, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 5 – There was little time for pleasantries on Tuesday night when five African Presidents took to the stage at the US-Africa Business Forum in Washington DC.
Right off the bat, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete accused the US of historically not, “taking Africa seriously,” a state of affairs he expressed hope, the US-Africa Leaders Summit would turn around.
Kikwete said it was about time the relationship between the US and Africa moved beyond that of ‘donor and recipient’ into one of economic partners.
“Imagine what would happen in terms of these growth rates across Africa if there was no shortage of power,” Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame observed.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma agreed that the Summit could not have come at a more opportune time given African countries were more united under the African Union and now spoke with one voice, unlike in the past.
Kagame said it was therefore time the true picture of Africa emerged in the West as Africa had depended too long on others “to tell their story.”
An untold story, Zuma said, of African leaders taking the lead in addressing the challenges facing the continent such as Ebola, insecurity and corruption. “As African leaders we have a peer review mechanism, we keep track of each other’s progress, where else in the world does that happen?” he posed.
The skewed perceptions of Africa in the West, Kikwete said, was evidenced by the question posed to them by moderator Charlie Rose on Ebola. “Tanzania is in East Africa,” he pointed out to him, eliciting laughter.
“Now there is Ebola, so the whole African continent is being perceived as if everywhere there is Ebola,” he went on to state, explaining that Africa was not one country but composed of a host of countries, distinct from one another.
The question on Ebola also provided Zuma an opportunity to take issue with the ‘dark continent’ dogma that has dogged the African continent. “Let’s take Ebola as a disease that’s affecting humanity and not an African disease,” he implored.
The African leaders were keen to set the record straight on a few other counts and Zuma did not hide his dissatisfaction with the less than one hour accorded to them, “As a bigger continent, we must be given bigger time to explain ourselves,” he concluded.