The Ivory Coast is the latest in a series of developments on the African continent that contribute to the constant running down of Brand Africa. Each time that Brand Africa tries to raise its head and look up in pride, something happens, within Africa by Africans, to mow it down to size, ensuring that it remains amongst the least respected geographic brand in the universe. Following the ongoing Zimbabwean situation, Kenya, the Sudan, Egypt, the ongoing South African process to limit freedom of expression and access to information through the widely condemned Protection of Information Bill, this continent simply refuses to be saved, one is tempted to think.
There are also acts of violence and intended violence against people who are gay and lesbian, with some even threatening to follow closeted gay and lesbian Africans right into their “closets” and expose them, often with more violence; as well as the silly belief in some countries that kidnapping, murdering and dismembering people who live with albinism will bring all forms of luck. Here, closer to home, we still have morons who claim to believe that they can rape a lesbian woman in order to make her straight, or a young baby in order to cleans themselves of HIV/AIDS. Let’s not even mention the practice of kidnapping young girls, prevalent in parts of the Eastern Cape, to force them into marriage. These strange and archaic beliefs and practices are even more worrisome when perpetrated and encouraged by those in positions of power. Kenyan Raila Odinga and Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe are examples of such people. There is still a dearth of strong and credible leadership voices to condemn bad things that happen in Africa whenever these happen. No one is there to lead from the front. Had they still been active in public life, I have no doubt that Madiba and Tutu would not have kept quiet in the face of all this. But even then, we’d need many more voices in order for the condemnation to have any effect.
Too many of the efforts by the political leadership in Africa to respond to electoral fraud seem only aimed at saving face, ensuring that despots remain in power despite clear signals from their electorates and whatever exists of civil society that they want change. I can bet that Mbeki’s latest interventions in the Ivory Coast will end up – and I hope to be wrong here – with another “African solution for an African problem”, with the loser, Laurent Gbagbo, ending up in some power-sharing arrangement despite his clear disdain for open democratic processes.
We, Africans, tend to be forever enslaved by dreams of yesterday. If it is not a yesterday dating back to pre-colonial times, when things, apparently, used to be all peaceful and perfect, it is to a more recent yesterday during the fight for the end of colonialism and apartheid. Friendships that were formed during these periods continue to stand in the path of progress in many ways and to make it hard for African leaders to accept that the world has changed, values have evolved and ordinary Africans have progressively become aware that they too have rights that must be protected and respected; they cannot forever be shepherded like sheep at the beck and call of political and traditional leaders.
African political and business leadership need to wake-up and realise that for Brand Africa to attract more Foreign Direct Investments and other forms of lucrative partnerships, it has to stand up and shine. It should stand proudly amongst other geographic brands and speak of an Africa that lives in the present century, standing side-by side and competing with the best in this world a world where to be African does not mean defending the indefensible.
What associations do we want the rest of the world to make with Brand Africa and, importantly, what associations do we reject?