Sunday 23 December 2012

Communique from 2012 Achebe Colloquium on Africa

Issued at the end of the Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa (December 7-9, 2012) at Brown University, Providence, U.S.

The fourth edition of the Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa convened by Nigerian novelist and humanist Chinua Achebe, the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies, was held at Brown University on December 7-8, 2012, at the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. With its theme as “Governance, Security and Peace in Africa,” the 2012 colloquium attracted leading experts from academia, business, non- governmental organizations, and governments from Africa, Europe and the United States. 

The Colloquium was well-attended by delegates who actively participated in two days of intense deliberation and exchange of ideas on the importance of strengthening democracy and peace on the African continent. The Colloquium featured panel discussions which highlighted the complex security issues that confront African nations, security challenges surrounding the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, homegrown terrorism, and the persistence of ethno-religious insurgency. The colloquium noted that these were serious concerns that challenge the establishment of institutions and principles of good governance on the continent.

Highlights of the Colloquium included four keynote addresses by Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for the promotion of good governance in Africa; Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, the executive governor of Lagos State, Nigeria; General Carter F. Ham, Commander of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), based in Stuttgart, Germany; Ambassador Bisa Williams, U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Niger; Professor Emma Rothschild of Harvard University, and Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, South African anti-Apartheid activist and former managing director of the World Bank.

The Colloquium acknowledges the fact that the main driver of conflict in Africa is poverty originating from the failure of leadership and governance. Among the resolutions advanced at the Colloquium are:

1.  The Colloquium urges governments in Africa and bold private initiatives to work to grow additional, dedicated indigenous investment and entrepreneurial groups rather than depend largely on foreign aid. To paraphrase one of the keynote speakers, foreign aid is morphine; what is really needed in Africa is a dedicated and thorough operation to remove debilitating poverty that robs the people of their dignity and makes them vulnerable to the manipulation of corrupt, self-serving, and divisive leaders and warlords.

2.      The Colloquium calls on Africans at home and in the Diaspora, as well as members of the international community, to promote good governance in Africa by acknowledging the outstanding examples of remarkable African leaders such as Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former president of Mozambique, Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires, former president of Cape Verde, and Festus Gontebanye Mogae, former president of Botswana. The Colloquium encourages African ruling parties in particular to respect three essentials to democratic governance: an independent and credible election system, viable and vibrant political opposition, and free and rigorous civil society engagement in politics.

3. The Colloquium reviewed the strategic role of the United States Africa Command, AFRCOM, in relation to the role of African peacekeepers, and the success of the African Union Mission in certain flashpoints on the continent such as Somalia, Sudan, and Mali. The Colloquium welcomed the participation of AFRICOM Commander, General Carter Ham, in passionate debates on the role of the United States in African security, within an intellectual space dominated by scholars and diplomats from Africa. The Colloquium acknowledges the idea of ‘partnership’ between African states and the international community to maintain peace and democratic governance. However, the Colloquium believes that the international community should be wary of the unintended consequences of military support, such as training and arming ambitious elements and war mongers who disrupt democratic regimes and the rule of law in parts of the continent. More resources should be committed, instead, to developing education, technology, health care, agriculture, and basic infrastructure. The Colloquium recognizes AFRICOM’s efforts to collaborate with African governments in their fight against terror groups on the continent in particular, but cautions that any US military activities in Africa must be restrained, must reinforce African government efforts to seek peaceable solutions to their conflicts, must support democratic development, and should be sufficiently transparent and responsive to African civil society review and feedback.

4. The Colloquium recognizes the teeming youth and children of Africa as the hope for a new cultural politics and for the development of the continent. The Colloquium encourages African governments to create opportunities for citizens, especially the youth, to freely express themselves. By ensuring openness in governance, transparency, and increasing social spaces for young people to participate in the democratic process, African leaders could create a more conducive environment for politically negotiated settlements of conflict through dialogue instead of through arms. In thinking of mediation and resolution of conflicts, African leaders should not forget African traditional peacemaking as exemplified by the elders in Ethiopia.

5. The Colloquium highlights the valuable and continuing roles of women in all African communities and countries and calls on all African governments to enhance and institutionally empower more women in leadership and government. The Colloquium agrees that the case-study of Moroccan feminism and Islamism presents a unique opportunity to interrogate the tremendous role that women played in both the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts in terms of a “movement moment”; the Colloquium further supports the view that such an exposition represents an example of the Islamisation of the women’s movement in these countries, and urges scholars and policy makers to look more deeply at these trends.

6. The Colloquium recognizes that the vestiges of race and racism do indeed continue to impact the progress that is being made in modern-day southern Africa. Race was the fault-line of the 20th century and will continue to be for some time to come, particularly in countries such as Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This is manifested by the structures of the economies of these countries and the roles played by multinational companies. While the Colloquium acknowledges the injustices of the past created by race and racism, it is important for the current post-independence and liberation struggle heroes to take responsibility for their own shortcomings in addressing issues of economic disparity, inequity and good governance. At the same time however, there are still residual issues to be dealt with that were largely papered over by post-independence settlements, for example, the trauma that liberation fighters went through in their struggles against colonialism. 

The Colloquium recommends that the next steps therefore are:
a)      Acknowledge the past and move on to deal with current issues b)      Focus on dealing with residual trauma in these societies c)      Citizen engagement to hold leaders accountable for good governance.
7. The Colloquium notes that the history of violence and wars in all countries is often contested, and calls for adequate attention to be paid to the task of preserving the continent’s memory. The Colloquium therefore encourages relevant institutions and authorities on the continent as well as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to address this issue comprehensively by investing in, and promoting research and archiving of Africa’s history and cultural production. UNESCO and international donors could partner with one university in each of Africa’s five subregions in a pilot project to spur the development of research networks on this matter across the continent.

8.  The Colloquium celebrates the exponential growth of the artistic expressions of African youth via creative writing, music, film, and theatrical performances inside Africa and all over the world, and calls on African governments to demonstrate greater commitment to supporting the creative enterprise of African youth.

9.      The Colloquium calls on African governments to develop a Diaspora Engagement Plan to promote more robust ways of harvesting and leveraging the rich and diverse experience of Africans in the Diaspora.

10. The Colloquium notes Prof. Achebe’s particular commitment to Nigeria, and in that regard raises specific concerns that the current terrorist attacks and other increasing acts of violence across Nigeria reflect deeper socio-political inequities and pathologies. The Colloquium recognizes in particular the significance of Prof. Achebe's recent book on Biafra (There Was A Country) and the much-needed debate that it has sparked, not only about the war, but about the scars it left on southeastern Nigerians (and the areas which constituted the Republic of Biafra) that remain unaddressed 45 years after the start of the war in 1967. The Colloquium notes that these scars also have detrimental effects on the entire country.

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