“Where is Africa’s economy headed?” This was a sub theme explored by Mahmood Ayub (UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative) during the Turkish – African Civil Society Organisations’ (CSO) Forum Organized by TASAM. “The last decade has seen Africa exit gloomy descriptions. The continent is not only attracting Europe, China, Japan and India among others due to its rich resources, but it is also ready for trade,” Mahmood said.
In spite of Mahmood’s optimism, the manner in which some African CSOs responded to the proposed Turkish-African CSOs Forum Istanbul Declaration reveals that unless Africans change their approach to serious issues, the continent has a long way to go to extricate its populations from shackles of disease, poverty and underdevelopment.
The document stated that the CSOs had agreed to cooperate in taking action to ensure that development is achieved in Africa in areas such as trade, education, gender, good governance, tourism, environment, youths, the family, science and technology, health, democracy and peace, among others. It also stated that Turkish and African CSOs had agreed to form a common action plan, a fact that called for setting up initial working groups in the above mentioned areas. Turkey pledged to provide necessary support in all issues related to development and industrialization of Africa.
Whereas some CSOs declined to hurriedly endorse the proposed document on grounds that it had not factored in all the issues that had been raised in the forum; they needed time to ‘chew’ it and that it was not specific on who would comprise the working groups, other CSOs outrightly dismissed the document on grounds that it was presented in English.
This reminded me of a business workshop that Inter Region Economic Network organized for Christian and Muslim clerics. Initially, the meeting was tense as Christians and Muslims espoused the superiority of their religions. However, confronted by the reality that they faced the same socio-economic and political problems, they put their religious differences aside and resolved to focus on solving the problems.
Going back to the Turkey meeting- anyone has the right to demand to be addressed in a language they are familiar with. No one language is more "important" than or superior to any other. However, discrediting a good proposal because it is presented in a different language could make one lose an important opportunity. There are well over 1000 different languages spoken in Africa. If the continent was to focus on language, integration and development would be an uphill task.
If Africans are still looking at each other as Anglophone, Francophone, Portuguese or Arab, are they really ready for business and integration? Should the continent strive to speak one language? Just as we wear Italian shoes, board a Japanese car and call from Nokia, a Finnish phone, language is dynamic and borrows heavily from other languages.
Leonard Reed in I PENCIL illustrates how it takes many people from diverse lands to manufacture a simple pencil. It may be labeled ‘Made in France’ or ‘made in China’ but the rubber, graphite, wood , metal….etc are from other regions.
Instead of harping on language, Africans ought to focus on common problems facing them as they engage business partners. Instead of focusing on the trivial, they ought to tackle serious issues such as: Are the development partnerships based on equality or a master servant relationship? Do the partnerships relegate the continent to a supplier of raw materials and importer of finished goods or actively empower Africa to produce finished and value-added products? Do the partnerships lead to aid dependency and debt? Do they involve a lion’s share of the benefits going back to foreign countries through expatriate fees and supply of spare parts? Do they entail choosing for Africa who to relate with and who not to relate with? Do they involve exporting foreign wars (such as the pesticide wars) to Africa?
Although Franz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks acknowledges that language “... means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of civilization,” language must not deter us from partnerships that will improve Africa’s lot. As the world rapidly globalizes, we ought to learn as many languages as possible to enable us connect with other nationalities for business as well as focus on common issues binding Africa.
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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