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Africa for Africans: four African heads of state offer their vision for the continent's future and why America and African-Americans should care.

KAGAME. JOHNSON-SIRLEAF. GUEBUZA. PIRES.

They are not as well known as Nelson Mandela, whose election as the first Black president of South Africa changed African history forever. But they are no less significant to the development of the nations they lead and to the future of the continent.

Nearly 125 years after the 1884 Berlin Conference where European colonialists carved up the African continent among themselves, a new generation of progressive leaders are taking charge of their own destinies and working toward a unified Africa, much like the European Union.

Undeniably, many African nations continue to grapple with the enormous challenges of underdevelopment, civil war, famine, HIV/AIDS and political corruption. But many others are moving beyond those struggles and developing modern, self-sustaining economies for the benefit of their people and all of Africa.

"I look to this new generation of African leaders for their ideas, for their network, for their initiatives that can help launch a new decade of bold cooperation among the African countries and their peoples to start with," says Djibril Diallo, a communications adviser at UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. Like many other Africans, Diallo, who is from Senegal, is encouraged by the work of the African Union, a fledgling 9-year-old organization now headed by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

"The African Union is the only continental body in the world that meets unfailingly at least once or twice a year to discuss issues of common concern at the highest level," says Diallo. "This is very, very important because issues become important when important people seem to be paying attention to them. So when we talk about reducing poverty, when we talk about enabling all children to complete primary school, when we talk about stopping the spread of HIV and malaria and other diseases, all of those are issues which are discussed [by the African Union] in addition to the other more visible issues which journalists cover extensively, which are the wars, the coups and the earthquakes."

Large countries like South Africa, which continues to play a significant role as the economic engine of the continent, or Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation that the U.S. Census Bureau projects will reach 264 million people by 2050, tend to get most of what little positive media attention comes out of Africa. But smaller, lesser-known countries like Mozambique, Liberia, Rwanda and Cape Verde are making great strides within their own borders and beyond.

Recently, while they were gathered in New York City for a regular session of the United Nations, EBONY magazine spoke with the presidents of those nations about their national aspirations and their hopes for the future of Africa.

ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF

PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 70, is Africa's first elected female head of state. She took office in January 2006 and has pledged to implement "neoliberal" reforms emphasizing decentralized economic institutions and support of free markets and free trade.

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"I see the future of Liberia as very bright," she says. "Liberia has a long history of being supportive of the liberation movement that led to the independence of African countries and established itself as a country of leadership many years ago. Of course, we have lost that during the many years of conflict when our economy collapsed. But I think right now Liberia is coming back, being recognized for the leadership role. We were classified as a failed state just five years ago. Today, when you talk to anybody in the international community, they tell you how much progress Liberia has made in just two years, tackling the debt problem, opening the economy, setting an agenda. So I think Liberia has a good chance to be recognized once again. Through good leadership, it can become a progressive nation. It can rise out of the ashes so to speak."

ON HER BIGGEST CHALLENGES AS PRESIDENT ...

"Getting our young people employed. The thousands and thousands of young people who were affected by the war, who participated in the war and who were not given an education, the skills. Getting them employed first means giving them a skill. Getting them reintegrated into their communities is one of our biggest challenges right now because they represent that underlying tension in the society that could keep us from achieving our objectives in the manner in which we want because if they become disgruntled, disaffected, if they lose hope, they could turn to violence and could be easily recruited once again by elements in the society who have lost power and privilege and want to see the status quo return. That's our challenge."

ON A UNIFIED CONTINENT AND THE FUTURE OF AFRICA ...

"Africa is indeed going through a renaissance; it is a new Africa. In the past decade, through very, very rigorous reform agenda, African countries have turned their economies around. Many years ago Africa was in military dictatorships all over the continent. Today, we have at least 20 democracies. In all of those countries the development has been transformative. Give us credit. Africa has come a long way. Yes, there are still pockets of problems--Darfur, Somalia, to a certain extent Zimbabwe--that have taken time to address. But by and large the good news of the continent has not been told. There is more cooperation between African states today. And there is a call for a United States of Africa that's being made in some quarters by some leaders. There's a lot to be said for that, but it would take some time to get there.

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ON THE U.S. ROLE IN AFRICA ...

"The United States should play a very small role. That's because neither does it have the economic and political might; but it still has the influence. And you find whenever the United States takes a strong position on something, it's much easier to get many of the other countries to follow that leadership. It's when there is an absence of policy or leadership or action that we find ourselves trying our best to make do. In the case of Liberia, let me just say that not only do we look for strong American leadership and partnership, we look for African-American leadership and partnership."

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PAUL KAGAME

PRESIDENT OF RWANDA

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Paul Kagame, 51, is the former leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the guerrilla army that invaded Rwanda in 1994, ending the Rwandan genocide. He assumed office in 2000 and became the nation's first democratically elected president in 2003. His leadership has been hailed by many around the world, including entertainer Quincy Jones, who has called President Kagame one of Africa's most "courageous" leaders and Rwanda the "Switzerland of Africa."

"My hopes are for a richer Rwanda and a richer Africa with no dependency on aid," he says. "In Rwanda, our people are our main resource. We are working hard to achieve what is expected of any normal country--an engaged, economically empowered, healthier and skilled population. Our continent is perceived as a place for aid and charity, but there is not much to see from the billions that have been spent on Africa in the last 50 years. It is clear that foreign aid will not transform Africa. My hope is that both as individual countries and collectively as a continent we succeed in implementing the right policies in order to create the prosperity that Africans deserve."

ON HIS GOALS FOR RWANDA ...

"A top priority of my government is to build and strengthen our institutions. I believe firmly that meaningful leadership is about creating institutions that outlast individuals."

ON HIS GREATEST CHALLENGES ...

"The greatest challenge so far in building viable public- and private-sector institutions is creating an adequate skills base required to drive these sectors, in order to ultimately defeat poverty and create wealth."

ON RWANDA'S ROLE IN THE FUTURE OF AFRICA ...

"Rwanda's contribution to Africa's future consists of consolidating peace and security, which is the foundation for socioeconomic transformation. We realize that we cannot achieve this in isolation and are participating with partner nations in building regional institutions that will ensure stability, cooperation and mutual development. This is the reason we are contributing to efforts to build stability on the continent. For example, we have over 3000 Rwandan troops serving in the peacekeeping operations in Darfur."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AFRICAN UNION ...

"The African Union is an important platform for collective leadership. In addition to being a sounding board for the continent's leaders, it provides a forum for solving problems that affect us all and serves as the voice of Africa internationally."

ON THE U.S. ROLE IN AFRICA ...

"I think the United States has an important role to play as a source of private-sector investment and quality advice. Also, because of the vast amount of experience and expertise existing in this country, we look to the United States for innovative support in terms of achieving the millennium development goals and ultimately socioeconomic success."

ARMANDO EMILIO GUEBUZA

PRESIDENT OF MOZAMBIQUE

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Armando Emilio Guebuza, 65, a former member of the FRELIMO (Frente de Libertacao de Mozambique--Mozambique Liberation Front) Politiburo, has been president of Mozambique since 2005. He started his political career at age 20, shortly after Mozambique's war of independence against Portugal A key player in African regional politics, President Guebuza participated in the Burundi peace process with the late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and later worked with South African President Nelson Mandela. In September, he accepted The Africa-America Institute's African National Achievement Award on behalf of the people of Mozambique for their strides in building human capacity through international partnerships.

"Africa has come out of foreign domination mostly and now it's managing its own affairs," he says. "Although we still have situations of conflict, the dominant situation, however, is democracy and progress, as we can see from the fact that the growth rate last year for the continent was around 5 percent. That's a good showing we can say. The other element to consider has to do with the instruments that Africa has created for itself in order to manage its own affairs and the creation of regional economic programs of development as well as a mechanism for peer review (of heads of state), which has to do with political issues and how Africans evaluate their own progress politically in terms of democracy. So this shows we can expect a brilliant future for Africa and especially for Africa to take its appropriate place in the concert of nations."

ON CONCERNS ABOUT CHINESE AND OTHER OUTSIDE INVESTMENT IN AFRICA ...

"We are poor, and we need to stop being poor. We need to have investment in our countries and whoever wants to invest in our countries will not be a source of concern because they will be investing on the basis of our laws and our relations. So we welcome whoever wants to invest."

ON WHEN THE WORLD MIGHT SEE A UNIFIED AFRICA ...

"There is no friction [on this issue]. It is a debate, different views, but all of them converging toward the unity of Africa. Some of them think it should happen yesterday. Some of them think it should happen today. Others say let us move gradually and do something that is sustainable. That is what the majority of people think. You know we have experiences of those types of organizations in the world. We are not the first ones. We have Europe (the European Union), and we've seen how long that has taken. So we must realistically stop thinking of dates, but think about moving in terms of steps and see where we can move faster on those steps. Step 1 is to reinforce the organization as such and politically take decisions that are realistic. Step 2 is to encourage the creation of institutions at the continental level. But in terms of real strengthening of our unity, we depend mostly on the hard work we do in our regional organizations, where we can move faster because we know each other much better and we can push things."

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ON HIS HOPES FOR MOZAMBIQUE ...

"I believe Mozambique is a country not only of hope but of possibilities that will be realistic in a short period. At this moment we are involved in the green revolution, and the green revolution states that in our case, in three years time or four years time, we will become exporters of food of our own production. But also we need to have infrastructures there, and we are getting support in building roads, for example from the United States. So we believe that Mozambique in the next two years will continue to have a growth rate that I hope will reach two digits."

PEDRO VERONA RODRIGUES PIRES

PRESIDENT OF CAPE VERDE

Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires, 74, the former prime minister of Cape Verde from 1975 to 1991, was elected president in 2001. Re-elected to a second term in 2006, Pires has gone on record recently in favor of a cautious, long-term approach to the formation of a United States of Africa, preferring that regional integration precede a continent-wide union.

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"We do not agree with the widespread pessimism about Africa," he says. "Of course we are aware of the difficulties, but we have a much more positive view [of Africa's future]."

ON THE FUTURE OF CAPE VERDE AND AFRICA ...

"The future development of Africa is a process that must be undertaken day by day, and I believe that future is one of prosperity and stability. It will involve hard work. But you have to know how to do this hard work and how to put this future of Africa in perspective. Cape Verde is a little country with a history that is in the crossroads of Africa, Europe and America. Cape Verde, for example, was the first port used to transport African slaves. It is through this history that we have built our country and our culture. We are in direct linkage with Africa. And we want to continue to have these connections with South America, Central America, North America and Europe."

ON CHALLENGES FACING CAPE VERDE AND AFRICA ...

"One challenge we have is demonstrating to the world that our country is viable. Another challenge is to demonstrate to ourselves that if we work very hard, we can win. We have already achieved something that is very important and that is confidence in the future. From this base, we are building toward our remaining objectives and goals for the future. We need to consolidate the building of our institutions of law. We have to increase our [economic] capacities in order to be efficient and competitive. So our first challenge is to create a state ruled by law that everyone has confidence in. But the bigger challenge for us is to develop our human resources, so that our people through education are able to do what we need to be done, believe in what we are doing and want to be engaged in building that future. The other great challenge is to build an economy that can reduce our dependence on outside aid. We need access to the new technologies.

This is a serious matter for all of Africa. We need to modernize the societies in Africa. We need to modernize the institutions of the state of law, we need to modernize our economies, and modernize and increase the productivity of our agriculture. We need to improve our educational systems at all levels--primary, secondary and higher education--so that our people have both conceptual knowledge and practical know-how and skills to build a modern, sustainable society. In Cape Verde, we don't pretend to be Harvard, but we want a high level of education in our country that is relevant and useful. This is a challenge not just for Cape Verde but all of Africa."

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ON A UNIFIED AFRICA ...

"We are seeing the consequences in Africa of what they did at that time in Berlin [the Berlin Conference in 1884]. And they are very harsh. But we have to look forward, identify the challenges and try to overcome them. The process of independence in Africa involves 53 independent states. But we are different states with different natures, and in the process of unity--I don't want to talk about unification, but unity--we have to take into account those differences. We must recognize the value of unity, but also take into account those differences.

As a result, we must look at African unity as a long-term process and adopt a political convergence of the individual states, institutional convergence, economic convergence and cultural convergence step by step. At this moment, the African Union has great potential as a step in that direction. It is a very important instrument for African unity in terms of international negotiations with the European Union, China, South America and North America."

Editor's note: This is the final installment of EBONY in Africa, a yearlong look at "The Africa You Don't Know." But it is by no means the end of our coverage of Africa or Africans in the Diaspora around the globe. We will continue to bring you those stories and more throughout the next year and beyond.
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Title Annotation:EBONY IN AFRICA: an occasional series
Author:Monroe, Sylvester
Publication:Ebony
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Dec 1, 2008
Words:2861
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