We need to listen to the people.

Author:Naidoo, Jay
Position:GUEST COLUMN - Column

At the heart of Africa's failure to deliver the dreams of Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah for "one continent, one people and one nation" is the leadership's failure to be guided by the needs of the very people meant to benefit from the collective wealth and power.


"You have to listen to me because I know what is not in your books." Powerful words from Esther, a smallholder farmer from Malawi, whom I met in April this year at a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Climate justice in Dublin. The bedrock of the success we look for in Africa, she cut an inspiring figure as she spoke, in her language, to an audience that included luminaries like former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and US Vice-President Al Gore.

So where are we today? What is Africa's challenge? What happened to the dreams, hopes and vision of 50 years ago when the predecessor of the African Union was born and Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, a leading proponent of our dream of Pan-Africanism, said: "Africa is one continent, one people and one nation?"

Across Africa, from the slums of Kibeira and Khayalitsha to the villages of Turkana and Giyani, far from the ivory towers of our political discourse, I see and hear the rising tide of anger and discontent. Africa is rich. Our people walk on gold, diamonds, oil, platinum. Yet our people are poor, and our mineral wealth has become a curse in itself.

Our natural resources, now estimated at a third of the world's reserves, power the global economy. But we undervalue our assets. We undervalue ourselves.

Our challenge is not to miss the next global commodity boom and to grow from commodity-exporting economies into realising mutual benefits with our partners. It means that we stop acting as 55 countries, each striking separate deals in a way that weakens our bargaining power as an economic bloc. Instead we need to leverage this wealth to develop our own infrastructure and connect our continent.

And it is not like we have no expertise; in some sectors we have excelled. I remember when we met as African communications ministers in the mid-90s; Africa had fewer phones then than the City of New York or Tokyo. We used state power to shape the policy, regulatory and spectrum management environment to crowd-in private sector investment and harness their expertise and technology. As a result, today we have the fastest growing mobile market in the world with over 600 million mobile phones. No aid dollars drove this...

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