African Solutions to African Problems

18 September 2008: African Solutions to African Problems


In January next year, the issue of a Union Government for Africa will again be on the agenda of the next Summit of Heads of States and Governments of the African Union (AU).  Continental integration through the establishment of the Union Government was initiated in 2005, but the idea was first formally discussed by African leaders at the Accra Summit of Heads of States and Governments of Africa held in July 2007.

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The initiative was born out of a strong desire to revive a marginalized and exploited continent that has been undermined by centuries of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, exploitation, oppression, war and hunger.  There is also a growing consensus amongst analysts, policymakers, academics and civil society representatives on the continent that continental integration is a remedy for African problems.


At a ISS Public Seminar Series and Book Launch in Addis Ababa earlier this year entitled “Towards a Union Government of Africa: Challenges and Opportunities” the concept of “African solutions to African problems” was the subject of much debate.


The catchall phrase “African solutions to African problems” was coined by the eminent political economist George Ayittey in response to the behavior of the international community in the crisis in Somalia. Since then the phrase acquired a degree of autonomy. The author advocates what he calls ownership of solutions i.e. if you formulate your own solutions to your problems, you would have every reason and incentive to see them work.  External or foreign solutions were not viable in Africa since they were either “imported” or “dictated” to Africans. Therefore, Africans would not own those solutions.  In a nutshell the notion of “African solutions to African problems” implies that this is the time for Africans to take things into their own hands and make use of their resources to solve Africa’s troubles. 


One of the participants at the seminar argued that the notion of “African solutions to African problems” is unrealistic because it is not reflective of the present realities of Africa.  The participant seemed to question the capacity of Africans to mobilize their own resources to face their problems.  Instead, the same participant suggested possible replacement for the notion by proposing that we should instead look for “Appropriate solutions to African problems”. This argument emanates from a position that criticizes the notion of “African solutions to African problems” as unrealistic and Utopian.  Ultimately, such a slogan may also invite the further marginalization and isolation of the African continent.


Another participant handled the notion differently by looking at it from different categorical perspectives. He believed the idea should be understood in the context of its different dimensions. When speaking of African solutions we need to realize that solutions encompass the notions of content, ideas, practical action, and financial dimensions. The content and ideas should emerge from Africans.  When it comes to financial sources and action, the domain can be expanded to include the rest of the world.  Adding to the above, another speaker argued that some of the problems in Africa are not only Africa’s problems, because the United Nations Charter for example reserves the right to maintain international peace and security. Thus, the rest of the world should share the burden of responsibility since there is mutual obligation and accountability between Africa and the rest of the world.


In view of the insistence of the AU to find “African solutions to African problems”, one security analyst argued that we should first understand our problems and come up with solutions employing our own perspectives. Here knowledge is important to develop a capacity to understand our own problems.  Let’s learn from the past and improve our actions to resolve problems in the future.


It is evident that African people have got the necessary resources and knowledge to address the challenges the continent is facing. Even if the concept needs further development and clarification in terms of defining the problems of Africa and their solutions, “African solutions for African problems” could be employed as a motto since it certainly is inspiring. This applies especially to the youth of Africa who are in the driving seat of Africa’s destiny.


Serekebrhan Fiquremariam, Intern, Direct Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Addis Ababa