by Hon. David Kilgour, J.D.
At the African Union Conference
Azrieli Theatre, Carleton University
Ottawa March 21, 2009
the song of spring
The peoples of Africa have made great contributions to humanity, including their cultural diversity, artistic strengths and spiritual richness. The continent's now estimated 975 million people represent many of the most admirable elements of the human spirit and an unwavering dignity in face of great hardships. To borrow the words of the Canadian Africanist Robert Calderisi, author of The Trouble with Africa, most Africans are heroes, "coping with obstacles that would have flattened the spirits of others".
To seek some answers for the challenges facing Africa, an examination of the current world economic crisis might offer some clues. Much of the blame for the world economic crisis goes to "shameful" (to use the term of President Obama in describing banker bonuses) greed among bankers in America, Britain and other wealthy countries. This combined toxically with too little regulation of financial services and weak-wristed officials in protecting the investing public with due diligence. Other factors, including asset bubbles created in part by naive central bankers, contributed to widespread loss of confidence. In short, what has brought many economies close to their knees is weak governance and lack of accountability.
In Africa, the accountability deficit, as elsewhere, has resulted in corruption. The Nigerian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinka, puts it bluntly: "African dreams of peace and prosperity have been shattered by the greedy, corrupt and unscrupulous role of African strongmen…a power-crazed and rapacious leadership who can only obtain their egotistical goals by oppressing the rest of us."
Calderisi sees bad governance as the largest of the obstacles to better lives for many across the African continent. Both of us deplore the fact that this and other factors are in large measure currently depriving most of the one-sixth of the human family in 54 African countries of material improvement in their lives.
Rule of Law/ Independent Judges
According to Calderisi, efforts to clean up the judicial system—"training judges, computerizing records, strengthening the role of clerks—have borne little fruit because the politicians (in Africa) have found it more convenient to have a crooked and malleable judiciary than an independent one. As a result, although numerous judges have gone to France, Canada and the United States for professional courses, many have returned to their sordid practices once back on the bench. "
I understand that independent and honest judges in a number of African nations are doing their best to uphold the rule of law for all. Residents of those countries have seen improvement in their economic situation and other aspects of lives. I urge African friends to seek ways to strengthen the rule of law across the continent in part by enhancing the independence of their judicial systems and ensure that corruption and other violations of public trust do not continue to contribute to widespread poverty.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan reminded us not long ago that in the face of current world economic crisis, "(W)e need to ensure the poorest in the planet—who will be hardest hit by the financial crisis—are not forgotten. The US Congress is discussing a $825 billion stimulus package for the American economy this week. This compares with the G-8 Gleneagles pledge to find an extra $50 billion by 2010 to tackle global poverty—a promise still not met."
Mahatma Gandhi said, " Poverty is the worst form of violence." In Africa, it has raged against millions of people for generations with half of Africa's population still living below the poverty line, which the World Bank defines as an income of less than $1 a day. With it, other forms of indignity, such as the spread of some of the most deadly diseases and armed conflicts, have been inflicted on some of the most vulnerable members of the human family, particularly women and children.
Calderisi again: "But Africa has suffered grievously over the last 30 years. It has more than doubled its population and lost half its income. Disease is spreading. School attendance is dropping. Vaccination programs are sporadic. Food security is uneven. And Africa is the only region in the world that has grown steadily poorer since 1970." This phenomenon threatens to worsen if the world fails to heed the advice of Annan.
Case of Sudan
In many countries around the world, political identities have assumed an ethnocultural complexion, often caused by open, and sometimes armed, conflicts between different ethnic communities. Africa has certainly witnessed its share of calamities in this kind of "us and them" disputes.
Africa and the rest of the world are still haunted by memories of the Rwandan genocide, but an almost equally condemnable tragedy has been unfolding in Sudan since April, 2003. As many as 400,000 African Darfuris has lost their lives and millions of others have lost their homes because they are deemed to be Africans by Janjaweed and others who deem themselves to be Arabs.
A report by UN investigators made in June 2005 indicated that Sudan's government has "orchestrated and participated in" war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on March 4th of this year for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese President, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He is the first sitting head of state the ICC has ordered arrested.
Regrettably, leaders in some African countries have sided with al-Bashir, even as he ordered the expulsion of all international humanitarian agencies, potentially threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians . I urge African friends to appeal to al-Bashir and his government to allow aid to reach African Darfuris. The world community as a whole must make now effective and concerted efforts aimed at finding a resolution to the most appalling human tragedy of this new century.
African Union (AU)
I observed part of the last meeting of the Organization of African Union (OAU) in Addis Ababa in 2002 as Canada's Secretary of State for Africa and Latin America, and have since followed the progress of the successor African Union (AU) as closely as possible. Permit me to say that one of its finest moments to date in my opinion was when it declined to allow al-Bashir to become its chair last year.
Will the AU member countries soon ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance? Representative democracy has made great strides in Africa, but it is still a glass half full. The current economic crisis poses risks to the gains made on the continent, which is illustrated by the military coup in Mauritania and the recent ouster of the democratically elected government in Madagascar.
The return to power of men in uniforms with guns is a disturbing reminder of a past all of us must put behind us to make the progress necessary to providing what our people need and deserve. Mali’s chairmanship of the 2007 Community of Democracies, whose theme was democracy, poverty and development, amply demonstrated that democratic governance is the soundest path to development for the continent.
As an important African diplomatic and political forum, the AU should lead in confronting corruption and poverty, advocating multi-party democracy, promoting freedom of speech and other human rights, strengthening the rule of law and creating positive conditions for an African renaissance.
There are in fact good reasons for optimism about brighter days ahead for Africans generally. Multiparty democracy has swept through much of the continent. By 2000, 32 out of 54 African heads of state had been chosen in elections against rivals backed by opposition parties. In 1975, only three heads of state were chosen that way. Over the past eighteen years, moreover, more political parties have been founded in Africa than at any time since decolonization; representative democracy has taken root in many countries.