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Time to change Africa's mindset

By Ido Lekota - Political Notebook | 2010-10-14 08:38:16.0

THE past four days saw what former president Thabo Mbeki has described as "a galaxy of the best brains from Africa and the African diaspora" meet at the Sandton Convention Centre.

The purpose of this august gathering was the launch of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (THMALI).

The aim of the foundation is to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment in Africa as well as to ensure that the continent takes its rightful position in the world. The institute aims to develop the kind of leadership that would see these objectives being achieved.

Setting the tone for the august gathering on Sunday evening, speakers, including Mbeki, former Mozambican president Joachim Chisano, Ghana's former president John Kufuor, and academic-turned-businesswoman Mamphele Ramphele, all agreed that the two initiatives were premised on the understanding that Africa needed renewal.


Yesterday Mbeki explained that what the participants had been doing since Monday was to explore what could be done to produce leaders who would lead the renewal.

Having sat in some of the discussions, it has become apparent that the move to bring Africa's renewal faces several challenges.

What was of interest was the manner in which participants not only acknowledged these challenges but came up with proposals to overcome them.

The thrust of the discussions was that contrary to what Africans are sometimes made to believe, the continent does have the potential to become a key player in the global economy.


What is needed is a mind set change that challenges the notion that Africa is a doomed continent plagued by poverty and disease. As Mbeki argued, Africa has the resources and human capital to turn the 21st century into the African century.

The first step is for us as Africans to believe that we can rise to the occasion and contribute towards a position that would see the continent as a key player in the global village.

Speakers made proposals on how we can indeed unleash Africa's full potential.

What also became apparent is that the movement for renewal puts a challenge to African societies. For example, it means that we must have the kind of political leadership that creates an environment where, for example, economists, engineers and scientists can unleash their full potential in the continent's development.


This means, among others, adopting policies that challenge the current situation where Africans countries continue to be drained by capital flight to institutions like the International Monetary Fund - in the form of loan interests.

Political leaders, working together with economists and researchers, must come up with solutions that challenge the current situation whereby the amount of aid Africa gets from Western countries is actually offset by the high interests on the loans it pays - leaving its countries in perpetual poverty and unable to meet the social needs of its people.

What this means is that the renewal project puts on the institute the responsibility of developing thought leaders in all spheres of our lives so that they can lead the project.

But it also means that the current political leadership must transcend their fear of political rivalry and see such initiatives as part of a bigger project to lift Africa from the doldrums of underdevelopment.


On an international level it means that Africa's political leadership must challenge any projects aimed at undermining African initiatives.

They must, for example, question why Western powers and institutions like the United Nations discourage African countries from developing their nuclear potential - while other developed countries are doing so.

They must adopt policies that support initiatives that would see Africa using its natural resources to develop its own people and take its position in the global arena.

They must, for example, allow their scientists to explore alternative sources of energy and use such initiatives to position African countries as economic powers.

As one of the speakers, Shingai Ngara from Shingara Integrated Investments, pointed out during the discussions, Africa has the sun, deserts and the wind.

Why then do African countries not go full force in developing these as alternative sources of energy? By so doing they would develop their research capacity, develop skills and position themselves as key suppliers of alternative energy.

Currently in South Africa there are sporadic initiatives here and there.

Cost is always put as an inhibiting factor while such projects are discouraged by the petroleum companies because entities such as Eskom are seen as competition.

The point, as Ngara argued, is to focus on such initiatives so that South Africa can position itself as a key player when it comes to alternative energy sources. This will invariably have a knock-on effect on other sectors such as technology, transportation, etc.

If indeed cost is an inhibiting factor, focusing on these initiatives will, for example, force the country to develop technologies that can eventually make the process cheaper. This will in turn develop the country's technological capability.

These are some of the challenges that initiatives like the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and THMALI are raising and hope to address.

What has become apparent is that for the renewal to happen, there is need for a serious mind set change among Africans.

Firstly, they must start believing that they can change their circumstances.

Secondly they need to understand that there are alternatives to current policies and developmental models. All that needs to happen is to build a new breed of leadership with an understanding that every African is a potential agent for change.

What they need to do is to tap into that potential and do things with them and not for them.