Earlier this year, I wrote two columns on the dedication of the Monument to African Renaissance, and indeed that was a momentous occasion.
But it is a symbol, and symbols like our Statue of Liberty take meaning in the actions of the people who make the symbol a reality.
The stumbling blocks to progress toward Pan-Africanism are as large as the legacy of colonialism and the noose of neo-colonialism. But every day, there are efforts to surmount these barriers.
Recently, I participated in two back-to-back meetings in Ghana of representatives of 16 countries. They came together to address common problems in the coastal zone and adjacent ocean areas.
The first meeting involved people who were directors of departments of environment and fisheries in a preparatory mode, followed by a ministerial-level meeting for decision making. (In the U.S., our secretaries, e.g. secretary of state, are ministerial level.)
For a number of years, international donor agencies funded this project, directed by United Nations agencies with countries in an advisory role.
To make a complicated issue simpler, the way forward offered two basic choices. The first was to grab the effort’s destiny under country control by committing to resources to fund a secretariat. That person would then define needs and seek additional funds to carry out specific projects.
The second choice was to link the future efforts to a U.N. agency oversight, which would reduce the risks of failure due to lack of finances or the inability of some countries to participate fully because of internal difficulties.
The realities of differential resources meant that stronger countries would need to be prepared to pick up the slack when an inevitable shortfall occurs. As in all such intergovernmental agreements, national sovereignty is an issue. With four national languages to deal with (and these languages are second, if not third languages, for the users) and the histories of different colonial masters, the odds seemed insurmountable.
Physical conflicts between and within some of the countries were recent. In my opening remarks to the directors meeting, I stated that, “I was privileged to attend the dedication of the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar and that was a very moving experience. However, it was the actions such as those being addressed at this meeting that would put the flesh on that Monument and make the African Renaissance of the 21st century a reality.”
The directors did their tasks well in preparing decision documents for the ministers. At the ministerial meeting, which included U.N. agencies representatives, all obstacles were raised and debated.
The Hon. Sherry Ayittey, minister for Environment and Science of Ghana, chaired the meeting, and did a masterful job of guiding the process toward an affirmation of Africans taking charge. This moved the process to the next level.
With leaders like Ayittey, the renaissance can be a reality. Rest assured, similar renaissance actions are taking place all over the continent.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.