Mahatma Gandhi expressed it well: “If you want to change the world, begin by changing yourself.” Another thinker, no doubt paraphrasing Gandhi, said: “If you want to change the way others look at you, begin by changing yourself.” But let there be no mistake. If the way Africa is regarded and perceived is beginning to change, it is principally because the continent is moving forward. Yes, Africa has begun to change.
Mahatma Gandhi expressed it well: “If you want to change the world, begin by changing yourself.” Another thinker, no doubt paraphrasing Gandhi, said: “If you want to change the way others look at you, begin by changing yourself.” But let there be no mistake. If the way Africa is regarded and perceived is beginning to change, it is principally because the continent is moving forward. Yes, Africa has begun to change. It is always worth remembering that most of our States have existed for a mere 55 years. Before colonialism, Côte d’Ivoire consisted of a large number of ethnic groups, each group forming its own State. In some regions, matters were arranged in such a way that each village represented a single political entity.
Our task in the 1960s and 1970s was to form a nation from this collection of ethnic groups and build a State. This had to be done against the background of Cold War, economic competition and a way of understanding the world which was new to us, because it was Western. Scarcely surprising, under the circumstances, that it has taken 55 years to respond to the challenges! The African States have some catching up to do and have made many mistakes. But that is the nature of learning. However, increasing numbers of young Africans are in step with the rest of the world – far more so than their parents and grandparents ever were. Everything is combining to create change in the way we manage our affairs and in our relations with the rest of the world.
Of course, many countries and leaders remain mired in old systems.
But others have developed a more modern vision. Young people are looking to the example of success in Botswana which offers hope. Several Heads of State have connections with the rest of the world, such as Alassane Ouattara in Côte d’Ivoire, whose career was spent with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Macky Sall in Senegal, Mahamadou Issoufou in Niger, John Dramani in Ghana, Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf in Liberia, Paul Kagame in Rwanda, Faure Gnassingbe in Togo and Ali Bongo in Gabon – the latter having a very different vision from that of their late fathers.
The ofﬁcial date of birth given for Félix Houphouët-Boigny is 1905, more or less simultaneous with the colonisation of his country. He grew up in a world where the African was the slave of the white man. His relationship with Europeans was radically different from that which people like Faure Gnassingbe and Paul Kagame may have today. But the most important factor is the transformation of the way Africans regard themselves.
For years, we ascribed our problems to slavery and colonialism which gave us an easy way out of our own responsibilities. But now we have left behind these attitudes, which are less and less accepted. Nowadays, our young people are challenging corruption, nepotism and tribalism. They are perfectly capable of identifying the share of responsibility borne by their own leaders in their misfortunes. Some Africans have suggested a curse striking their land or themselves, others have attempted to apply a Bible passage to the situation, the one where Noah curses his children for seeing him naked. Nowadays however, fewer and fewer people regard their continent in this way, as a people cursed by some deity. Also among the current changes, I note the ultimate dream of Francophone Africans is no longer to go to Paris, but instead to Canada, the United States, South Africa or China. France is no longer the centre of the world for its former colonies. Many young Ivorians are leaving to study in India, which offers an excellent quality of education and training, less expensive than in Europe and which does not pose the same visa problems. At least 3,000 Ivorian students are currently studying in Bangalore alone, the Indian ‘Silicon Valley’, recognised as a world-class cluster of competence.
It may well be said that Bangalore, with its 8.5 million inhabitants
– more people than in Togo or Liberia – is not really India and that the so-called ‘real India’ is much further away because the State of Karnataka is home to great number of dark-skinned people living beneath coconut palms, as in Africa. My response is simply this: North or South, Black or not Black, India is India, and my own son studied in Bangalore, where he was one of the few who did not choose to study computer science, but opted for journalism and foreign languages!
“And what about China?” you will ask. As I see it, the Chinese are behaving exactly like all capitalist countries needing new markets and raw materials. The only difference is they have not colonised anyone, Africa, an advantage of which they make good use. In the period when many countries became independent in 1960, we formed, together with China, a single entity known as the “Third World”. Nowadays, we all want to be ‘dragons’, a situation that inevitably irritates France, which is losing market share in a territory it regards as its ‘private preserve’. But it was France which dumped Africa to court Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, at a time when everyone believed nothing more could be done to save our continent. The trade relations China has created with us are often criticised by the so-called ‘traditional’ partners. From the African standpoint, our relationship with China is not a matter for concern. On the contrary, Beijing is a partner like any other, frequently offering more advantages than others, at more competitive prices. And indeed many Africans are not sorry to see the Chinese putting a spoke in the wheel of French businesses. There is much mockery of the poor quality of Chinese products, but I think everyone is noticing these products are improving from year to year. France is no longer the only country to win all the contracts: in Côte d’Ivoire, the Soubré Dam is Chinese, the Northern Highway to Yamoussoukro is Tunisian, the Grand-Bassam Highway is Chinese and the tender for the Azito powerplant expansion project has been awarded to South Korea, as has the proposed Abidjan urban railway system.
Nowadays, my fellow citizens have the means to go on holiday to Thailand, India, Kenya, South Africa, Morocco, China, Canada, the Caribbean or the United States. The obsession with France is beginning to fade. Some countries such as Rwanda and Gabon are even using English without this causing any upset in Africa, where we can manage perfectly well without France. Many young entrepreneurs in Africa regard Rwanda, a country which has rebuilt itself through political will, as a model to be followed.
The following question is a logical consequence of this: do we need strong individuals to lead our countries along the path to development? By this I do not mean so much powerful individuals, but enlightened leaders – without generalising and taking situations on a case-by-case basis. Ghana, for example, was in a shambles before the advent of Jerry Rawlings (in power from 1981 to 2001). This air force lieutenant brought his country to heel with methods that no one can replicate today – nothing short of a Stalinist purge, complete with public executions. But it must be acknowledged that Jerry Rawlings was good for Ghana. Before he came to power, Ivorians used to make fun of their neighbours with comments such as “You are down-and-out like Ghana”, something that used to be said in Abidjan to people down on their luck – a terrible insult at the time. Nowadays, our Ghanaian neighbour is renowned for its stability. It holds peaceful elections resulting in democratic handovers of power. Jerry Rawlings is a contemporary of Captain Thomas Sankara, another putschist who has had a powerful impact on his country, Burkina Faso. As Edem Kodjo observed in my biography of him, some people pass like shooting stars in the sky, but leave long-lasting traces…
To conclude on this point, I would say that we have a greater need for good governance than for powerful individuals. But sometimes a strong individual with a vision for his or her country can really be useful! I believe that South Korea’s development was initiated under the leadership of General Park, who was anything but softhearted. Governance remains an issue that requires discussion, for nothing is ever deﬁnitively concluded. As in other democracies, we must continue to engage in reﬂection and discussion in order to improve our democratic system, adapt it to our realities without slavish imitation, but also without compromising the universal tenets of respect for human rights, freedom of opinion and the freedom of peoples to choose their leaders. Democracy is an ongoing debate which we must never abandon.
The acknowledged beneﬁts of the economic takeoff include well- managed agriculture, local processing of raw materials and investment in education and health. What are we waiting for to implement them? Skills and capital! We are all aware of the need to process raw materials before exporting them. But we need to know how to do that and also to have the necessary resources. The good news is educated Africans are no longer staying in the West and increasing numbers are returning from France, the United States and Canada, because the environment in Africa is improving. Abdourahmane Cissé, the current Minister of the Budget in Côte d’Ivoire, is 33. Educated in Paris at the Ecole Polytechnique and the Oil Institute, he worked for Goldman Sachs merchant bank in London before returning to Abidjan. Essis Esmel Emmanuel, the director of our investment promotion centre in Côte d’Ivoire (CEPICI), came back from Canada. Ahmadou Bakayoko, the director of the Ivorian broadcasting service (RTI) had an excellent job at Canal+ in Paris, but he came back. These are just a few examples. A similar wave of returns is being seen more or less everywhere on the continent. The closer our countries move towards democracy and the more they experience good economic growth, the more educated Africans will return and contribute to making a positive change in their countries, at the same time changing the way we regard ourselves.
Our young people aspire to excellence and are showing greater conﬁdence in themselves. They have understood that they are not less than human, as they have so long been represented. We were traumatised by colonialism, a process which dehumanised us and left us with a strong inferiority complex, a complex which is gradually vanishing. More and more Africans who have lived in Europe, or worked with Europeans, as well as our children born post-1980, know that they are inferior to no one. They do not suffer from the same complexes as their parents born during the colonial period or in the early years of independence. They also know that Africa has something to offer the world, not just raw materials or goods and property, but what we are, our speciﬁc sensibility, our spirit, our modus vivendi, etc. At a time when our greatest battle is to save the planet, the world would beneﬁt from imitating the relationship with nature that prevails in rural Africa. We have a great deal more to offer than dance, music and footballers. I dream of an Africa where our children will not be tempted to seek success elsewhere, risking their lives to cross the ocean. I dream of an Africa where we will holiday in Europe, America or Asia to visit monuments or sites, but not go there to settle and earn our living. I dream of an Africa where we will be happy quite simply to be at home, an Africa which will no longer be perceived as a uniform and indistinguishable entity, but whose differences will ﬁnally be identiﬁed: West Africa is not Southern Africa and Bamako in no way resembles Johannesburg, a city where the First World and the Third World coexist, where moving from a city centre bristling with American-style skyscrapers to the former township of Soweto brings you back to the heart of Black Africa. Even inside many countries there is no standard situation: in Mauritania, there are the ‘Whites’ and the ‘Blacks’, as is the case in Mali or in Niger. In Côte d’Ivoire, in Togo, in Benin, in Nigeria, in Cameroon, North and South are different sectors to be taken into account, and in the DRC, East and West, whatever people might say.
Our States must make some efforts, for example to ensure that Boko Haram does not cause mayhem from Tangiers to Cape Town. When war breaks out in Ukraine, in the former Yugoslavia, in Georgia, or in Chechnya, no one claims that Europe is on the road to ruin. The same should be true for Africa, which is not a single entity and is not affected by the same problems everywhere at the same time. The same phenomenon was seen in the case of the Ebola epidemic: meetings were postponed in Côte d’Ivoire, despite the fact that the country was not affected and combated the spread of the virus in an exemplary manner. Western media always tend to emphasise what is going wrong and, in the end, this is extremely irritating. It is up to us to ﬁght to ensure this image changes!
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