We beat conventional wisdom with a stick
19 January 2018 19:51 (South Africa)
Opinionista Babatunde Fagbayibo

Nana Akufo-Addo’s comments are nothing more than a feel-good exhortation

  • Babatunde Fagbayibo
    babatunde-fagbayibo.jpg
    Babatunde Fagbayibo

    Babatunde Fagbayibo is an associate professor of law at the University of South Africa.

The present African condition requires more than clap baiting, feel-good rhetoric. Whether our leaders restate the obvious in the presence of visiting foreign leaders or during the oft-organised talk-shops, our problems will not automatically fizzle out.

The Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo, has in the past few days made positive headlines and garnered admirers in the process, mainly based on the impromptu comments he made while hosting the French President, Emmanuel Macron, in Accra. In less than 10 minutes, President Akuffo-Addo eloquently touched on topics ranging from the problems of aid, illegal migration to Europe, mismanagement, governance, and the imperative of sharpening the African personality. In closing the speech, Akufo-Addo mentioned his famous catchphrase, “Ghana Beyond Aid”, a plan that seeks to shift focus from dependence on aid to the proper management of Ghana’s resources for economic development.

Akufo-Addo’s off-the-cuff comments came at an opportune time, especially as the continent continues to grapple with issues of modern-day slavery in Libya, the lack of political willingness to implement key developmental programmes, increased stifling of democratic rights, and essentially, the absence of seriousness on the part of African leaders to either articulate or action important measures.

Akufo-Addo’s comments are not exactly novel, as they have been articulated in various platforms by current and former heads of state on the continent. The issue then is not so much about the rightness of the message, as it is the genuineness of follow-up. The adulation that Akufo-Addo’s comments has received thus far speaks more to its “feel-good effect” than any realistic hope that the problems highlighted will receive adequate attention. Such a “feel-good effect” points to how some have praised his eloquence, the observation that the comments made Macron “visibly uncomfortable…appearing unsure which side of the room to turn his gaze…”, and even the hyperbolic assertion that it is “probably the most powerful message in recent times coming from an African leader”.

While feel-good exhortations are not necessarily irrelevant, the issue that should be at the centre of our engagement is the substantial correlation between these “inspirational” talks and execution of the programmes aimed at setting Africa on the right path. For example, what are leaders doing in their respective countries to push national agendas that are intrinsically linked to implementing transnational programmes such as free movement of persons, financing regional integration, trade issues, and respect of fundamental rights? Beyond empty platitudes, how have policy makers shown the determination to reduce the embarrassing dependence on foreign aid and/or prevented the looting of the aids received?

Regarding adherence to regional commitments, Nana Akufo-Addo could at least argue that his government maintains a policy, introduced by his predecessor, of offering visas on arrival to all African nationals. However, other commitments still require robust clarification. These include the readiness to implement the African Passport (2018 is the target date by the way), the 0.2% levy on “eligible” imports which will be used to finance the African union (AU), the removal of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs), and the ratification of key AU laws. The same questions could be posed to the majority of AU member states, and the answer will essentially show the underlining cause of the dysfunctionalism of regionalism.

The present African condition requires more than clap baiting, feel-good rhetoric. Whether our leaders restate the obvious in the presence of visiting foreign leaders or during the oft-organised talk-shops, our problems will not automatically fizzle out. For a start, African leaders will have to shed encumbering contradictions. These include the obsession with attending EU-Africa, China-Africa, India-Africa etc summits, where the begging bowl for aid is disguised as a call for trade and investment; showing disdain for democratic rights; crying imperialism when the bulk of regional projects are funded by the EU and the creation of processes that have no feasible funding plan (only hoping to secure external funding even when the objective is at variance with the wishes of the funders). Without a demonstrable zeal towards changing the ways of doing things, our political elites will continue feeding us feel-good homilies. DM

  • Babatunde Fagbayibo
    babatunde-fagbayibo.jpg
    Babatunde Fagbayibo

    Babatunde Fagbayibo is an associate professor of law at the University of South Africa.

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles






Reader notice: Our comments service provider, Civil Comments, has stopped operating and will terminate services on 20th Dec 2017. As a result, we will be searching for another platform for our readers. We aim to have this done with the launch of our new site in early 2018 and apologise for the inconvenience.