cancellation are slow in coming, foreign investment - the basis of globalisation - has been patchy, often focusing on the exploitation of natural resources.

Consequently, Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate, argues that there can be no renaissance amid the chaos being witnessed on the continent. 'From Uganda of Idi Amin and Milton Obote to present day Sierra Leone, from Siad Barre's Somalia and Mariam Mengistu's Ethiopia to Liberia, the dismal story has been wearisomely repeated. . . Time, surely, that one began to consider for instance how much each day costs us in Sierra Leone, Sudan or Angola and then compare this to the entire budget of African nations.'

The opening session of the 55th UN General Assembly last September provided some measure of the continent's problems and developments. African leaders' speeches focused on various problems and concerns facing the continent, including conflict resolution, debt relief, HIV/AIDS and other epidemics, global trade and other perennial North/South issues revolving around poverty alleviation. It also revealed two important developments in Africa: the two strongest economies - Nigeria and South Africa - are awakening to their responsibilities and pulling in the same direction. They are leading the campaign to restructure the Security Council. (After a three-year suspension, Nigeria was formally re-admitted to the Commonwealth at its heads of state meeting last November in South Africa, following the restoration of democratic government last May.) Arguing that the current permanent membership of the Council is inconsistent with the democratic principles the UN promotes, they point out that Africa is the only continent unrepresented on the Council and it should have at least two seats commensurate not only with the continent's size and population but with its track record of contributing to international peace and security.

They criticised the UN's reaction to crises in Africa, attributing it to the fact that African countries were not active participants in the decision-making process of the Council nor in the monitoring of implementing the decisions reached. For instance, Zambia's President Chiluba, facilitator in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) conflict, asserted that for peace to reign in the region, the UN must authorise and support the deployment of a peacekeeping force, dispatch the already agreed technical survey team, support the facilitation of the internal dialogue process while mobilising humanitarian assistance and the reconstruction process. The UN was also urged to assume its proper responsibilities in Sierra Leone. Nigeria's President Obasanjo remarked: 'For too long the burden of preserving international peace and security in West Africa has been left almost entirely to a few states within our sub-region... For our economy to take off, this bleeding has to stop and the UN needs to do more in providing lo gistics and financial support to regional peacekeeping forces as well as enhancing the welfare of refugees without discrimination.

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