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Africa’s century

At the Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend, Kofi Annan Foundation Chair Elhajd As Sy calls for improved democracy to realize the continent‘s promise.

“This will be Africa’s century”, declared Moussa Faki, the chairman of the African Union Commission, at the opening ceremony of the 2023 Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW), which brought together an impressive range and number of personalities and organisations working in and on Africa, including Elhadj As Sy, Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation board. 

The Kofi Annan Foundation has enjoyed a longstanding partnership with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and our Chair, Elhadj As Sy, recently contributed to the 2022 Ibrahim Index of African Governance. Mr Sy participated in the IGW discussions in Nairobi, which focused on the need to improve governance to deliver on Africa’s enormous potential. 

President Ruto at the 2023 Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend. Photo credit: Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Faki pointed out that, on current demographic trends, Africa would represent one-fourth of humanity by 2050. It is home to six of the ten fastest-growing economies. It affords the most significant returns on investment. It is the world’s biggest reservoir of natural resources, including the critical metals required to fuel the digital and electric revolutions underway. It has the most unused arable land. It is also, potentially, the biggest provider of clean energy.   

On current demographic trends, Africa will represent one-fourth of humanity by 2050.

Aware of all these assets, Koen Doens, the Director General for International Partnerships of the European Union, said there had been a paradigm shift in Europe regarding Africa over the past few years. The continent is no longer perceived as a basket case in need of only humanitarian and development assistance; it is now, first and foremost, a promising partner for trade and investment.  

“We must cherish, reform and defend democracy, or else it may be lost for future generations.” – Elhadj As Sy, during the 2023 Ibrahim Governance Weekend

Mo Ibrahim (centre, standing) with Kofi Annan Foundation chair Elhadj As Sy (sitting, right) at the 2023 Ibrahim Governance Weekend.

William Ruto, President of Kenya, who delivered the keynote speech, acknowledged that parts of Africa are still beset by poverty, war and bad governance. Still, he stressed: “These problems do not define us…We must not let the pessimistic narrative dominate the story about the continent. 

Ruto said it was time for Africa to demand more from the international community. For one thing, Africans should stop accepting to be summoned by various donor countries for summits on Africa in Paris, Washington or Beijing. “How often do you see Europe’s problems being debated in Africa?” he asked rhetorically. Africa’s problems should be discussed in Africa by Africans. Partners who want to help should be invited, but they should not be in the driving seat.

He also stressed the inequities of the international financial system, which charges Africa excessive interest rates that African countries cannot repay and hamper the continent’s development.  

Africa also has its heroes, stressed President Ruto. Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Nobel Laureate and member of the Elders, who delivered the inaugural Kofi Annan Geneva Peace Address, recalled the inspiring examples of Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan.

The star of this year’s edition of the IGW was President Issoufou of Niger, Mo Ibrahim Prize 2021 laureate, who could finally receive the award in person (the 2021 edition was held online) from Mo Ibrahim before the assembled audience of heads of state, ambassadors, leaders and representatives of international organisations, NGOs, and journalists. After governing Niger ably for two terms, in challenging circumstances, he stepped down, and a free and fair election was organised to succeed him, bucking the regional trend of term extensions and coups. 

Sebastian Brack, Kofi Annan Foundation Senior Advisor and ​Ms Aya Chebbi, former African Union Special Envoy on Youth, at the Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend 2023

President Issoufou thanked the Mo Ibrahim Foundation but regretted that he was only the seventh laureate in 17 years of the prize’s existence due to the poor governance record of most leaders on the continent. He stressed that Africa could not demand more aid and investment from its international partners without putting its house in order.   

Ibrahim acknowledged that Africa’s leaders face many challenges not of their making, such as climate change, which is affecting Africa most despite its minimal carbon emissions, the covid pandemic or the effects on grain prices of the war in Ukraine. But at the same time, referring to his Foundation’s governance index, “We keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”  

Ibrahim particularly deplored the civil war that is wracking his home country of Sudan at this very moment and, in conversation with former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, explored why the democratic transition he had steered from 2019 had ultimately failed. He used the IGW to call on the two “crazy generals” tearing Khartoum apart right now to cease fire, which many media present relayed.  

“Only democracy can ensure long-term peace and prosperity in Africa.” 

The retreat of democracy is indeed a worrying trend on the continent, stressed As Sy in his speech at the conference. Although a global movement, Africa can least afford it. Africa tried authoritarian and military rule for decades after independence, leading to mass poverty, bad government, widespread violations of human rights and even civil war.  

“Democratic governments have been far from perfect”, he acknowledged, “but their alternatives did far worse. We don’t want to go back in time,” he stressed. “Only democracy can ensure long-term peace and prosperity in Africa.” 

Several speakers referred to the legacy of colonialism as a key explanation for Africa’s situation. “The best way to fail to improve the state of Africa is to play the blame game”, concluded As Sy, Kofi Annan Foundation Chair, at one of the roundtables of the IGW. “Instead of looking back at past wrongs, we have to look forward together to see how we can build a better and democratic future together.”  

Mr Sy stressed that central to this better future were improved democratic governance and electoral integrity. Speaking at a side event hosted by the Athens Democracy Forum, he called on participants to make democracy more efficient, to address unacceptable levels of inequality – both economic and political, and not to shy away from championing democracy as the political system best able to deliver on the aspirations of Africa’s citizens.  

Read the full remarks given by Elhadj As Sy at the 2023 Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend

Building Blocks of Democracy – Elhadj As Sy

About the Ibrahim Governance Weekend  

The Ibrahim Governance Weekend is the flagship event of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, held every year in a different African country. 

The three-day event convenes prominent African political and business leaders, representatives from civil society, multilateral and regional institutions as well as Africa’s major international partners to debate issues of critical importance to Africa. 

The IGW 2023 was held in Nairobi, Kenya, with discussions centred around the theme of #GlobalAfrica.