"My friend, what do you see outside the window of your hotel?" Sohini Kar asked. I stood on the hotel balcony and happily announced that I could see the huge round-about at the busy Connaught Place highway; beautiful skyscrapers and some Beijing-type foggy weather! "You don't see people?" she inquired further. "Oops - I see people; many people," I answered with some sense of unease since I could not figure out why a friend from Lucknow in the North of India was prodding me to look outside the window.
Our phone conversation went on: "Pick one person out of the crowd below and explain to me what the fellow is doing," she instructed. I was hardly an hour old in New Delhi and here I was getting the Indian type of welcome! I pinpointed one fellow below; his head seemed to be shaking vigorously in rhythm with gesticulating arms to other two listeners. I accordingly reported to Sohini what I had witnessed. She asked whether in my view the guys were engaged in some productive work - to which I became philosophical and argued that probably it was their duty to be reporting at Connaught place every morning and shake their heads for people in big hotels to discuss them!
It was a great honor to be a co-African presenter with the world famous Prof. Ali Mazrui on "Resurging Africa" and how it should engage a re-emerging India! Prof. Ali Mazrui was at his best; he pointed out that whereas India and Middle East exported value systems to the world through their religions; they imported "Soul Force" from Africa. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi) got his inspiration of non violence while based in Africa. According to Ali Mazrui, there is something unique about Africa that has made many Africans and those of African origin to receive Nobel Prizes for Peace!
He went further to illustrate that Africans have short memories of hate; one need not go far for examples: the Bakongo people are working with Belgians in spite of the hand-cutting and other atrocities committed against them by the latter; Mzee Jomo Kenyatta's thesis on suffering without bitterness; Nelson Mandela's reconciliatory gesture after leaving prison; Robert Mugabe's co-opting Ian Smith in government; Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga's power sharing after the disputed electoral results; Barack Obama's campaign based on unity of America! The African soul force literally saved Europeans from an equivalent of Nuremburg trial for their atrocities against the African people.
I decided to refocus my presentation to the phone conversation with Sohini earlier in the day. When one looks outside the window towards the "African Street," what does he see? World powers and re-emerging powers only see minerals, oil, timber and raw materials that ought to drive their industries. In the 16th century, when they didn't have the technology to see minerals – they saw the African person; the slave - to power their industries!
Unlike in my hotel experience; the world is yet to create a debate that will make the powers that be to see people in Africa. That informs in part why huge institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund among others, spend billions of dollars dictating prescriptions to Africa - they do not see people anywhere on this continent!
Speakers from India expressed concern that global old players were making moves to co-opt China, Brazil, India and South Africa into their 'economic games.' Prof. Yash Tandon warned India not to be seduced into the 'feel good'[ factor by joining the traditional economic power houses that are synonymous with colonization of Africa. According to Prof. Tandon; Africa will not see any difference between India and the G8 players! The World Bank, IMF, and OECD statistics were not spared either. A delegate asked; "Where is the African voice in all this measurements, how can one be sure that they are not simply tailored to fit the Western worldview?"
While likening Africa to a female continent that was penetrated unjustly; Prof. Ali Mazrui was more optimistic that indigenization, domestication to relevance of external ideas, diversification and cultural promotion offers hope for African people. India has great influence on Africans through cuisine, music, and language in what is popularly referred to as soft-power!
A resurging Africa has the key within its hold if it invests in adding value in its peoples' cultural and social activities. We must utilize our soul force to recreate a new continent with prosperous people; the guys up the balcony care less about Africa.
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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