The Baton Has been passed- Our Journey Continues

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Our generation will never again see and know a man like Nelson Mandela. He was our hero. Indeed, we have been blessed. He paved the way for us to hope, to dream, and learn that we must fight for the future we want.

Like many of you here, you probably have a personal story as to how Nelson Mandela influenced your life. In 2000, when my country- Burundi- was in the middle of a 7 year old civil war, Mandela took it upon himself to bring the two warring parties on the table for peace negotiations.  I owe him my future in a country where we have learned to look beyond our ethnic divide and learn to live with each other in peace.

My country owes him our peaceful future.

Beyond reconciliation, he taught us to forgive each other.If there is one thing that we should all remember about him, it is that He believed in that we all have good in us. He believed that if we could see the best in others, instead of the worst in them, we would live in a much peaceful, and better world.

Never again will we see a man like Nelson Mandela. As we celebrate his life, our generation should not forget his struggle.
He has completed his long walk to freedom, and he has passed the baton to us.

Each generation has a mission to fulfill- and our generation has been tasked with the mission to assure that Nelson Mandela’s legacy and fight for peace, Justice, forgiveness, equality and reconciliation lives on. He has left big shoes to fill, and while we might never achieve as much as he did, we must try. We must make sure that we keep walking and fighting for a better Africa, a better world.

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When 96% of Africa Became Insignificant…or the Means to being Awarded

It has been months. Yes- Months since there was a blog written. But to be fair, a lot was going on.  I have made some transitions in both my personal and professional lives. I am seating on my new desk, in my new home office, and thinking of all the things that could be packed in this one blog.

But first things first…. I am so excited for what can only be termed as ingenuity-yes the word is OVERUSED.  I am currently listening to a song by Zambian Artist JK- his new single is out, and I can’t get over it. In one song, his producer, a young Ghanaian Genius, has been able to produce beats that are what I can only term as “afropolitan”- yes, that word that is slowly being used by every Tom Dick and Harry who thinks they have become experts on Africa.  Anyways, I love these collaborations! Ghana and Zambia, Congo and Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Somalia…. yes, it’s finally happening.  We just might find that as Africans, we don’t have to tell the one story that is trending.

As I see budding stories of collaborations among Africans across the continent,  I can finally put away my anger about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s words at this past Harvard Africa Business Conference where she had the audacity to say that “If you are not in Nigeria, you are not in Africa”.  Off course, the rest of us non-Nigerians who were in the room sank in our seats a bit more trying to figure out just how offended we were-but let that be a story for another time.

This past Sunday, I sat in a cafe and I did the one thing that was overdue- go to brunch with a book in hand and completely ignore the rest of the world while I inhaled pancakes and eggs, with loads of tea.  At that moment, I felt I was back- and to that was the accompanied sadness in what I was reading- AMERICANAH.  What a disappointment! I had thought that maybe for the first time, we had a female literary figure who could really capture people’s imagination without falling to simplicity- but alas there goes the “danger of a single story”.

This single story is being told, the only catch is that – now its about Africa’s glass being half full instead of being half-empty. Meanwhile, while some mighty people are playing with Africa’s coffers, the Diasporan Africans are happy to seat and accumulate awards, speaking engagements, world travels, and having what can only be simply termed as meaningless conversations. – Don’t worry, I am guilty of this also.  It seems, that those of us who do not end up returning home to become a problem, or a solution , have become masters of how to claim Africa, without really trying. We have become do-gooders, we have mastered the art of celebrating ourselves, patting ourselves in the back on all the good work we do. We have even developed some sort of recipe on how to appropriately talk about Africa as the new “it” thing without realizing that this New Africa is shiny glossy representation of a minority. I am all for being hopefully, but COME ON! We are now perpetuating that “single” story, where Africa is hopeful, and instead of the glass being half empty, we think that saying that Africa’s glass is half full justifies our false presentation of Africa, and the people who are living with the everyday realities of the continent.

We have forgotten that maybe Africa is a continent- not a country. We have forgotten the basics- Collaboration, process over outcome, and in its simplicity, liking ourselves as Africans. Because really, at the end of the day, we really don’t like each other.  At the end of the day, those of us who are in the Diaspora have decided to ignore the fact that the there is a very large percent of those who reside in Africa that still live in pure, terrifying poverty.  So we forgot about them, but we are happy to seat and think of all the wonderful things we are doing for Africa, happy to collect the awards, and feel really good that we are the “new Africa”- the Saviors of Africa.

As I said, I am guilty too. For the last couple of days, I have wondered though-, how can we change the conversation.  OR even, better, does the conversation on Africa, and African countries specifically, need to change? It might be that we are comfortable with where we are in which case, I’m just a frustrated African woman who just needs a good reason to vent.

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Pan-Africanism: The 50 years that Unite Us

As I sat down to catch up on news, it suddenly occurred to me that we have before an opportunity like no other. My brothers and colleagues at 54 Kingdoms have been diligent to emphasize the point of Pan Africanism to me- albeit I have always been hard of hearing on this subject.
But maybe I have seen the light? Yesterday in Washington, thousands of people marched in Washington to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. This is where the famous Dr. Martin Luther King jr. gave the “I have a dream” speech. Listening to Obama’s speech yesterday, I realized that African-Americans, just like Africans are celebrating their 50th Anniversary of “independence.” Coincidently, this is the same year that the African Union/OAU celebrates their 50th Anniversary. In 2013, we are finding that maybe those barriers that seemingly divide us as children of Africa are not barriers that cannot be broken. We find that after all, we have so much in common- that our struggles might not be identical, but they are the same. That maybe our paths to where we are were not so different after all.
What would happen if we as Africans came together for the next 50 years and forged a bond, committed to celebrating our communities, and progressing our communities and the continent? What would 2063 look like? Frantz Fanon said “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” 50 years ago, Africans leaders came together in a post-independence era and forged alliances to assure that our countries were secure. 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King jr. led thousands for a march that changed the nation. We might not have seen the entire fruition of their mission, and their efforts, but we can all agree that we have come so far. We are here because they came before us. President Obama talked about a renewed mission and finding a purpose for our generation. So what is that mission? To unify our efforts for progress, build stronger communities. Build a stronger Africa.
The question now is whether our generation is up to the challenge. Only time will tell.

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Are We Ever to Say “NO” to Handouts?

If you have not read it already, then allow me to recap a bit of what has been going on Malawi. Madonna adopted some kids and funded some schools- no surprise there.  She is one of many celebrities that have taken the route. Recently, Madonna landed in Malawi with a demand for VIP status. President Banda was not so happy with the visit that she made a remark criticizing Madonna and her red carpet moment. Turns out that H.E Banda did not actually say what the media seems to be quoting left and right. However whether, Banda said it or not, someone in her administration is pissed off enough to make a public statement about the presence of Madonna in Malawi.

 But more to the point is the reaction of many Africans on what is perceived a wrong move for Malawi’s leadership to criticize a do-gooder who came in to help the “poor” children. First of, lets congratulate the leadership for criticizing instead of welcoming Madonna on a red carpet like some of their western counterparts do when it comes to celebrity worship. The truly sad thing is that Africans seem to be okay with handouts. The whole mentality of “atleast someone is doing something” and “ everyone needs help” is detrimental to Africa’s progress. Yes, someone is doing something- but is it the right “something”, and it might be that everyone needs help- but what kind of help, and who is helping? These are the questions that these kinds of incidences should be raising.

Africans, whether living abroad, or living in the continent have become too comfortable with the idea of Aid, handouts, and being constantly perceived as “poor”. We are WAY comfortable with this whole idea that we cannot progress without having do gooders in the continent building a school here, a well there, a hospital here…etc. The problem with this, is that well, it is patchwork. If you have a big hole on a piece of clothing, the proper way to deal with that is either take it to the tailor and make a whole different outfit, or buy a new piece of clothing. If you place a patch, even if it might be similar in color, it ends up becoming a temporary solution because this patch will not last- not to mention makes the clothing less appealing. So imagine if you had more than one hole on the piece of clothing? Patches don’t just work, nor even become a viable option for you.

The same applies to Africa. There are gaping holes in Africa. Problems with no easy solutions, nor should they be. However, we as Africans have developed a mentality where it is okay to put patches, finding temporary solutions to problems, but never truly understanding nor fixing the root of the problem. Sometimes, we put a pretty flower on top of the problem when celebrities come in and attempt to solve the problems, but at the end of the day, the flowers die, and problems still exist.

You see the mentality of always waiting for a handout breeds other problem. It could be said that this might be the source of some of the problems where we don’t respect each other enough to pay for the services that are rendered to us by our fellow Africans. We figured, if Madonna is coming to our homes and giving us free education, then our fellow Africans should do the same.

But enough of that. At the end of the day- we need to start pulling ourselves out of this stump that we have put ourselves in by thinking that it is okay to accept aid in all shapes and forms. IT IS NOT OKAY! If Tom, Dick and Harry want to work in Africa, let them INVEST in Africa. We are past Aid- and the way forward is investing in Africa and Africans. So yes, if Madonna wants to invest in education in Malawi, let her do so. Because building a school will not do the trick- the problem at the end of the day is not the lack of schools.

One day, Africans will decide that they don’t need the pity of Hollywood, Nollywood, Bollywood, or any wood celebrities. Because unlike any sustainable development gimmicks in Africa, aid, or pity has long-lasting psychological effects that cannot be wiped out by a good deed. It cripples development. We end up becoming dependent- thinking that we cannot or should not try to progress without someone coming in our savior .

At the end of the day Africa is ours to build or destroy- and so far, we are not sure if we want to do either- but lets not kid ourselves that Madonna and Oprah will do the job for us.

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Former African Presidential Candidates Kah Walla and Papa Kwesi Nduom To Speak at NYU African Economic Forum

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The acclaimed “divine intervention” for Cameroonian Politics Kah Walla and Ghana’s PPP leader and presidential hopeful Papa Kwesi Nduom are scheduled to speak on the People, Ideas, and Events Reshaping the African Continent at the annual African Economic Forum at  New York University on April 6, 2013

 At 45, Kah Walla is internationally recognized for her expertise in management, her understanding of development issues and her strong stance on Africa, its women and youths. She was recognized in 2008 by the World Bank as one of 7 women entrepreneurs in Africa.  Ms. Walla is also recognized as one of Cameroon’s political leaders and certainly one of the most remarkable leaders of her generation on the political scene.

Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom is the President & CEO of Groupe Nduom; Former Minister for Energy, Economic Planning and Regional Cooperation, and Public Sector Reform for Ghana.  He helped establish the Deloitte & Touche, West Africa Consulting practice following a successful business career in the United States. He was a Presidential candidate for the 2008 and 2012 elections and is widely recognized for his unique combination of private and public sector experience and expertise.

Ms. Kah Walla and Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom will be joined by a list of distinguished experts in business, policy, and social enterprise. Confirmed speakers include:

Jean-Louis Ekra – President and Chairman of the African Export-Import Bank

Pradeep H. Paunrana – Chief Executive Officer, ARM CEMENT Ltd., Kenya

Osamuyimen T. (Uyi) Stewart- Chief Scientist at IBM Research Lab – Africa

Eghosa Omoigui – Founder and Managing General Partner of EchoVC Partners

M. Papa Madiaw Ndiaye – Founder and CEO of Advanced Finance and Investment Group.

Chid Liberty- Co-Founder and CEO, Liberty & Justice

Magatte Diop, President and Managing Director, Peacock Investments

…and many more at http://nyuafricaforum.com

About the NYU 2013 African Economic Forum

NYU Stern African Business Club, in partnership with NYU Africa House and The Council of Young African Leaders will host their annual African Economic Forum.  Themed “Africa in Motion: People, Ideas, and Events Reshaping the African Continent”, the forum will provide an opportunity for active practitioners in the areas of business, policy, and social enterprise to interact with forum attendees to exchange ideas, and insights on the current state of Africa’s economic landscape.

The realization of Africa’s potential as an economic frontier is currently taking place. This forum will bring to life the people, ideas, and initiatives behind this effort. Much has been made about the continent’s potential for economic, political, and social development. The time has come to share the stories of those working to make these aspirations a reality in hopes of inspiring a new generation of leaders to take part in this great cause.

The forum will feature a Keynote Series, Leadership Fireside Chat, and concurrent panels on Technology, Social Enterprise, Finance, and Development.

The 2013 forum is being sponsored by the Arik Air, Financial Times, ARM Cement, African Export-Import Bank, NYU Africa House, and Royalty Lifestyle; with Applause Africa, Africa.com, Face2Face Africa, RockMeAfrica , Afrique Expansion, Enovative TV and MUI PR as media sponsors.  The forum is being supported by community partners such as the US-Africa Synergy, The Global Connection for Women and UNA-YP African Affairs Committee.

Registration Required: http://nyuafricaforum.eventbrite.com/

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Courting Democracy and Justice in Africa

On an early Monday Morning in March 2013, Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese rebel general accused of massacring civilians and building an army of child soldiers, walked into the American Embassy in Rwanda and turned himself in.  Theory has it that Ntaganda, one of the world’s most wanted man, was more afraid of the Rwandese than he was of the Hague.- That in itself is a telling sign of what the International Criminal Court-where Ntaganda will face charges- means to Africa.

In such fashion- it is worth exploring and revisiting the dialogue on the International Criminal Court.

Transparency and accountability of crimes must be the basis of political reform and democratic governance; for tyranny begins where the rule of law ends. This is why progressive justice has to take a central part in the political dialogue on African democratic process.  Recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been a source of great debate in Africa. The general consensus is that the ICC has been purposely targeting Africa. While proponents of this argument have some valid points, the International Criminal Court has an important role in making the connection between justice, political reform and democracy in Africa.   The ICC can be the tool that demonstrates that no government sector is above the law. Therefore, the prosecution of state crimes committed against citizens can serve to foster a respect and a development for democratic governments.

History has taught us that Africa needs organic self-centered democracies (Adam 1993). The struggle for democratic governance has been slow and hard in the continent. Presently, the continued conflicts in many African nations serve to endanger the continued struggle for democratization.  Historically, African democracy has been left in the hands of leaders who embody prebendalism, and patrimonial systems that are predatory, kleptocratic and autocratic in nature (Ekeh, 1975). As of yet, there has not been a correlation between autocratic and dictatorship rule and development (Anyang’Nyong’o, 2000, Ungar 1978, Martin, 1993). If there is one lesson to be learned from these past fifty years, it is that the democratic process has to involve the participation of the peoples of Africa. Therefore, for true democratization of the African states to occur, the people and their governments have to be in constant communication. (Harris, 2005, Adam, 1993, Lyman and Dorff, 2007, Fanon, 1965).

Africa needs the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a tool of improving democratic judicial institutions (Du Plessis, 2010, Burke-William, 2008). With cases in Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and the Democratic of Congo, the International Criminal Court’s role in Africa has to be integrated, and not ignored. It would be negligent to do otherwise. The Principle of Complementarity, which forms the basis of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute, 2002), will serve an important role in developing stronger domestic judicial systems and raising the level of discourse on justice in Africa. There cannot be democratic governance in Africa, if there is no justice, and/or judicial systems that can prosecute crimes that have been committed against the civilian population.

The prospect of strong democratic states is highly favorable for Africa and its people.  Therefore there has to be a new dimension to the dialogue on developing democratic governance in African states that includes participatory, socio-political justice and the process of democratization. With the help of the International Criminal Court, African states can build domestic judicial systems that are capable to prosecute those who commit heinous crimes against civilians.  For trials, or the threat to prosecute those who commit crimes can serve as a deterrent for future crimes and help advance a state’s progress towards democracy.

Works cited

Adam, H. (1993, October). Frantz Fanon as a Democratic Theorist. African Affairs, 92,

Burke-White, William (2008). Proactive Complementarity: The International Criminal Court and national courts in the Rome System of international justice. Harvard International Law Journal 49(1).

du Plessis, Max (2008). The International Criminal Court and its work in Africa: Confronting the myths. ISS Paper 173.

Du Plessis, Max (2010). The International Criminal Court that Africa wants. Monograph 172,

Fanon, F. (1965). The Wretched Of The Earth. New York: Grove Press.

Harris, K. (2005, September). Still Relevant: Claude Ake’s Challenge To Mainstream

Discourse On African Politics And Development. Journal of Third World Studies, 22,

Nyong’o, P.A. (1992, July). Democratization Processes in Africa. Review of African Political Economy, 54, pp.97-101.

Schabas, William (2007). An Introduction to the International Criminal Court, 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ungar, S.J. (1978). Africa: The People and Politics of an Emerging Continent. New York: Simon & Schuster, INC.

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Get OVER Africa!

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Would it be repetitious to say that the whole “we say” “they say” on Africa is a bit over done? No? Okay maybe to some of us then.  This picture is circulating around Social Media sites and every Tom, Dick and Harry is applauding the brilliance of such word clouding.  Isn’t it nice when we can put Africa in such a nice neat package?

How about we say BOTH!  We have tried to package Africa and now we are trying to put a nice bow on top for delivery to the world. The only problem is that Africa is not a neat package.  Africans, speaking in general terms, have gotten into the habit of overselling Africa, as if it were a product void of human emotion or interaction.  This is particularly the case of Africans in the Diaspora who seem to lack an understanding of this complex picture of Africa. ( on a separate note- can we all agree to take the word Diaspora out of our vocabulary?) – I mean have you ever heard of the Irish Diaspora, the English Diaspora, the  French Diaspora? – but that is a topic for another time.

Back to the picture above. We have gotten into the habit of telling the stories of Africa where only the great opportunities and happiness abound. We forget that the Africa on the left is much more a reflection of the Africa on the right.   Africa is a land of opportunities, but it also has a lot of problems.  These two Africans co-exist!  They are one and the same.  Be real!

On the other hand, WHO CARES? We are attempting to reframe Africa, to rebrand Africa, to reimage Africa…and the question should really be- WHY DO YOU CARE WHAT THE REST OF THE WORLD IS SAYING ABOUT AFRICA?

If we could spend our energy acting, and no reacting to western perceptions of Africa, we could probably figure out that the rosy picture of Africa does not need to be oversold – because that Africa has always existed before the Economist or Times painted Africa as the “rising” Continent.  Africa has ALWAYS been about these two contrasting pictures. This is not new. So for Africans to jump on this bandwagon of reacting on Western Media’s discovery of Africa’s potential is rather disappointing.  That is why we are caught up on this whole “telling the African Story”, “Reclaiming the African Story”, “Redefining the African Story”- or any other kind of nonsense that is being spout out there. WHAT IS THIS STORY?  What is this African story? and if indeed there is a singular “African Story”, can we agree that it is complex  and that no reclaiming, redefining, or retelling of this story will do any good, if we as Africans do not get off our derriere and do something about it?  Right now, Africa looks good on paper, but the reality on the ground presents a different picture. A real picture!

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