Africa’s potential despite problems
The African Union summit which has been held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from June 7 to 15, appears to have made no progress in solving Africa’s array of problems from disease, famine, corruption, civil and social unrest and insufficient infrastructure, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
The entire summit was overshadowed by the arrest warrant issued against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. President Bashir is banned from leaving South Africa, much to the consternation of its President Jacob Zuma and his government.
But Africa today is now seen as a continent with huge prospects and opportunities.
The Sahara has traditionally divided the continent in two - the north oriented towards the Mediterranean with the remainder south of the Sahara.
North Africa has been Islamic since the seventh century, while areas south of the Sahara remained mainly animistic until European colonisation in the 19th century. Muslim and Christian populations did exist before this, and former Portuguese colonies, the Cape, and the coastlines to the Atlantic and Indian Ocean are among the exceptions.
Africa is therefore extremely diverse, and a problem for its ethnic, traditional and religious diversity is the establishment of national states, basically created in phases of colonisation and decolonisation by Europe in the 19th and 20th century. These new countries were created on drawing boards without respecting traditional and ethnic developments.
The so-called democracies installed following European patterns at decolonisation did not include traditional governance structures or provision to sufficiently respect minorities.
South Africa is the most technologically advanced sub-Saharan country. It faces social unrest and widespread corruption in the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) led by President Jacob Zuma. Aids is a serious problem and is spreading, but it has been belittled irresponsibly by President Zuma.
Nigeria is Africa's most populated country with 173.6 million people. It too faces enormous corruption and governance problems. Poverty is widespread despite its wealth.
Nigeria’s government is unable to solve the occupation by the murderous terror group Boko Haram in northern parts of the country. But its new President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be taking a stronger stand than his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.
Civil wars and disease are widespread in Africa. Radical and terrorist Islamic movements are spreading from Libya to the Sahel following the death of General Muammar Gaddafi. They are establishing themselves as Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, around Lake Chad, and spreading in East Africa from Somalia to Kenya and beyond.
South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Sudan's Darfur and eastern Congo face atrocities and uprisings every day. The latest problem area is Burundi in East Africa.
European-style democracy, allowing the development of power structures based on ethnic strength and exacerbated by election manipulation, favours the suppression of minorities. A high degree of bureaucracy encourages corruption.
Many of Africa’s current governments, as well as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which represents them, inspire little hope. Presidents like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir hamper the reputation of the OAU.
But there are positive examples too, such as Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. He is descended from a traditional ruling family and understands and respects the importance of ethnic balance rather than majority domination.
Countries such as Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana, and Ethiopia give strong positive signs. Hope is coming from the development of business, especially local entrepreneurs. International businesses are also helpful in creating sustainable income and gaining supplies from local businesses.
This, in combination with leaders understanding and respecting the needs and traditional structures of their people, can drive forward a positive process to replace the damaging structures of so-called democracies.