“The African Renaissance that we all dreamed of is beginning to happen”, claimed Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Saturday, at the inauguration of the new African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
“We are now seeing the results of our struggle for survival”, he declared. “Our economies have been growing at a respectable pace for nearly a decade. We have managed to overcome and manage many of the conflicts that ravaged our continent and have overhauled our conflict resolution capacity”.
Zenawi noted that the closing decades of the 20th century were “not good for Africa. Largely because of our failures in leadership, our economies were in a tail spin. The limited investments in infrastructure and manufacturing made during the first decades of independence came to a halt or were reversed. In terms of economic development, these were the lost decades”.
“It appeared that we were caught in a vicious circle of violence, poverty and lack of good governance”, he said. “The fact that we were given medicine for our economic ills that proved to be worse than the disease did not help”.
The respected magazine “The Economist”, Zenawi recalled, even carried a banner headline that read “Africa: the hopeless continent”. But “The Economist” was one of those media “who espoused the very market fundamentalist ideas that wrecked our economies”.
Yet today “The Economist” has changed its tune and recently had a banner headline which stated the reverse of the one a decade ago, simply reading “Africa Rising”.
“Africa is rising indeed”, Zenawi declared. “The African Renaissance has begun and it is within our means to keep it going. It is within our means to create a new pole of global growth in Africa, to fully stabilise our continent, and to make sure that it takes its rightful place in the global scheme of things”.
The global environment had improved from Africa’s perspective, he argued, with the decline in western hegemony, shown most clearly by the emergence of Asian powers such as China and India.
“As a result, for the first time in decades we began to have the right to make choices about the path of development we wish to follow”, Zenawi said. “The one party system, which was banished in our countries only to be imposed at a continental level by the international financial institutions, was crumbling”.
“We began to have access to new sources of technology, investment and finance for our development projects”, he added. “We seized on these opportunities, and built and rebuilt our partnerships”.
This mood of optimism was symbolised by the new headquarters, soaring 100 metres high, taller than any other building in the Ethiopian capital.
Zenawi noted that the new AU complex was built on the ruins of an infamous maximum security prison, used by the dictatorial regimes of the past to incarcerate opponents. “This building which will now house the headquarters of our continental organisation is built on the ruins of a prison that represented desperation and hopelessness”, he said.