I’ve been following carefully the trends in news over the last year in Africa and I get the impression African news cycles are forever doomed to repetition.
When one country makes history for having the most women in Parliament, another has election trouble, one country achieves some sort of milestone in health or the economy, another, a model in democracy suddenly erupts into chaos.
It’s as if 50 or so years since most countries were granted (pun intended) independence, nothing much has changed in Africa. And in some respects, it is true. It is still much easier to travel to London from Kigali than it is to get to Senegal. And then there’s the ignorant reporting.
Yes, wazungus get it wrong. But you’d be surprised how much ignorant reporting we do about each other on the continent or at least what we tolerate. Does it bother anyone that Foreign Policy called Ethiopia and Kenya critically close to being failed states, ahead of Syria, which has made the news every single day in the last year?
Western manipulation is still alive and well, made easier by our absolute lack of interest in our neighbours. The African middle class is being anesthetised by the Africa rising lullaby as if success doesn’t come with hard work and a sang froid in our dealings with the rest of the world. ‘What can you do for me?’ should really be our bottom line.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all gloom and doom. The majority of our economies are consistently growing, some at more than 5%. And beyond economic growth, progress in security, health, education is evident across the continent. Mobile penetration is the biggest story in my opinion, not for its business potential but because of what it means in terms of access.
There are things, however, we don’t seem to be getting. Maybe it’s because African voices get drowned out by the many African ‘experts’ who last visited in 1993. Maybe it’s because we let them tell our story. Maybe we don’t know what our story is.
Rwanda makes the news a lot. There’s the good like our universal health coverage or steady economic growth or disciplined peacekeepers or close to zero corruption or ICT ambitions or our President’s leadership style. Other times, we get sucked into the never ending DRC spiral or some other things that you have to read twice to believe it was possible to pen, but the point is, three quarters of the time, it’s foreigners doing the writing.
Whenever I raise my arms in exasperation, I am reminded of the Igbo proverb, “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.”
I don’t see why 50 years on, the continent that supplies the world’s raw materials doesn’t have a permanent seat on the Security Council for example. Simple, President Kagame would say, we’re too busy waiting for someone to do it for us.
We’re always waiting. Waiting for our aid, waiting for someone to approve our elections, waiting for someone to hire us, waiting for someone to convene our leaders on issues that affect us, waiting for someone to decide both the methodology and results of our development…
So it seems 50 years on, we’re still waiting for someone to grant us independence. Truth is, mental emancipation is our greatest struggle. In Rwanda, we do homegrown as much as we can. Agaciro (self-reliance) as our modus operandi. Umuganda for community service. Gacaca for justice. Gir’inka to help the poorest. Imihigo to keep our leaders accountable. Umushyikirano to assess our progress…
We do it because we got tired of waiting. Some have misunderstood our stance as arrogant. ‘With no oil or diamonds, what else can they do?!’ How quickly we forget that people can change the course of history! In any case, how are those oil and diamond nations better off than us anyway?
So let’s stop waiting. We no longer need kumbaya, unrealistic dreams about an Africa united. And bless Madiba’s heart, he cannot be the only symbol of greatness we have in Africa.
Fifty years on, what we need is strategic partnerships and leaders that make this happen.
by Nathalie Munyampenda