Africa 2009: Take responsibility for the future

Former President Mandela turned 91 on Saturday, 18 July.  The day has been declared a national day in recognition of President Mandela’s contribution to the democratic revolution.

The fact that President Mandela is a universal icon is not in dispute but what is significant is that after 15 years of post-apartheid experience, the barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding still exist in South Africa.  The struggle to eliminate social and economic discrimination is not over it will be changed by us working together.

Mandela was not much older than our generation when he began the long march and in so doing made his mark on history.

What is required is a determined attempt to change the hearts and minds of not only the previously advantaged but the minds of the previously disadvantaged.

Mandela’s journey was rough and full of all kinds of roadblocks.  Because of people like Mandela we can now take elevators to fame and financial security.  Our founding fathers stood up for us even when they knew that the future was uncertain with no guarantees and more importantly that when they storm was over they would be standing.

Can we stand up for Africa the same way that people like Mandela stood up for us? They fought to ensure that justice and equality visited every citizen.  They fought for every citizen to have the right to add his/her voice as to how South Africa should be governed.  Often we take for granted the constitutional order that now obtains in South Africa forgetting that only a few years ago, the country was divided along racial lines.

We all have work to do to make Africa the kind of environment that we want to see.  To break the cycle of poverty, crime, and hopelessness, we have to take more responsibility as citizens.  We must and should demand more from ourselves.

What do we need to do?  What is and should be the role of the state?  Our divided past has not prepared us to see the future as a shared one. Many of us see the architecture of progress in a silo framework in which we can have icons with no connection to their peers and those below.

The world has positioned Mandela as an icon with no African equal and yet it would be wrong to suggest that Mandela operated as a silo.  He was located in a collective and the values shared informed the actions that pushed the envelope of change.

By isolating Mandela as an icon a real danger exists and an expectation is created that no change can substitute for real economic and social change.  When Mandela was our age, he understood his calling and he did respond selflessly.

The struggle to eradicate poverty requires new instruments.  The post-colonial state has not delivered on the promise largely because many of us have not understood what is needed to be done.

Although Mandela is a world renowned icon, very few of us in Africa properly understand the significance and power of the brand.  What is evident is that people living outside Africa have done more to celebrate the man than people in the continent.  It was, therefore, not surprising that the celebrations of his 91st birthday was in New York although Mandela could not make it.

The fundraising to promote and preserve Mandela’s legacy is being driven largely from outside Africa.  This exposes the fact that we as resident Africans have yet to appreciate the value of the brand.  No other former head of state in Africa attracts the kind of attention Mandela commands.

He and President Obama are the two living black brands that we have to showcase.  However, the construction of a working and progressive Africa requires a new mindset.  Although our history is full of pain, the future belongs to all who believe in building it.  The past cannot provide the answers that will alleviate poverty.

In trying to build a new future for Africa, we have no choice but to start by understanding our past.  Our founding fathers were angry people and many of them were compelled to be active in politics because of the nature and character of the colonial bottleneck.

The racial glass ceiling that was created could only be broken through a civil rights movement.  However, the economic glass ceiling can only be broken if we work together to build a new Africa founded on values, principles and beliefs that have worked for other nation states.

After the experience with socialism/communism, we now know what works and what does not.  Africa’s future lies in our hands and yes we can build it.  The settlers who came from Europe only expanded the universe of African tribes but what they also contributed apart from the unjust system was a new way of doing things.

They built a system, albeit underpinned by an abhorrent constitutional order, which delivered economic independence to them.  They simply did not expect handouts from their mother countries but managed to convert African resources into wealth for themselves.  The majority of us could not participate in the economy based on race but one would have expected that the post-colonial order would open the economy to allow the majority to be decision makers.

As part of taking ownership of our heritage, we managed to bring into South Africa, three former heads of states and government i.e. former President Mwinyi who represented President Kikwete, His Royal Highness Prince Mabandla Dlamini, former Prime Minister of Swaziland and former President Kaunda to celebrate the contribution of President Kaunda to the social and economic changes in Africa.

About 600 invited guests attended the Gala Dinner at the Sandton Convention Centre.  We all learned more about the man called KK.  We also learned more about what inspired him to be the change that he wanted to see.  Apart from anything else, the mere fact that this event happened on the same day as Mandela’s birthday was significant because it gave a pan-African character to Mandela’s day.

In celebrating Mandela’s legacy, a risk exists of alienating Mandela from the actions and choices of other pan-African civil rights players.  Mandela, KK, Mwinyi, HRH Dlamini and many other role players are connected in as much as we should be connected as African businesspersons.

In building a new Africa, we have to create a social compact based on smart partnerships between state and non-state actors.  Can people like KK play a role in the renaissance of Africa?  Absolutely!!!  How can we work with our political brands to build a new conversation?  We have to accept that our founding fathers have not been armed with a new kind of language to respond to the challenges that confront African professionals and businesspersons.

Many African professionals see no link between the civil and economic revolutions to Africa’s detriment.  KK can open doors in Africa that many of us cannot.  The people who facilitate African trade and investment see no value in passing their commissions to make life easier to the people and the former heads of states that in the majority are treated like grandparents.

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