Is the African Renaissance catching a second wind?

A portrait of Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, right, next to one of the previous president, Mwai Kibaki.

A portrait of Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, right, next to one of the previous president, Mwai Kibaki.

For hours yesterday, I joined thousands of East Africans (and the millions of Kenyans) to watch the Uhuru Kenyatta presidential inauguration. While I didn’t turn off the television feeling like I was floating on air (case in point; after Mr. Obama’s 2008 victory speech) I felt a certain amount of optimism pierce my cynical heart.

When President Kenyatta talked about working remembering that “that no one country or group of countries should have control or monopoly on international institutions or the interpretation of international treaties. While each state has a right to its own view, it must respect the fact that it holds just one view amongst many in the community of nations”, my thoughts went back almost a decade and in his voice I heard the voices of the last generation of African giants. Men like Abdoulaye Wade, Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki, our very own Paul Kagame, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the late, great Meles Zenawi. Sadly, their dreams of a ‘new’ Africa has taken a lot longer than they had envisaged in 2001 when they became the godfathers of NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development).

During Bill Clinton’s first trip to the continent in 1998, he talked about a “new generation of African leaders” devoted to democratic practices and economic empowerment. Sadly however, quite a few of these leaders ended up resembling the very dinosaurs they replaced. I am talking about Laurent Desire Kabila, Isaias Afwerki and, sadly for me, Yoweri Museveni.

But like the proverbial phoenix that rises from the ashes, I feel that Africa’s time in the sun is upon us. Just look around. Somalia is getting its act together. South Sudan is now a free nation and NOT at war with the North. Even Zimbabwe is finally getting its act together again and there is bread on store shelves again.

I know that there are still many issues that need urgent resolution like Mali, DR Congo and the Central African Republic, but looking at the entire continent through my ‘Rwanda-tinted glasses’, I feel somewhat optimistic. We are witnessing a new confidence emanating from a vibrant, highly educated and driven youth; governments are letting private businesses thrive, stability is no longer an exception but rather a rule and an emerging multi-polar world is giving us all some breathing space. Viva China!

With Kenyans giving the dastardly International Criminal Court a slap in the face (and leaving the busybody Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, of the infamous “choices have consequences” remark spluttering in impotent rage) by voting for their candidate of choice and doing it without resorting to machetes, they showed that Africa wasn’t doomed to perpetual doom and gloom. In fact, the increasing intra-African trade, joint peacekeeping and peace enforcement and close diplomatic cooperation is showing that there is a way forward.

I will not pretend that we are out of the woods yet. I’ve see fully-grown men (and a woman or too) get off lavish presidential jets in Washington DC, Paris, London and Beijing, and beg for money to feed their poor and pay the wages of their civil servants (the worst culprits being our French West African brothers). This is not tenable as Rwanda learnt the hard way.

This new wind is not one we can take for granted however. Yes, there is a global increase in demand for our raw materials. Yes, we are currently in the cusp of a demographic ‘sweet spot’. Yes, we have allies that don’t make it their business to butt their noses in our internal affairs. However, this doesn’t mean that we can take our development for granted. Are we seeing the shoots of an African renaissance? Yes. Can they be easily destroyed? Once again, I say yes. It is our responsibility to nature these shoots and let them grow into strong, tall trees.

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