2020 Africa Day and its discontents, By Issa Aremu

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Africa Day held on Monday, May 25th with the theme: “Silencing the Guns in the context of the COVID19”. Any terrestrial body from the outer space reading about the chosen theme would be right to define the continent almost in terms of double jeopardy of scores of wars of attrition and global pandemic devastating the continent. And she would definitely not be wrong even as she has been misguided. Many avoidable armed conflicts are truly suffocating Africa. They include South Sudan war with estimated 400,000 deaths, the decade-long senseless Boko Haram killing spree which had claimed some 30,000 people with more than two million displaced.  Congo wars caused not less than 5.4 million deaths, principally through disease and starvation. It’s presumed the deadliest conflict since World War II.

The contemporary wars are no less wasteful of human lives as the historic shootings. Nigerian Civil War—1967-70 claimed over 1 million deaths, mostly civilians due to blockade and starvation. Rwandan Genocide—1994 is a permanent scare with almost a million killed. Civil War was an internal conflict in Liberia from 1989 until 1997. A  country of less than 5 millions, lost 250,000 with many thousands displaced. Nigeria reportedly spent $12 billion and lost over 1000 troops  on  Liberia peace campaign  within the context of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the 90s! It’s time Africa Union built a Memorial for the victims of African conflicts.

Certainly a renewed sermon on “Silencing the Guns” is in order. If only the likes of  Khalifa Haftar, the notorious war lord and “Eastern Libyan forces commander would heed the call for a truce!. He audaciously and criminally   urged his troops to battle harder to take Tripoli even during the month of Ramadan! Covid: 19 Africa has also definitely increased the noise level of devastations. The World Health Organisation (WHO) hysterically announced  that about 250,000 million people in Africa would be infected with the deadly viral disease out of which some 190,000 could die in the first 12 months. If North African countries like Egypt, Sudan and Libya were added, the scenario for the continent  in terms of statistics of potential mass burials under COVID 19 is better imagined.

With these grim figures of self inflicted wars and ubiquitous Virus, it is understandable why the twin-theme of war and disease captured the imagination of AU’s bureaucrats in Addis Ababa. However the point cannot be overstated: the vision of the founding fathers of AU was transformative and revolutionary rather than managerial of issues of the moment. In 1963, the motivation of founding fathers  was unity for development not discordant forces over avoidable conflicts or managing an ubiquitous Virus which had reigned in on existing preventable diseases such as malaria and cholera. Founded in 1963, the aim of the Organization of Africa Unity, the precursor of Africa Union (AU) was to safeguard the interests and independence of all African states, encourage the continent’s development, and settle disputes among member states.

In fact, AU at 57th anniversary invokes the nostalgia of the great speech of Ghana’s then president, Kwame Nkrumah. On 24 May 1963, the then 32 independent African countries met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, “to find ways to unite the continent”.”  The theme of unity is a recurring theme for Africa. To what extent as Africans have united against colonialism, neocolonialism, armed conflicts and now COVID:19? The acid   test of unity is how Africa rise up to defend the integrity and independence of Africa Development Bank () against the current neocolonialist meddlesomeness of United States.

It is now an open knowledge that United States of America cynically still insists  on “a further probe despite the clean bill of health given to Mr. Adesina by the board of directors of the bank over sundry allegations.” Two draft charters led to the  establishment of OAU  in 1963, and for a regional development bank. The desire was to eradicate poverty and  Underdevelopment. It was in Khartoum, Sudan, in August 1964, two months OAU charter was ratified that African Development Bank () was formed by twenty-three African governments. Any attack on should therefore be seen as an assault on AU, it’s twin legacy institution.

The  U.S.Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin audaciously did an open letter disagreeing with the conclusions of the ethics committee of the board of directors of AFDB. It is commendable that some African leaders such as President Buhari and former President Obasanjo had rallied support for ADB’s independence. However beyond defensive agonizing, ADB should return to its original charter as a Bank by Africans for Africa. United States would not have allowed an African country subscriber to the shares of North American Development Bank (NADB)  not to talk of an African country questioning the outcomes of its internal rules and regulations. What is good for NADB, is even better for AFDB. At 57, AU should revisit the unthinking wholesale financial liberalization which allowed for non-African countries to join the bank and even dictate the terms of discipline no less the lending rates. I agree with the President of Namibia, Dr. Hage Geingob, that  African Union (AU) had achieved “what some thought would be impossible – a free, democratic, self-governing and most importantly an Africa without incessant civil wars”. In 1963, Nelson Mandela and others were out of trail for sedition for standing up against the crime against humanity which Apartheid was. In 1964  Mandela and seven others were  sentenced to life imprisonment.

After spending  27 years behind bars, Mandela was  released  in 1990, thanks to global solidarity campaign led by OAU/AU. Mandela voted  for the first time in his life in 1994 and became the first democratically elected President of non-racial South Africa. Today the entire continent is politically sovereign with the exception of Western Sahara still under the domination of Morocco reigned by the French. The chair of the Africa Union, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa hit the nail on the head when in his anniversary speech he observed that “As Africans we will continue to stand on the side of justice and support the people of the Western Sahara in their enduring struggle for freedom and self-determination”. Undoubtedly Africa Day held “in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic”, with over 100,000 Africans infected  and almost 5000 dead. But Africa managed the pandemic better than United States which going by as many as over 100,000 deaths qualified as a failed state. Africa has rightly reacted to minimize COVID: 19 impact  on businesses, employment and incomes with series of bail outs. What of the impact on education of millions of students in Africa?. In Nigeria before  the pandemic, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicated that the population of out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world!

Today as many as 120,000,000 children and students are currently out of school in West Africa, most of them from Nigeria. If measures are not in place urgently, there might be renewed MASS ILLITERACY in Africa. It’s time for genuine collaboration and unity of purpose between African states in combating the impact of the pandemic within the new normal and African Union’s Agenda 2063

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