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Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: Africa Day: Is our continent rising?

Today is Africa Day; that great day when we revel about our beloved continent and its people. As a football fan, I am proud that two great African sons Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah who have dazzled the world with their sublime football skills in the English Premiership, will be yet again showcasing their talent when their Liverpool team clashes with Real Madrid in the European Champions League Final 72 hours from today.

And at the forthcoming Men’s Football World Cup Finals in November in Qatar this year, Rwanda’s Salima Mukaransanga will be among the first ever three female referees to officiate at the most-watched global football fiesta.

Salima, Africa’s girl child, will be officiating at the global football showcase, far away from Kampala or rural Uganda where she probably grew engaging in child play games (mahumbwe ). That an African girl child would blow the whistle at world football’s grand bonanza was unthinkable only a few years ago.

This year’s Africa Day comes in the wake of a growing optimism around the globe about our beloved continent, never mind the negative reality that those of us who slug it out on Africa’s soil have to endure every day.

Yet we all love our Africa. We were born here, we grew up here. And we will die here, never mind that we continue to receive the body bags of patriotic sons and daughters who have died elsewhere in search of greener pastures which their countries failed to afford them by dint of the misgovernance and corruption by the political elite and the oligarchs connected to them. They too wanted to live and die here but it was not to be.

Yet there are some pockets of positive news about our beloved continent. In the last few years, there has been phenomenal economic growth rates among the so-called African Lions; namely Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya.

This growth appears to show a continent on the rise, never mind that some of the leadership faces fronting this growth are sometimes branded doyens of tyranny. Paul Kagame and Yoweri Kaguta Museveni are a case in point.

In recent years, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies have been African nations. Only recently, the IMF was projecting a growth rate of 5,4 percent in Africa, against a global average of 3,6 percent.

All these impressive figures seem to show a continent on the rise. In 2014, the IMF chose to host its conference in Maputo that was aptly dubbed ” Africa Rising : Building to the Future .”

Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda more than doubled their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 1989 and 2009. All very impressive.

Sadly, the impressive economic figures have not transformed the lives of the citizens on the ground. They remain impressive balance sheet figures in the ledger book, with no relationship whatsoever to the daily toil of the struggling citizens in Kigali, Harare or Addis Ababa.

Much like our own Mthuli Ncube who gloats about a budget surplus at a time government is failing to pay its workers.

Whatever our frailties, we love our continent—its scenic beauty and vast mineral wealth that is being looted and spirited away by Africa’s ruling elite.

A rising sovereign continent cannot depend on foreigners especially in building its regional headquarters. For me, it is embarrassing that the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa was built with massive help from China, which is emerging as a new colonial power on our beloved continent.

Moreover, the Chinese strategy of swopping the sponsorship of massive infrastructure projects for our vast mineral resources across Africa has stripped the continent of its mineral wealth.

The so-called “Angola model” has seen the large influx of the Chinese into Africa spiriting away our vast mineral wealth for a song, on top of their poor labour rights record in the capital projects that their companies undertake in Africa.

Africa must not allow foreigners, whoever they are, to benefit from her wealth at the expense of its citizens. It is shameful that despite its huge resources, Africa has dismally failed to prosper herself and her citizens. We must reflect on this particularly on this special day on our beloved continent.

Yes, we continue to adore our Africa with its sea shores, the pyramids of Egypt, the majestic Victoria Falls, the great Mount Kilimanjaro as well as the loving and hospitable people of this great continent.

I am not sure if among the hospitable Africans we should include the rogue elements in South Africa who continue to give their fellow African brothers and sisters a torrid time. Just how do Africans become unwelcome on their own continent?

I have refused to refer to what is happening in South Africa as xenophobia because the nomenclature will not be correct. Xenophobia means an unreasonable dislike of foreigners. Yet some foreigners of European, Chinese, Indian, American or Japanese descent are welcome in South Africa.

What is happening down there is Afrophobia, an unreasonable hatred of Africans on their own continent, sadly by their fellow African citizens.

On this Africa Day, South Africa must seriously reflect on whether it makes sense to shoot and kill fellow African brothers and sisters on their own continent.

And yet I love South Africa, the land of Nelson Mandela, the icon. For Madiba was a soft man with a big heart. Love him or hate him, Mandela represented the best of our African values. I have heard him being chastised as a lackey of whites. But Mandela etched Africa’s name in the history of mankind.

To suffer so much and yet love so much is the best of our African values; a life lived in strict conformity with my favourite scripture in 1 Corinthians 13.

Mandela’s legacy will remain contested but for me, he represented the best of our African values. He spent almost three decades in prison but did not allow bitterness and vengefulness to diminish his humanity. Some may regard that as a weakness but for me, Madiba will always remain the embodiment of the true African heart that has ample space to accommodate the trinity of love, tenacity and adverse experience all in equal measure. On this Africa Day, I remember this iconic African, with whom I had the opportunity to meet, shake hands and engage in a conversation, albeit very briefly.

On this Africa day as well, maybe because I knew him so well, I remember yet another great son of this continent, one Morgan Richard Tsvangirai. He won an election but chose to serve in a junior position to the man he had defeated; the man who countless times almost had him killed. It takes a great heart to be able to live that script.

He may have been scorned by some in his own country, but the world saw the great African in him. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, a respected global accolade. In 2009, the then US President Barack Obama pipped him to the grand prize but he had made his global mark.

Oh yes, MT left his own indelible footprints on the sands of history.

The theme for this year’s Africa Day centres on resilience in nutrition and food security at a time the majority of Africans are facing starvation. Reports indicate that over 4 million Zimbabweans will need food aid. Africa cannot be a rising continent given the poverty facing its citizens, which poverty is in stark contrast to Africa’s vast mineral wealth.

There appears to be a huge disjuncture between the rhetoric of a continent on the rise and the reality of the parlous lives of Africa’s citizens. For example, an estimated 48 percent of Africans live on less than US$1 a day. Gross State-sponsored human rights violations by Africa’s governments, the growing spectre of terrorism by religious fundamentalist outfits and the prospect of the continent failing to meet the SDGs are all factors that do not point to a continent on the rise.

Given the situation on the ground across Africa, the SDG of eliminating poverty by 2030 now appears a pie in the sky.

For me, the biggest fall on the continent has been dramatised by the rising number of coups across the continent. Coups were a dying phenomenon as most African countries had embraced electoral democracy.

But in the past five years, the bullets are fast replacing the ballot as a means of installing governments cross the subcontinent. We have resurrected a dying practice.

Prominent civil-military relations scholar Miles-Tendi (2019) states that between 1956 and 2001, there were 80 successful coups, 108 failed coups and 139 reported coup plots across sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2001 and 2019, about 12 coups occurred, indicating a decreasing coup frequency compared to the 1960s and 1970s.

But in November 2017, Zimbabwe had its first-ever coup, meaning coup risk exists, even in countries without a coup precedent. Since then, we have seen other coups in Sudan, Gambia, Ivory Coast and several other countries. A continent on the rise cannot be seen to be sliding back to the spectre of coups that were popular on the continent as far back as the 1960s.

It’s a startling regression!

We are actually a continent on the fall, thanks to poor leadership. Only recently, we learnt that African governments have lost US$2 billion in revenue by arbitrarily shutting down the internet for political convenience.

Zimbabwe was listed among the 12 African countries notorious for stifling internet usage and this at a time when most government and economic activities are now happening online.

In a May 2022 report, which coincides with this year’s Africa day, Quartz Africa reported internet shutdowns in Africa have had a serious effect on already struggling economies.

Among the 12 named notorious countries that arbitrarily shut down the internet are Zimbabwe, Sudan, Algeria, Chad, DRC, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Egypt, Benin, Gabon, Eritrea and Liberia.

As for Tanzania, at one point the country shut down its internet for 1 584 hours in a blackout that cost the country’s economy US$ 600 million. While others are embracing e-commerce, Africa has chosen to ignore the utility of the Fourth Industrial revolution by choosing to be digital aliens and not digital natives.

But perhaps it’s not all gloom for our beloved continent. One of Africa’s heroes, the late Joshua Nkomo famously said Zimbabwe will not die because the young people will save it. In the same vein, Africa will not die because its young people will save it.

Africa’s growing young population, the youth bulge which some allege to be the continent’s challenge, is actually its hope. Indeed, Africa’s hope lies in this young generation.

The great Father Zimbabwe was right. In our country, one such young man has become the embodiment of the collective hope of a despondent country. And the whole nation is now drowned by the chorus of a whole citizenry shouting #NgaapindeHakeMukomana .

Happy Africa Day Zimbabwe.

Luke Tamborinyoka is a citizen from Domboshava and an interim deputy champion for Presidential Affairs in the Citizens Coalition for Change ( CCC ). You can interact with him on his Facebook page or on the twitter handle @ luke_tambo.

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