Africa Action / ECA: Roundtable Report, 07/10/01

Africa Action / ECA: Roundtable Report, 07/10/01

Africa Action / ECA: Roundtable Report Date distributed (ymd): 010710 APIC Document

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Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+


This posting contains the foreword and selected quotes from the just-released book-length report from International Policies, African Realities, last year's Electronic Roundtable hosted by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), in partnership with the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and with assistance from Bellanet. The 111-page report features selected contributions from three of the Roundtable sessions, as well as brief reflections on lessons learned.

Panelists with selected remarks in the report include Taoufik Ben Abdallah, Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye, Yassine Fall, Thandika Mkandawire, Dominique Njinkeu, Jacqueline Nkoyok, Tade Aina, Dede Amanor-Wilks, Ezra Mbogori, Patricia McFadden, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Anatole Ayissi, Jakkie Cilliers, Mohamed Sahnoun, Hussein Solomon, and George Wachira.

The report is available in both PDF and HTML format at:

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International Policies, African Realities

Report from an Electronic Roundtable

Economic Commission for Africa

Africa Action


Today's global issues, from HIV/ AIDS to global warming, and from trade policies to the failure of international peace-keeping, have their most immediate and devastating consequences in Africa. Yet global policymakers rarely take adequate account of African realities, or benefit from the full participation of African voices. The resulting inappropriate or simplistic agendas have often been imposed on Africa, with minimal consultation.

Changing this pattern, through consultation among diverse African partners and through projecting African voices into the global arena, has been a central priority for the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The Africa Policy Information Center (APIC, now a part of Africa Action), has in recent years been a crucial conduit for making African policy perspectives accessible to diverse constituencies in the United States and around the world.

Last year, from January to May, the two organizations co-sponsored "International Policies, African Realities: An Electronic Roundtable," which brought more than 500 people together, with African panelists and participants from Africa and around the world, in a structured on-line discussion on a range of African issues.

We are now releasing this new publication based on the Roundtable because we think it contains valuable lessons for the ongoing process of making effective and innovative use of new communication technologies to advance African shaping of continental and global policies. It contains selected extracts from the Roundtable proceedings brought together by moderators Dr. AbdouMaliq Simone and Karin Santi, as well as reflections on lessons learned from the moderators and Africa Action senior research fellow William Minter.

In recent years, on-line discussions have helped expand the range of participation and multiply the impact of Africa-wide meetings: notably the 40th anniversary meeting of the ECA in 1998 focused on women in development, and the ECA's annual African Development Forums highlighting information technology (1999) and HIV/ AIDS (2000). The ECA/ APIC Roundtable showed that, despite Africa's lag in internet connectivity, there is already a critical mass of Africans--in almost every African country--who are sufficiently well connected to participate actively in international electronic debates.

But we are still only beginning to harness the full potential of technologies already available to use to advance Africa's agendas. In order for Africa to confront the enormous challenges it faces in the years ahead, Africans must not only communicate with each other across the national borders and vast distances of the continent. We must also find ever more effective ways to put forward Africa's distinctive voices and change the world's priorities on global issues that affect our future.

We must do that for Africa, and for our common humanity.

K. Y. Amoako Executive Secretary Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

Salih Booker Executive Director Africa Action


Africa Action wishes to acknowledge The Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Ford Foundation for their generous support of Africa Action's role in the Roundtable. The Economic Commission for Africa and Africa Action wish to thank Bellanet for provision of computer hosting and technical advice for the Roundtable.


Selected Quotes from Report

Mkandawire: Perhaps the first important thing Africans can do is to reassume responsibility for plotting the paths of development in their respective countries. The tragedy of Africa's policy-making and policy implementation in the last several years is the complete surrender of national policies to the ever-changing ideas of international experts.

What is not often appreciated is that most of what appears today as new insights about the imperatives of poverty reduction, investment in infrastructure and education, the requirements of rapid industrialization, and the structural and institutional bottlenecks of Africa's underdevelopment are nothing but the rehearsal of old but disparaged ideas of African scholars and policymakers.

Ben Abdallah: It is difficult to imagine Africa's integration into the world economy based on specialization in primary commodities, on scarcely diversified economies, and on devastated social sectors. Rather, the foundation must be massive investment in education and training and in economic and social infrastructure, together with the construction of stable and democratic institutions. Without these, no vision of sustainable development stands a chance.

Fall: The centerpiece of Africa's struggle for equality, human development and peace lies in one of the most profound imbalances: the lack of equality between women and men.

African governments and international institutions are led by conservative men with ideologies of the past. They surely deserve a failing grade for the gender biased policies they have been carrying out all over Africa. Women need and deserve more than literature and rhetoric in this new century. They want to see concrete, systematic and measurable change to reverse their situation for the better.

Ben Abdallah: There is discrimination against those involved in the informal economy. This is reflected in terms of economic discourse. For example, the terms "investment" and "investors" generally apply only to the so-called modern economy, and of course to foreign investment. While many reforms are undertaken to attract foreign investment and create an economic, judicial, and institutional environment favorable to the private sector, the mass of small producers largely depend on programs to combat poverty.

Kapijimpanga: Frankly, Africa has not been marginalized. We as Africa (governments and institutions) and Africans (as people) have marginalized ourselves. We have adopted or allowed our so-called leaders to agree and to adopt policies that have led to this marginalization.

We must turn our language around so that in every problem that we have faced, we can see for ourselves new opportunities for change.

Odinkalu: Ben Abdallah's very rich and original contribution unfortunately ends at the point where it was beginning to get really interesting. ... he suggests that Africa "must, therefore, demand from the multilateral trading system as much access as possible for its products to the markets of the wealthy countries."

This is quite interesting but seems to me, on closer examination to be based on a doubtful premise. For what are we going to be demanding access? You only demand access for what you produce. It doesn't help to demand access for the extracts from the earth which, excepting a few exceptions, we don't control anyway.

Okigbo: We need to discuss how to break the thick walls of silence in Africa. Our silence provides the manure for nurturing inconsiderate leaders at all levels.


Mbogori: I would like to suggest that democracy is more actively discussed today than has ever been the case before. Yet, there is a more noticeable lack of democratic practice today than ever before.

Let me try to illustrate this, beginning at the micro level. Take a household in some rural setting anywhere in sub-Sahara Africa. In whatever village we may want to situate ourselves, poverty will be an ever-present. The notion of democracy, where this might be interpreted to mean participation and the ability to exercise one's free choice, would appear far removed from reality.

I am reminded of one such household in which I learned that a six year old child was known to have asked her eight year old sister if there was any way the sister could get her a job in the city, or indeed anywhere away from home. ... in this household meals are served only occasionally, and even then, most times amounts to only a small cup of porridge. The desperation exhibited by every member of the household sets fertile ground for violence, which is itself, a common occurrence. No one in the household even thinks about their rights, let alone respects those of others. Inevitably the rights trampled upon are those of women.

Aina:In many African countries, governments and regimes flagrantly breach the rule of law and human rights, which they have not only sworn to defend, but, in certain cases, they had themselves established.

Attacks also come from sources beyond governments and regimes. The enemies of democracy are not only in governments. They are in churches, mosques, temples and shrines, and also in homesteads, kraals, shantytowns, high-income estates, communities and in civil society. These enemies are everywhere that intolerance, exclusion, injustice, domination and unmitigated exploitation and victimization of others occur. They not only use the resources of governments, but also use weapons such as guns, knives, clubs, "pangas", petrol and other bombs, "necklaces" and lynching to pursue their goals. As a result, we get the genocide in Rwanda, the ethnic riots and killings in Burundi, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. This is why in Africa today, democracy and human rights are not only about governments (though these are the greatest culprits!).

Odinkalu: Across the continent, direct colonialism ended without resolving or even addressing the explosive problem of power sharing in the multi-national, multi-ethnic and, in some places, even multi-civilizational masterpiece of cartographic arbitrariness that became Africa. The elite of Africa's nationalists, who inherited the raft of dictatorial powers, legislation and attitudes that sustained colonialism, were quick to experiment with their newfound powers with an impatience only matched by the enthusiasm of a child trying out a new toy.

In less time than it took colonial administrators to leave the continent, the high sounding, high-minded rhetoric of the independence movement--perhaps, the second truly popular human rights movement with its origins or inspiration in Africa, the first being the anti-slavery movement--was replaced by the instinct of political leaders to survive in power as the raison d'^tre of government.

Amanor-Wilks: Zimbabwe's farm workers are a particularly acute example of how easily a significant sector of a population can be by-passed by worldwide trends towards greater human rights and democracy.

Farm workers have remained outside the normal governance structures available to other Zimbabwean communities largely because they have traditionally been viewed as "aliens". This is the case even though many of them are in fact Zimbabweans, and a good number second, third or fourth generation Malawians, Mozambicans and Zambians who have no other home but Zimbabwe. Because of high levels of illiteracy and lack of political representation, they may not have regularized their status in the country.

McFadden: Most Africans are not yet citizens, either in the manner they perceive themselves (at the level of the individual with an identity and an agency to interact with her/ his socio-political reality) or in terms of inter-personal relationships.

Women in particular have been excluded from this process of becoming "righted" ...

Through legal systems which continue to define women in relation to sexist, supremacist notions of inferiority and subordination--each of these mobilizing culture as a weapon and a resource that excludes women from the most critical sites of social creativity whilst privileging and pampering males as the "knowers" of our societies--women still have to struggle to break into the most critical sites of contestation in all African societies, without exception.

Odinkalu: To many of our people, the "wave" of human rights and democratization that "swept" through Africa only meant optimal political turbulence and hardly a ripple of positive difference to their well being. These notions offered a terminally endangered middle and intellectual class a limited facility of protest, where in the past, they were actively complicit in or indifferent to bad government.

For them, democracy meant replacing existing power with a different face, and human rights represented the prerogative to realize this ambition as theirs. They prosecuted the project of democratization "for", defended human rights "on behalf of", and sought power "in the name" of the "people" rather than "with" them.

Aina: We must build the conditions for the rule of law and an environment of social justice and equity. My honest view is that most African countries have little space to avoid doing this for too long. Africa today is not the Africa of the 1960s. Communications, social awareness and a readiness to resist have increased significantly. We must change or be destroyed through endless conflicts, balkanization and the disintegration of states and national boundaries.

Mamdani: My appeal is that there is an alternative to junking custom as patriarchal and ethnic. It is to democratize our notion of custom. Just as we recognize that democracy means recognizing that there are choices within modernity, that modernity is plural and not singular, so we need to extend the democratic perspective to the past. The result would be to recognize that custom, too, was the subject of contention, which gave rise to plural--and even at times opposed--perspectives. Custom should thus cease to be the political counterpart to the Structural Adjustment Program, and Customary Authorities the internal counterpart to the Bretton Woods institutions, whose writ we are supposed to either throw up or swallow, but never to submit to a democratic process.

Aidoo: I was very intrigued by the issue of citizenship and all of its trappings--identity documents, etc. Clearly on this issue, even the best constitutional provisions for human rights in Africa are inadequate, for they always focus exclusively on citizenship rights. So-called "aliens", who are simply other African working people, are simply disenfranchised.

Odinkalu: In the euphoria of the close results from the recent election in Senegal ...I fail to see--not for want of trying--how the prospect of a 75 year-old former law professor and minister replacing his 63 year-old former boss and benefactor necessarily represents the much-touted "change" on whose brink we are invited to believe Senegal's `democracy' now is. Democracy in Africa will remain a pie in the sky unless the project excites our youths.Building a politically credible and ethically regenerated leadership potential among Africa's young people remains one of the eternal challenges of our democracy project.


Cilliers: Today, the surfeit of arms and lack of control over national territories has resulted in much of Sub-Saharan Africa being characterized not by the state's monopoly over the instruments of coercion, but by a balance of force between the state and the community. The result, in a highly armed and violent continent, ironically, is the creation of a security vacuum. Within Nairobi, Johannesburg or Luanda, security is available to those who can afford it. To Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, war comes to those countries that have exploitable resources worth fighting over. In both instances the vast majority of the poor population are left to fend for themselves and forced to arm and organize to prevent their exploitation by local warlords, ethnically based politicians or criminals.

Ayissi: For many African people, the post-Cold War great expectations of a bright new era of peace and conviviality blew up at the very moment the rest of the world was celebrating the dislocation of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Sahnoun: A whole generation of African children is being inducted into a culture of violence marked by violent death and injury. Of the 7-8 million fatalities in Africa's recent regional conflicts, 2 million were children. Four to five million children have been disabled, another 12 million left homeless. More than 1 million orphaned or separated from their families.

Wachira: In itself, the proliferation of arms throughout the continent is of important significance to peace and security. As states engage in wars or fight rebels, keeping track of arms (especially those defined as "light" or "small" arms) becomes very difficult as control regimes collapse. Arms that are today in legal (government) hands easily become the illicit ones in tomorrow's wars, car-jacking and bank robberies.

Africa's leadership must bear responsibility for peace and security or its absence. There has been a tendency (mostly Western media-driven) to assess the performance of Africa's leaders in terms of how they compare to their predecessors or neighbors. From this perspective, President Moi of Kenya is judged at how well he has kept his country strife-free as compared to neighboring Sudan or Somalia, while President Museveni of Uganda is judged by how well he has kept Uganda together as compared to regimes before his. Not too long ago, the leaders of Rwanda, Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia were hailed as a new-breed and visionary, a harbinger of better things to come from Africa. Several years later, there is no immediate evidence of any innovation on their part that could provide long-term solutions to the problems of the Horn of Africa and Great Lakes regions. On the contrary, the regions' stability seems to have deteriorated and become more militarized.

Prah:I want only to underscore the fact that without economic prosperity and social justice there cannot be peace in Africa. It is for this latter reason that I find Anatole Ayisi's point that "the United Nations repeatedly mentioned this self-evident truth: there is no peace without a local genuine will for peace" inadequate. Certainly without a will for peace there can be no peace. But more importantly, the conditions for peace need to exist; otherwise, there will be no will for peace. I do not think Africans are inherently more peace-loving or less peace-loving than any other group in the human community. The point is that people resort to unpeaceful processes when peaceful solutions and conditions elude them.


From: "APIC" <> Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2001 12:41:15 -0500 Subject: Africa Action / ECA: Roundtable Report

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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