The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
As the Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said in his opening remark at the Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW) on Global Africa, "these are not normal times".
Africa faces many imminent and systemic challenges. The eruption of conflict between military factions in Sudan is just one of them. Moreover, while the conflict received prominent attention during the IGW, the central discourse was the systemic exigencies that would not be reported as breaking news but pose long-term limitations to Africa's global voice. The several speeches, Forum discussions, Mo's In conversation with... and every other side event in Nairobi, Kenya, never failed to imply that the exclusion of Africa in critical multilateral institutions and the design and implementation of global solutions and decision-making continues to belittle our ability to achieve prosperity.
This is despite Africa's significant endowment with assets, namely, its capacity for carbon absorption and sumptuous deposits of mineral resources necessary for a globally sustainable economy; the size of our youth population – a 'potential workforce for tomorrow'; the promise of our trade agreement (the AfCFTA) to become the world's largest; as well as our standing as a beacon of inspiration in sports, culture, and entertainment. This continent remains a major attraction of trade partnerships, security collaborations and a vital player in the global supply chain. However, more is still to be desired for our voice in global agenda setting even as our citizens occupy strategic positions in the international organisations responsible for setting them.
Having keenly followed the panel discussions, I have summarised my takeaway under four themes: the need for democracy; capacity building; continental agenda on climate action; and the role of youth in fostering a global voice for Africa.
The need for democracy
For Africa to have a seat at the table, we have to work for it through stability, regional integration, and having a peaceful continent.
~Natasha Kimani, NGN member
This consensus was reached explicitly during the first Forum session on Africa's weight in the world and implicitly at other panels and Mo's In conversation with... What could sound like a cliche is that to have a sustainable seat at the table, we must work to achieve our objectives democratically. The diversity in Africa makes it even more vital to embrace systems anchored on popular participation, the choice of the majority and respect for minority groups and interests.
I often attribute the lack of regional consensus and coordination between African political leaders to a dearth of commitment to democracy by these same leaders. A voiceful Africa would need to open up the civic space – which has been shrinking, according to the 2022 Ibrahim Index of African Governance – that will hold leadership accountable to national constitutions and the pacts that seek to advance the continental agenda in the international scene.
Building capacity is key
Our population is young, yet "if the world is going to solve its existential problems, Africa has to be part of the solution". This was a statement by Zain Abdallah, Chair of the Mastercard Foundation. Non-state actors operating in Africa believe there is a need for capacity development if Africa is to maintain its voice in the global arena. Organisations like the Mastercard Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Foundation and the One Campaign are increasingly taking essential steps in helping to catalyse this capacity development through funding for education, research in public health, agriculture, and civil society.
The key issue highlighted in their body of work is the need for coordination which hampers the efficiency of their philanthropy. Against this, a point was made that African states are responsible for coordinating donor activities to increase their efficiency. My reservation with such a proposal is its implication on non-profit foundations' ability to innovate and maintain their neutrality from political partisanship. This is because states could either knowingly or unknowingly push non-state donors into activities that could undermine donor credibility, especially if it makes them come off as partisan. In addition, since the foundations primarily engage with local partners within the public sphere, they contribute to a bottom-up rather than top-bottom interaction trend.
An Africa with a global voice should be one where such a voice truly represents the collective interests of individual communities. I will argue that African states should deploy such coordinating powers to create mechanisms, say through the African Union or other regional economic communities, that will allow us to leverage each other's strengths to build our capacities in healthcare, education and research. This will make it possible for African states to conquer those frontiers where non-state actors have a paucity of leapfrogging.
A continental agenda on climate
A review of the IGW will be incomplete without spotlighting the increasing dominance of climate change as a significant impediment in virtually any form of policy discourse on African development. I lost count of the speakers that mentioned climate change, not least its consequences, such as drought, floods and desertification. The climate crisis has become an almost insurmountable challenge that countries making progress are thought to be only doing so in spite of it.
For example, Mahamadou Issoufou, the 2020 Ibrahim Prize laureate and former President of the Republic of Niger, was constantly receiving praise for leading his people on the path of progress in the face of hindrances such as desertification. Could some African communities have lost it all due to desertification or another climate emergency? African states must collectively renegotiate the terms of climate action, from the adaptation policies we are being prescribed to the mitigation strategies adopted in the global north, which directly impact our revenues. As William Ruto rightly emphasised, since climate action aims to get to net zero, a global policy on climate change should be more expansive to cover climate investment. I also subscribe to Mo's advocacy for a clearly defined carbon market.
Role of youth
I attended the IGW as a member of the Now Generation Network, a coalition of young Africans assembled by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, working to solve some of our most pressing challenges. If anything, what I could not stand with, was the global injustices in finance, diplomacy and climate crisis that my generation has to swim against to secure our countries, develop their human capital, expand their pool of economic opportunities and broaden their choices. I perceive the need for a critical mass to be mobilised to seek a qualitative shift in the global order to give way to Africa's progress. That will only be achieved by massive enlightenment of our people to the African cause.