This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The founding fathers of the OAU, that great generation of Pan-Africanists, laid the foundation for the growing solidarity of Africa, ushering the moral clarity of the liberation struggles across the continent like a tidal wave that culminated in South Africa’s liberation, and the ousting of dictators and repressive regimes from Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Liberia. Having achieved this political independence, the OAU made way for the African Union and is focused today on achieving Africa’s second independence — a strong, unified, self-reliant Africa to fulfill the continent’s aspirations for peace, democracy and development.
Over the past 10 years we have seen a marked decline in conflicts, sustained economic development and significant gains in human development across Africa. Africa is more peaceful, prosperous, healthy and well-educated than at the turn of the millennium, and African leadership has played an important role in that progress; but, in the years ahead Africa faces mega-challenges ranging from rapid urbanization, population growth and youth unemployment to climate change, conflict, unrest and a democratic recession in several countries.
We look forward to visionary leadership that will transition Africa from its 20th century challenges to its dynamic 21st century role on the global stage. We are very hopeful that in his second and final term, President Barack Obama will provide strong U.S. and global leadership to support Africa’s leadership, building on the great legacies of his predecessors: President Clinton’s African Growth and Opportunity Act and President Bush’s six-fold increase in aid to Africa. (See my article on Devex, “Dear Mr. President: Africa is Calling”)
Africare will honor President Obama at our Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner Gala on April 20 in Washington, D.C., for leading by example when he invested $100,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize in an innovative Africare sanitation project in Ghana. The project built the capacity of community masons to construct latrines and wells, trained water user associations on water-point maintenance and stimulated demand for these services through a community-led sanitation education campaign. President Obama’s funding of this pilot project led communities on a path to better lives and empowered them to better control their futures.
We also will honor visionary leadership born on the African continent, personified by Dr. Mo Ibrahim, who will be the recipient of the 2013 Bishop John T. Walker Leadership Award, the African entrepreneur and philanthropist who led the mobile revolution in Africa and who is raising the bar on good governance and leadership in Africa. Dr. Ibrahim realized his vision to fundamentally improve the lives of millions through technology, and he demonstrates his unwavering commitment to leadership through the integrity of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which is only awarded to those truly deserving.
In addition, we will pay special tribute to our African leaders, champions for Africa within the United States, who passed away over the past year: Former Presidents Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and John Atta Mills of Ghana, and former U.S. Congressman Donald M. Payne, who was the conscience of Africa within Congress.
Africare will also celebrate leadership at the community level in Africa. An important role of our projects is turning beneficiaries into leaders. Here are three small examples from the Sahel, a region very much in the news today. Africare’s Timbuktu Food Security Initiative helped communities in Northern Mali not far from the fabled city of Timbuktu to cultivate healthy fields of wheat and rice in the middle of the Sahel, which allowed villages to become food-sufficient all year round. Moussa Ag Demba, a project beneficiary, became president of the Federation of Unions of Agricultural Cooperatives in the region and then the mayor. His guidance and determination brought the Federation to record results in 2012, providing inputs to farmers even in the face of the insecurity surrounding them in Northern Mali.
In Southern Chad, Africare has helped women like Rachel Bedje to start successful businesses that hire teams of other women to supply local markets, and now these women are competing regionally and internationally. A new partnership is in development for the women of Doba in Southern Chad to produce shea butter for Kasny Recon, a skin and hair care company with a global reach. Fulfilling the dramatic increase in demand that will result from this partnership will afford project beneficiaries numerous opportunities to mentor new women in business skills and production practices.
In Niger, the birthplace of Africare, with Africare’s support Fatimata Yero is proud to be the nation’s first female auto mechanic and is passing on her skills to the next generation.
One of the lessons we have learned is that a critical factor for successful community engagement and participation in projects is support from government. When funds are parachuted into communities without any monitoring by a supportive state, decision-making is sometimes captured by elites who control the local cooperative structure, leading to a high risk of corruption.
Our experience is that community participation works best when community and national level leadership are linked with bottom-up participation supported by top-down leadership supervision and support. In addition to helping African governments translate their national programs and policies down to the community level, Africare also helps give communities a voice by bringing the experience of community members to bear in the design of national programs and policies.
Leadership is more than people at the top overseeing people below. Leadership is about possessing a vision for advancement and inspiring those you can reach – no matter if the audience is a child, a family, a village, a nation or a continent – to strive toward it. Africare works to empower the newest generation of African leaders at all levels, and we feel their successes deserve a night in their honor. Please support our celebration of African leadership at the Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner Gala on April 20!