Africa Day

Cape Times (South Africa), May 25, 2007 | Go to article overview

Africa Day


BYLINE: Zubeida Jaffer

"We must face the matter squarely that where there is something wrong in how we govern ourselves, it must be said that the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

"We know that we have it in ourselves, as Africans, to change all this. We must assert our will to do so - we must say that there is no obstacle big enough to stop us from bringing about an African renaissance." Nelson Mandela.

Africa stands poised at an interesting turning point in its history. Conflicts are steadily in decline, with 46 of 54 countries now multiparty democracies. The remaining eight are in transition away from authoritarianism. In the past year, the economic growth average stood at 5% and international polls found Africans to be more optimistic than Europeans and Americans about their future.

These huge shifts are throwing up both good and bad. Numerous ambiguities blur the horizon.

Zimbabwe obscures the fact that the rest of southern Africa has attained peace in the past 20 years and is enjoying sustained economic growth with Mozambique leading the way at 8%.

The disastrous Nigerian elections throw a damper the on belief that this continent can pull itself out of the quagmire. Is Africa destined to be a place of war and poverty? Or will this century mark the consolidation of a trend towards sustained progress?

History often is a useful way of discerning trends. Let us stand back and sketch a broad picture.

Africa has about 800 million people representing 11.5% of the world population, but with 21% of the Earth's mass - just the opposite of China, which has 11% land mass and 21% of the world's people.

It was the Chinese who were the earliest recorded visitors to Africa. The "Da Ming Hun Yi Tu", the Amalgamated Map of the Great Ming Empire - a replica of which is on display at parliament - dates back to 1389.

Europeans were to come nearly a century later. It was this later period that had the greatest impact on the African way of life. Wars of conquest and their aftermath marked a large part of three centuries before the 1900s. In southern Africa, Dutch conquest all but wiped out the local Khoisan community. At the same time, the slave trade to the Americas severely disrupted west Africa.

Africa's natural resources became the central focus of the colonisation drive and, by 1884, different European countries divided their spoils with little regard for natural boundaries of both the animal and human kingdom.

The early 20th century saw the emergence of nationalist movements to bring Africa back of Africans. Unfortunately, the colonial powers became enmeshed in internal conflicts leading to two World Wars. It was only when their wars ended in 1945 that the battle for an independent Africa gained ground. By 1957, Ghana was the first country to gain its independence from Britain and slowly other countries followed. This coincided with the beginnings of the Cold War between the world's superpowers, the US and its allies sought to maintain influence, competing with the Soviet Union and China.

President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah's call to reverse balkanisation of Africa in 1963 fell on deaf ears, writes Keith Gottschalk, head of political science at the University of the Western Cape. In a paper entitled, Africa: Things Fall Together: The Birth of the African Union, Gottschalk said Nkrumah advocated that the newly independent states should surrender their sovereign independence to become states within a federal United States of Africa, a notion which has again gained ground recently. At the time all other governments except President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania rejected this proposal. They agreed to form the Organisation of African Union, modelled on the older Organisation of American States.

By the end of the 1980s, the Cold War wound down and various civil wars ended in Africa. In 1989, Africa had nine multiparty states. …

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