Professor Kofi Annan: Do Not Ignore Africa

Kofi Annan is a man to be admired for his outstanding achievements while at the helm of the United Nations (UN). His legacy includes successes in East Timor and Kosovo and an ambitious attempt at reforming the UN. He constantly roams around the African continent as ambassador-at-large promoting good governance, human rights, poverty alleviation and equitable growth. He also inspires the youth to foster the same belief that propelled him to the UN’s top post. It is fitting then that he discussed the future of Asian-African relations in his inaugural public lecture as Li Ka Shing Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).

While those gathered at the National University of Singapore (NUS) University Cultural Center to listen to Prof. Annan’s lecture have long heard that a new dawn has broken in world affairs and that Asia, spearheaded by China and India, can no longer be ignored, what they had not been expecting to hear was that against all odds, there is also a place for a rejuvenated Africa in this new world order.

Africa is often the subject of much debate and derision, yet there is a startling and deep-rooted ignorance about the continent. Like Asia before, Africa is fully embracing globalization and is overseeing an era of tremendous change. The old Western partners have been overtaken by their Asian and South American counterparts. Chinese, Indian and Iranian companies, seeking cheaper labor, are beginning to outsource their industries to the continent. In fact, when countries like Rwanda, who fifteen years ago was traversing one of the darkest pages in African history, can stand up to France without serious repercussions, it becomes easier to comprehend the continent’s renewed optimism and hope.

This does not mean that Africa is out of the woods just yet. Recently, there is evidence that in the continent, old habits have not yet been eradicated. There is a full-blown genocide occurring in Sudan; Zimbabwe, once the continent’s crown jewel, has been blighted by the megalomania of its leaders and the curse of coups has struck once more in Niger and Guinea. But for every one of these failures, there are now success stories Africans can proudly boast of. Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa have not only developed their economies, but are also bettering the lives of their citizens. Nations such as Benin, Senegal, Mali and Ghana are in their own right full-fledged beacons for democracy and individual freedom. Recently, leaders such as Yayi Boni, Atta Mills and Paul Kagame have all emerged from the shadows to lead their country and the continent into an era of renewed hope and renaissance.

In the end, Professor Annan’s lecture will be remembered for his insistence that Africa should not be discarded and that the future of this continent is bright. In the years succeeding Africa’s decolonization at a time when Africans also found themselves in the middle of the highly divisive Cold War, one of Africa’s most revered leaders and Prof. Annan’s compatriot, Kwame N’Kruma declared that, “we face neither East nor West; we face forward.” In this new era of multilateral partnership, young Africans should remember these timeless words.

In the face of uncertainty and challenges, Africans should learn from their own as well as from Asia’s experiences, but should neither look East nor West in search of providence. Rather, Africans should look to their next generation of leaders. Understanding this is vital if the long-suffering continent is to really look forward.

– by Mayecor Charles Lamine Sar (MPP 2009-11)

 

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