Speech delivered at the stars Switzerland symposium 2017

SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION, DR. MATTHEW OPOKU PREMPEH, DURING THE  STARS SWITZERLAND SYMPOSIUM 2017.

TOPIC: A WORLD IN TURMOIL AND TRANSITION-IMPACT ON BUSINESS AND SOCIETY (THE AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE)

Dr. Toni Schoenenberger, Executive Chairman, Stars Foundation

Distinguished Fellow Participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will like to thank the organisers of this programme, for the privilege to address this august gathering.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you warm greetings from the government and people of Ghana.

As Education Minister of a country that has been a leading voice in Africa’s engagement with the rest of the world, I feel impelled to address the topic and aim of this programme in the light of some major events and developments in the international political and economic systems that have been impacting the pursuit of socio-political stability and economic prosperity in Africa,

The Second World War was one such event. Europe was its epicenter, but the war’s impact was felt globally. The horrors of the war brought to the fore the need for existing nations to approach global peace as a collective responsibility. With this awareness came the imperative to repudiate notions of racial supremacy and all forms of subjugation through superior might.

African leaders rode on the crest wave of these developments to agitate for political independence from colonial rule. By the mid-sixties, the majority of African states had gained political independence.

Not long after the war, however, the hitherto simmering tension between the then dominant world powers, the USA and the USSR, blew up into the intense ideological rivalry we came to know as the Cold War. It spread to all continents, quite often as proxy wars between political groupings in some states.  On the African continent, this led to the subversion of the economies of some newly independent states and in some cases, forced regime change.

It has been more than half a century since the Second World War. But as its horrors fade from living memory, other events and phenomena have proved equally transformative in their impact on human lives across the globe. On the positive side, science and technology have revolutionized health care delivery, news dissemination, personal communications, modes of transportation, and many other important of human social and economic lives.  Technology has been making the world smaller and smaller, and has in many cases made it impossible for socio-economic prosperity and challenges to be enjoyed or borne by any peoples in exclusivity.

On the other hand, the world has also witnessed many devastating wars, man-made disasters, an upsurge in terrorism, socio-political upheavals, environmental pollution on an unprecedented scale, massive refugee crisis, among others.

 

Shifts in economic and military power across the globe and the increasing use of sophisticated technologies by unscrupulous individuals and sometimes whole states for sinister purposes drive the uncertainties and turmoil that typify life in the latter part of the previous and present centuries. World leaders are constantly locked in discussions on how to find answers to the alarming uncertainties.

Africa has had its fair share of these distressing events and situations; many states and communities on the continent are embroiled in conflict and have been struggling to negotiate peaceful transitions to political and economic stability.  Some problems remain peculiar to Africa.

This, however, does not in any way validate the popular projection of Africa as the epitome of every imaginable turmoil or disaster.  Many of the socially and politically destabilizing situations often given an African label in global news transmissions can be found in other parts of the globe, sometimes in more egregious types and magnitudes.

In fact, ethnic and sectarian conflict, insurrections and secessionist agitations states, ethnic cleansing, poverty have for many decades being the most consistent features of substantial parts of the international political system.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am not excusing or denying the massive challenges in Africa. I would want to be understood rather as pleading for a fair reportage of issues on the continent.  Perspectives matter.  More importantly, it helps us all to remember that we share a common fate and that many people in all parts of the world are adversely impacted by the uncertainties in the international political economy.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in the political sphere, Africa is steadily marching past the sad cycle of one-party states and military rule of the immediate post-independence era. Those were turbulent times. Within the first 24 years of its post-independence existence, my country, Ghana, for instance, had experienced not less than five military takeovers.

It has been six in the case of Nigeria since its independence in 1960; Benin and Burkina Faso, which also gained independence in 1960, have each experienced four of such takeovers. Just four cases out many in West Africa alone!!!!

Since 1991 however, Africa has been embracing multi-party democratic governance.  The catalyst was the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Eighteen months after that that event, protests erupted in many African states against the rule of strongmen and dictatorships.

The demand for reforms forced rulers in countries like Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Senegal to embrace multi-party constitutional democracy. So much so that today it can be asserted that multiparty democracy is the norm rather than the exception in Africa.

I am proud to say that my country, Ghana, has conducted seven largely peaceful, relatively transparent elections since multiparty democracy was restored in the country in 1992. On three occasions (2000, 2008 and 2016) elections have resulted in peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another.

Some of Africa’s strongmen continue to retain their grip on power. But even they continue to face protests and calls for political reforms as we all witnessed in the West African state of Togo recently.

And so it would seem that yet another major political event in Europe (the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe,that is) appeared to have led to the achievement of more desirable political outcomes for many African states.  Our destinies and systems are interlocked in imaginable manners.

This said, multiparty democracy in Africa has been revealing its own set of challenges. In some instances, it has led to turmoil and uncertainty. In many countries, political party structures and the electioneering process have exposed dangerous ethnic, sectarian regional fault lines that feed into the choice of national leaders and distribution of the dividends of power. In many African states thus, purely sectionalist considerations- rather than say arguments on the economy or issues relating to health care delivery- tend to be the most dominant influences on people’s electoral choices.  In a study on an election in one African country, a researcher at the Atlantic International University found that 56% of respondents did not know that their parties had manifestoes. The emphasis on sectarian and ethnic differences seems to matter more to many voters in some of our multi-party democracies.  Many of the post-election violence and clashes mirror these sad political undercurrents, sometimes creating further instability, uncertainty and deep mistrust among national populations.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, many African economies have for decades remained firmly rooted in the structures inherited from the colonialists. Accordingly, many countries on the continent continue to produce raw materials to feed industries in other economies. That leaves many African economies at the mercy of countries from which we also have to import finished goods. This clearly explains our negative balance of payments and trade with other continents and consequently, our inability to invest as much as we would wish to in infrastructure and social welfare.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bretton Woods Institutions, notably The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have been an integral part of post-colonial Africa’s political economy. The relationship has been a checkered one. In many cases, the conditions imposed by these institutions on their African client states have had very severe social, political and economic effects. These measures often include acute currency devaluations, retrenchment of staff in the public sector and withdrawal of subsidies which in turn usually lead to strikes, unemployment and riots.

Mr. Chairman, Africa has had, and continues to have, severe food security challenges. To put things in context, 239 million of the one billion people worldwide identified by the Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2012 to be suffering from starvation, under nutrition, and malnutrition, were in sub-Saharan Africa.  As revealed in a more recent assessment by the FAO, the problem still persists in similar magnitudes.  The contributory factors to the chronic food insecurity and malnutrition in many African states include unstable food markets and commodity prices, droughts and floods, insufficient pasture feed and water for livestock, persistent political instability, conflicts and various forms of violence.  A frequent consequence of food insecurity has been soaring prices in staples, which in turn often lead to social riots and upheavals, as was the case in 2008 in Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Senegal. Mass migrations also result quite often from such situations creating refuges out of once stable communities.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as I mentioned earlier, the enduring image of Africa conveyed in many reportages about the continent is that of a continent permanently at war with itself.  That obviously is an exaggeration if not entirely a misrepresentation. That, however, does not deny the huge threats conflicts pose to the continent’s pursuit of political and economic stability.  In 2014 alone Africa experienced 12 armed conflicts. Conflicts like the Rwanda War have etched themselves in many minds due to the horrendous genocide that took place in the country, with devastating consequences for the nation and the Central African region. In addition to the terrorist activities of Al Shabab in kenya and the Boko Haram (Nigeria), many governments in Africa have had to deal with different levels of post-electoral violence.  Some of our states are still grappling with secessionist agitations within their national borders.

These conflicts, even when resolved, many times leave in their wake mutual distrust and perceptions of insecurity among peoples who have to live together. It has been a factor to the soaring number of internally displaced peoples and refugees on the continent.

These facts, Ladies and Gentlemen, cannot suffice as ideal climate for businesses. Capital abhors uncertainty, turmoil and anxiety; countries in which such situations prevail have accordingly been struggling to attract investments to jump start their economies. In some states, the problems are necessarily compounded by weak state institutions, poor infrastructure, compromised legal and judicial systems, and poorly resourced financial services sector. In such states, employment levels remain low; facilities and programmes for skill acquisition and vocational training are almost non-existent. These problems have been the most significant factor to youth unemployment and crime in many African states.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, as a continent, Africa cannot continue to dwell in the seemingly endless cycle of uncertainty, despair and economic deprivation. I believe strongly that with the right leadership and the required political will, Africans would lift themselves out of such helpless depths. I for one refuse to accept the narrative of Africa as a basket case and object of international charity. Economically speaking, Africa may not be in the best of shapes, but I believe that we can develop as rapidly as any part of the world if we get our act together.  It is a huge task, but I have confidence in the emerging crop of leaders on the continent.

But as I have already explained, our fate as human beings is intertwined in ways that may not be always be readily obvious. Most major events and policies in the West especially impact our pursuit of good governance and economic prosperity. When violence engulfs our societies, many parts of the world feel it in the asylum claims that eat up huge chunks of their national budgets. No part of the world can afford to wash its hands off the uncertainties and desperate situations confronting populations in any part of the globe. As we are currently learning, the seeds of religious extremism are now sown and harvested in brutal magnitudes on all continents. Environmental pollution, we also know, is no respecter of international borders and signatories and non-signatories to international treaties.  No matter how unique some turmoil somewhere looks, we would find common threads and footprints in it to that affirm our shared humanity

We are a community of humans , and that precisely is what we need to remind ourselves of to stand shoulder to shoulder and in deep commitment to resolve the challenges that threaten the peace and stability of any part of the world. We have a sacred obligation not just to ourselves and our people, but also to unborn generations.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the clarion call of our time.

I thank you for your attention.

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