The following are excerpts from an interview published by Dnevnik, Dnevnikov Objektiv newspaper on the subject Africa- Poverty of Wealth on 11.11.2006. The full interview which covers a broad spectrum of current issues in Africa will be published on the IREN website (www.irenkenya.com). Talking to Kristina Bozic, James Shikwati, Director of Inter Region Economic Network (IREN) argues that Africans can settle their own disputes if they think strategically.
Q. Do you feel that the African Union is a step in the right direction?
A .The AU is a good vehicle, if managed in the right way. But it can quickly become an organization that postures but does not deliver. One defect of AU is its speed and bureaucracy. The AU is too slow, even slower than our governments. It is however important as it creates the sense of urgency that you have to perform well in the union. What happened in Sudan best illustrates this. The Sudanese president who was to be made chairman of the AU, decided to step down to clear his image in the light of the conflict that was taking place in his country. In the past, Idi Amin chaired the Organisation of African Unity despite the atrocities he was committing. The other heads of state did not care. So to some extend, yes, the AU is very strategic.
Q. Yet many people mostly see Darfur and how the AU cannot stand up to the challenge.
A. But there are many things people do not talk about Darfur. You cannot just walk in and war stops. It is like saying: “Go to Israel and make peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” You have to look at the root causes. The media does not tell people the whole story about Darfur. Maybe, the AU must fail in Darfur to make the people responsible for the Darfur crisis to succeed. The AU certainly knows why there is a crisis in Darfur. Perhaps they are trying to talk to the people responsible. Definitely, there are people who are benefiting from the chaos and would like it to last. I would not judge the AU harshly on Darfur because I think it is more complicated than just making people put down arms. It is about resources, about Arab and black Africans in Darfur and about cutting in the middle of a community to divide and rule.
However, the AU is selling itself badly in Darfur. They bring out Africa’s problem of always saying: “Give us money.” You cannot call the press conference; tell the world we are doing it, without figuring out who shall pay for it. It illustrates nicely the kind of leaders we have. I wrote an opinion piece not along ago saying that when Western countries look at Africa they see resources, they see wealth. But when African heads of states sit down and look at the continent they are leading, they see poverty and hunger.
African heads sit down, draw up a budget and request the EU and America: “please, help us.” This is an extreme mindset! We decide to send peace keeping forces but in a week, we cry: “We have no money.” What follows? Sitting down to write more requests. What the AU should do is draw up the budget the mission will need and say: “Darfur is rich, there are resources, we are going to help, but we are going to use our money and we need this money to come back.” The same case applies to the Democratic Republic of Congo. When the US went to help Kuwait in the 1990s, there was a deal. All the millions the Americans spent were paid. It might not be in any record, but that is a fact. We deal with people who are realistic. You cannot say you are spending millions just to look good.
Q. There is no philanthropy?
A. Western countries want to hide behind looking good but that is not the reality. They want money, they want the resources, they want the wealth. “Looking-good-thing” seems to have escaped African heads of state. When they say “we are going to Darfur to look good,” they miss the second point. They have to go to Darfur but need to see returns. The Darfur crisis can be solved if the AU moves away from “give us, for us to go.” Immediately someone gives you something, he will start to control how you do things.
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