I am pleased that the African Union Summit theme, “Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Africa: Challenges and Prospects for Development” gives us the opportunity to agree on what we can do to position our continent competitively on the world stage.
This also offers new opportunities for sharing information and technology developed in Africa by Africans, to attain the objectives of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
Africa is facing enormous challenges; including endemic poverty, food shortages and famine, wars and conflicts, disease, climate change, gender imbalance and capacity constraints.
These challenges slow down our efforts to improve the quality of life of our people through rapid transformation of our economies. They also impede our efforts to attain greater participation of Africa in global affairs.
But Africa cannot and must not live in the past. Africa must look to the future. The way forward is for the AU Assembly to recognize that: “Africa is not a poor continent; but the people of Africa are poor.” This is a very important paradigm in determining the future of Africa.
Let us remind ourselves that Africa has huge mineral and natural resources, fisheries and forest that are now exploited by the North.
However, in Africa we have many scientists, technocrats, doctors, engineers, artists and sports champions who are now in Europe and other G8 countries and are contributing to the success and prosperity of those nations. Let us reflect that Europe and much of the western world developed using minerals, timber, wood, meat and fish from Africa. But Europe and the Western world did not develop through resolutions and declarations; they took action, concrete action.
Although Africa faces enormous challenges, I believe that if we tackle them collectively, rather than individually, we can overcome them. We need to go beyond decisions, resolutions and declarations. We must begin to act and implement our decisions. I believe time has come for Africans to develop Africa. I believe 2010 is the year for Africa. I believe there is no other time in Africa’s history when there was better recognition that Africa should be the growth point for global development. Let us seize this moment to rise and take our rightful place. Let us act now.
One challenge we all face is poverty, hunger and malnutrition of large populations. Therefore achieving food security at the African level should be able to address these problems. I would therefore request the AU Assembly to share the dream that five years from now no child in Africa should die of hunger and malnutrition. No child should go to bed hungry.
I realize that this is an ambitious dream but one that can be realized. We all know that Africa is endowed with vast fertile soils, favourable climates, vast water basins and perennial rivers that could be utilized for irrigation farming and lead to the Green Revolution, and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. We can therefore grow enough food to feed everyone in Africa.
I am, therefore, proposing that our agenda for Africa should focus on Agriculture and food security. I propose that our slogan should be “FEEDING AFRICA THROUGH NEW TECHNOLOGIES: LET US ACT NOW.”
If we share this dream, then I propose that we embark on extensive regional food security programmes. This should include extensive irrigation that would ensure that each of our eight regional economic communities produce enough food for all at affordable prices especially for the rural poor. It would be useful if our agriculture and food production could be transformed by injecting adequate amounts of financial resources in science and technology, human capacity and on essential inputs such as fertilizers, improved seeds, herbicides and pesticides. We have done it in Malawi.
However, we have a situation where we produce and export food to the rest of the world while Africa is starving. We need to encourage Africans to invest in food production in other African countries as a way of ensuring food security at the regional and continental levels. Africa must feed Africa.
I firmly believe that if we could agree that food security at the Africa level is a priority, then other priorities such as climate change, ICT, transport and infrastructure development would also become a necessity to enhance flow of information, movement of people, goods and services including the production and supply of agricultural inputs within and among nations, regions and the continent at large.
I therefore propose that we consider investing in the construction of infrastructure to support food security. We need to build food storage facilities, new roads, railways, airlines, shipping industries as well as develop inter-state networks to ensure that we can move food surplus to deficit areas more efficiently and more cheaply.
I believe we could create a comprehensive data base on what the major staple foods of the African people are such as teff, maize, rice, millet, wheat, cassava and yams; and which countries grow such food crops. We could encourage countries that do not eat these staple food crops to export to those countries that consume them. This information will enable us to move food to deficit areas from surplus areas.
I am convinced that information and communication technology can play a major role in the development of agriculture and food security on our continent. This would enable our farmers to access important information on agricultural products, advanced technologies, research findings, as well as markets.
By HE Dr. Bingu Wa Mutharika,
President of the Republic of Malawi and Current Chair of the AU.