Under the leadership of Congresswoman Karen Bass, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s (CBCF) Africa Braintrust held its annual conference on Friday 21, 2013 in Washington DC. This year’s conference focused on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Speech, “I have a dream”, and 50 years of the Africa Union. The CBCF brought to Washington DC a wide range of eminent personalities, featuring celebrities, policy makers and academics, heads of states, advocates and experts, media fraternities and attendees of all walks of life. Admittedly, the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) couldn’t miss this great opportunity to celebrate Africa’s achievements because for the past thirty years AFJN has been contributing to design adequate US-policies for the continent to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
A variety of activities punctuated the day. The highlights could be articulated around the word of welcome by Congresswoman Karen Bass, the keynote address of the chairperson of the Africa Union Commission and finally the input by the three panels of experts.
The welcome note by Karen Bass opened the fete and set the mood of the event. Shouts of joy and cheers saluted the commendable work she is doing as a ranking member of the House subcommittee on Africa. She then welcomed Her Excellency Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the first woman to head Africa Union (AU), the continental body to address the august assembly.
Dr Zuma made a retrospective look at the historical setting of the continent from the early days, before and after the slave trade till the dawn of the independence wave throughout African countries. Under the aegis of capable and visionary leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, the African Union came into being to help steer the liberating process of the continent against colonization and apartheid in South Africa. Since its inception, the continental body grappled with the inconsistency of its leaders and the best way to come to terms with its goals and mission. Much has been achieved and today Africa Renaissance is all the more galvanizing her sons and daughters. The economic indicators are satisfactory for most countries (Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Burkina Faso…) bringing the continent to the mainstream economy; the democratic culture, and the rule of law are slowing shaping Africa’s political landscape (South Africa, Liberia…) although much needs to be done in this area. These tangible facts rekindle our hope in the future of the continent and underscore the need to make its development our top priority.
As to the experts’ panels, they provided a platform for sharing the tenets of success stories across the continent. Panel I with distinguished scholars like Paul T. Zeleza (Quinnipiac University), Nii Akweteh (policy analyst and activist) and former US Ambassador to Botwana Joseph Huggins looked back at the 50 years of African independence and the many lessons we could draw from the past. The continent must continue strengthening regional integration, nation building, democracy and the rule of law.
On the presidents ‘panel, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso shared his mediation experiences in Togo, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Mali. Under the leadership of Hassan Mohamoud, Somalia, a one-time war-torn, lawless and failed state for more than two decades is being born from ashes. Progressive democratic structures and basic public infrastructures are put into place. It is our hope that this will sustainably pave the way for a lasting peace in the Horn of Africa.
The two last panels explored the opportunities that both the new technologies of communication and the African Diaspora hold for the continent. Microsoft launched an initiative concept to help train the next generation of IT specialists on the continent. South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and various parts of the continent are progressively joining digital age. With regard to foreign direct investment, the African Diaspora holds a place of predilection. With a total investment package of US$40 billion each year (International Fund for Agricultural Development report, 2008), the African Diaspora is one of the major investors on the continent and represents prospective development actors to reckon with in the emerging economies across the continent. It is indeed an untapped engine of opportunities that needs to be explored to its full potential.
by Barthelemy Bazemo, Policy Analyst