Tana Forum Should Focus on What Matters to Ordinary Africans

Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), was instructional and sincere in his advice to sitting African heads of state and governments, whom he had addressed as a keynote speaker at the fifth Tana High-Level Forum on security in Africa last year, held in Ethiopia.

“Leave when your time is up,” he told them.

The Forum, initiated by Meles Zenawi, the late prime minister, and Olisugen Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria, convenes every year in Bahir Dar. It dwells and interacts on the main peace and security issues affecting the continent in an informal and relaxed setting.

The former UN Secretary General, himself a Ghanaian, was frank and straightforward to voice his concerns over electoral manipulations and constitutional tampering in today’s Africa, only to usurp and unduly stay long clinging to political power using all available means. In fact, he reminded the gathering that it was him who had initially advised the OAU’s Assembly of heads of state and governments conferring in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2001, not to admit any new member or even expel a current leader who has assumed office through unconstitutional means, including military coups.

It would be unwise to overlook tremendous progress that Africa has so far achieved in many respects, such as the gradual reduction of military coups and encouraging signs of economic performance. However, Annan remarked that a dozen of African countries still lags far behind concerning instituting democratic governance and entrenching the rule of law while in power.

Annan believes if a leader stays on for too long and elections merely to suit incumbents to stay term after term, it is quite probable that “the only way to drive him out of the highest political office may be through a bloody coup or an outright popular uprising in the streets. Such political developments are often triggered by an unprecedented show of disapproval.

His forceful remark on the irresponsible behaviour of African leaders who unfortunately are in the habit of arbitrarily exceeding their constitutionally prescribed term-limits was unusually bold and worth listening. The very fact that he did not shy away from boldly reprimanding his fellow African veterans is in itself commendable. Whether or not the high tone of his remarks influence their solidified attitude towards power in a substantial way is, however, far from certain.

Timely and peaceful departure from power is a central feature of a democratic polity. It constitutes an integral component of responsible leadership. If political power inherently belongs to the people as a whole, elected leaders should not be permitted to stay for a period longer than what has been set by a constitution or any other law governing term limits.

The sixth Tana Forum on security in Africa is set to take place at the same venue from April 22 through 23 this year. The central theme for this year’s forum will focus on governance and management of natural resources.

Africa is potentially rich in natural endowment when compared to other regions.

Only a year ago, leaders in the continent were being persuaded by the distinguished participants of the same forum to desperately search for its rightful place in the global peace and security setup. Hence, it now sounds fair and appealing to look back and critically examine the contradictions between the scale and diversity of our various natural endowments and the abject state of poverty we are compelled to live in. Paradoxically, the bulk of Africa’s vast oil, natural gas, gold and diamond reserves as well as agriculturally suitable land and ample forest resources continue to generate hostility and violent conflicts instead of enhancing the quality of life.

The Tana Forum has had no problem of choosing a fascinating topic of wider interests, which is provocative of animated discussions and debates that matter for the continent. How far it has managed to address and respond to the reality on the ground through the instrumentality of these important topics is, however, worth investigating and researching in itself.

For instance, the illegal flight of capital from Africa in all its forms and manifestations was a crucial agenda, which had been hotly debated by the Forum two years ago. Quite a good number of our senior statesmen in that particular gathering seemed to put much of the blame on the rather distant-looking multinational companies. They appeared to have paid little attention to the unprecedented collaboration with their domestic partners with many bank savings in hard currency and other assets in kind, thousands of miles away from home.

If the Tana Forum is to command a level of respect and credibility, it must concern itself with ordinary African households’ affairs. It should also try to understand the views of national authorities and institutions than what their leaders want them to believe otherwise and, sometimes, to the contrary.

By Merhatsidk Mekonnen
Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh is a senior expert in law as well as peace and security studies. Currently, he is serving in the capacity of a Chief Legal Advisor to the President of the Amhara National Regional State. He can be reached at clickmerha1@gmail.com

Published on Apr 14,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 884]



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