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HomeOpinionThe Titans of Africa  and their shattered dreams  (Dawit W Giorgis ) ...

The Titans of Africa  and their shattered dreams  (Dawit W Giorgis )  

Titans of Africa
Kwame Nkrumah, first president of Ghana (left) and His Majesty Emperor Haileselassie I (right)

Dawit W Giorgis 

Pan-Africanism: The Vision of Our Forefathers  

Africa wasn’t supposed to be like this. Our forefathers had a different vision of where  Africa was heading as colonialism was coming to an end. When I was a young man in  March 1957 the world’s attention was on Ghana and its charismatic nationalist leader,  Kwame Nkrumah, leading the first colonial territory in sub-Saharan Africa towards  independence and ushering in a new dawn for millions of Africans. Standing atop a high  wooden platform in the middle of the dust-blown arena, Nkrumah wept. He then gave a  stirring speech. It was about a vision he had for the future development of a continent  attested by many to be “the cradle of mankind” but cavalierly dubbed the “Dark  Continent” by the nineteenth-century Europeans.  

“Our Independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of  Africa,” 1 Nkrumah said. By “total liberation” he meant not only the freeing of the forty four countries then still bound in colonial shackles, but more significantly, the freeing of  the continent from the poverty, hunger, disease, and ignorance of the colonial era.  

Kwame Nkrumah had a strong political outlook on Africa and an ideology which focused  on total African independence and unity. His obsession with neo- colonialism reflected  the widespread belief that nothing would be achieved by political independence unless  combined with economic emancipation. The following excerpt from his book indicates  the strength of his views and visions:  

“It is far better to be free to govern, or misgovern yourself than to be governed by  anybody else. The African personality itself is “defined as the cluster of humanist  principles which underlie the traditional African societies.”2 

Emperor Haile Selassie was very much a part of this movement. In April 1958, in one of  the finest moments for Africa, at the First Conference of Independent African States in  Accra, he gave voice to the aspirations of that generation:  

“The world is only now coming to realize what Ethiopia and Africa have long  recognized, that peace, independence and the prosperity of mankind can be achieved  and assured only by the collective and united efforts of free men who are prepared to  maintain eternal vigilance and labor unceasingly to protect those most precious of God’s  gifts.”3 

The efforts of these and other Founding Fathers led to an important development in  May 1963 when 32 heads of independent African states met in Addis Ababa to sign the  charter creating Africa’s first post-independence continental institution, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Emperor Haile Selassie delivered another stirring  speech:  

“Today, we look to the future calmly, confidently, and courageously. We look to the  vision of an Africa not merely free but united. … We know that there are differences  among us. … But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of  the most disparate origins, that differences of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition,  are no insuperable obstacle to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that  unity is strength.”4

An extract from a speech given by the founding father of Tanzania Julius Nyerere, a  giant figure in Africa’s struggle for freedom:  

“The humiliation of Africans became the glorification of others. So, we felt our  Africanness. We knew that we were one people, and that we had one destiny regardless of the artificial boundaries which colonialists had invented….Respect for  the borders inherited from colonialism comes from the Cairo Declaration of 1964. What the founding fathers – certainly a hardcore of them – had in mind was a  genuine desire to move Africa towards greater unity. We loathed balkanization of the  continent into small unviable states, most of which had borders which did not make  ethnic or geographical sense. The Cairo Declaration was promoted by a profound  realization of the absurdity of those borders. It was quite clear that some adventurers  would try to change those borders by force of arms. Indeed, it was already  happening. Ethiopia and Somalia were at war over inherited borders. 

Nkrumah was opposed to balkanization as much as he was opposed to colonialism in  Africa. To him and to a number of us, the two – balkanization and colonialism – were twins. Genuine liberation of Africa had to attack both twins. A struggle against  colonialism must go hand in hand with a struggle against the balkanization of  Africa.”5 

Nkrumah’s vision of an empowered, free, united Africa was shared by other Pan Africanists, like the late president of Guinea, Sékou Touré:  

“We prefer to live in poverty and liberty to riches in slavery…Guinea is a small country,  but we have raised high the banner of freedom and know no fear… No one can claim for  himself the right to speak for all of Africa; but each man has the right and the pride to be  able to attempt to express the hope and aspirations of the people of Africa.” 6 

Another leading light of that era was the poet-president of Senegal, Leopold Senghor.  His vision of a humanistic Africa has been described eloquently in several of his  writings. A leading spokesman for cultural survival, he helped develop the concept of  Negritude, which proudly celebrates African culture:  

Negritude is the whole complex of civilized values, cultural, economic, social and  political which characterize black people… the gift of myth making, the gift of rhythm,  such are the essential elements of Negritude… Negritude is humanistic. …it welcomes  the complimentary values of Europe and the black man, and indeed, of all other races  and continents. But it welcomes them to fertilize and reinvigorate its own values which  it then offers for the construction of civilization which shall embrace all Mankind.”7 

The vision of these leaders was to bring together former colonies in a United States of  Africa and using the continent’s vast human and natural resources develop centers of  science, technology and industry, trade and commerce.  

At the same time, everyone knew that there were serious obstacles to any kind of real  union. African unity, in the sense of politically uniting Africa, was never considered to be  realistic. But it reflected the importance of unity in any dense to avoid sustain internal stability and prevent neo colonialism, balkanization, and unfair exploitation of the  resources of Africa through corruption and proxy leaders.  

The idea of pan-Africanism was born out of the understanding of the common problems  and the common destiny of Africa. Above all, our leaders had a vision of independent  states where people would live in absolute freedom, with dignity and the ability to  prosper in peace and harmony.  

In the euphoria of the 1960s and the 1970s when most of the colonies became  independent one after another, it was generally accepted that the enjoyment of the  envisioned continental “Zion” was just around the corner even if there were many. 

Africans who felt that Nkrumah’s prescription for the attainment of that Zion via a  political union of the states was too idealistic. Pan-Africanism was the hope and vision  of young people of my generation.  

The Legacy of the 1960s and 70s  

The destabilization in courtiers like Ethiopia is rooted in the infantile approaches  designed and passionately argued by young men of the 1960s and 70s to democratize  their countries. In the case of Ethiopia these misguided approaches were inherited by  successive generations and became a legacy that has refused to go away even as the  world and Africa underwent deep transformation, particularly after the demise of the  USSR and the end of the cold war. The legacy of the student movements, instead of  being a lesson learnt, has gotten stuck in the minds of the current elites and no kind of  education or warning has been able to stop them from following the disastrous lead of  the revolutionary generation.  

The Ethiopian student movement recast Marxism in its own image and every element of  youth discontent was defined in Marxist terms. The vast majority never actually read  Marx but that was beside the point. They were obsessed by it and accepted it even  before they read it, and when some eventually did read it they were convinced they had  found the self-evident truth that they were looking for. There was no objective search  for truth, no real analysis, no real thinking, just self-assured pronouncements.  

The TPLF is the product of the struggle conducted by the students of those earlier times.  They were naive, ignorant of the world and Ethiopian history, young people driven by  slogans and not by ideology. The younger generations since then, instead of learning  their lessons have followed their path and taken the policies to their extremes. They  emboldened the TPLF. And the OLF. They gave vital support to the Eritrean secessionist  movement. They interpreted the concept of self-determination to mean creating a state  that resembled the most backward political system in the world: the apartheid. “bantustanization” policy of South Africa. The logical end to this kind of policy is war  amongst the various ethnic groups. Today’s struggle is to save Ethiopia from its own  misguided, unread, misinformed and corrupted elites and youth, which control the  destiny of the country. 

Africa: The Youth Problem  

Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.” Aristotle 

Aristotle had it right. Ethiopia’s young people are full of hope, but in the current political  climate, that hope quickly sours and there are far too many dishonest politicians and  would-be leaders ready to deceive them in that vulnerable state of mind. In Ethiopia, as  in much of Africa, hope is turning to anxiety and then to despair. 

A big part of the problem in Africa is s social media: 

..”.African millennials are increasingly using downloaded sites to access video  entertainment and social media sites as tools for communication and a source of news  and information. Mobile data continues to be the most used means through which  African millennials access the Internet. Social network platforms such as Facebook,  WhatsApp and twitter have become an integral part of everyday life with over 60%  using social media as their primary source of information. Television comes a distant  2nd at 25% with newspapers being the least important source 6%”8 

Of course, social media has become an invaluable tool for communication in education,  business and in many other fields. Generally, students use social media to share and get  instant information, reviews and solutions to their problem. But for a great majority of  the youth in Africa and certainly in Ethiopia social media has become the only source of  information because it is quick, handy, and entertaining, as opposed to books and print  or long-form media. Many of them do not seem to realize that you can’t trust everything  that comes across the Internet, or if they do realize that, they are unable to tell a lie from  the truth. If they are confronted with something they don’t want to hear, it’s “fake  news.” They believe what they want to believe, and the truth be damned. “The medium  is the message” and when the medium itself is inauthentic it is no wonder that the  messages are awash with falsehoods and conspiracy theories. “From cries of ‘fake news’  to the rise of bots, bogus followers and other trolls, it’s hard to know whom, what or  where to trust… Everyone on social media is infected with the same problem: The very  nature of it causes almost all of us to be fake.”

“Fake news—news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false designed to  manipulate people’s perceptions of reality—has been used to influence politics and  promote advertising. But it has also become a method to stir up and intensify social  conflict. Stories that are untrue and that intentionally mislead readers have caused  growing mistrust among American people. In some cases this mistrust results in  incivility, protest over imaginary events, or violence. This unravels the fabric of  American life, turning neighbor against neighbor. Why would anyone do this? People,  organizations, and governments—foreign governments and even our own—use fake  news for two different reasons. First, they intensify social conflict to undermine  people’s faith in the democratic process and people’s ability to work together. Second,  they distract people from important issues so that these issues remain unresolved.”10 

What the United States is confronting is also found in Africa. A technology that holds so  much promise becomes a double-edged sword: 

“Social media can promote social, political and economic development, it may also  increase opportunities for radicalization. Social media can equip terrorists with a low cost tool to enlist, train, coordinate and communicate with followers and potential  recruits remotely. Today, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, ISIL and other violent extremist  groups in Africa use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media channels to  broadcast their messages, inspire followers, and recruit new fighters to unprecedented  levels.”11 

In Ethiopia, this extremism manifests itself in ignorance. Young people refuse to search  for the truth. Why look for the truth when the fabricated stories are so easy to come by?  If they are confronted with the truth it has been branded as the story of the “oppressor.”  All of this is happening because of the overwhelming influence of social media.  

Where Are We Now?  

“Obviously the ideal of the visionaries remains a distant dream. Many things are not  going well in Africa. Life expectancy is around 50 years, adult literacy rates are falling. Although there have been recent improvements, Africa remains the continent with the  highest rate of child mortality”12 

In some ways Africa is in fact moving backwards while the rest of the world is moving  forward. From general food sufficiency and net exporter in the 1950s and the 1960s,  Africa is now a net importer of food. Food of course ties directly in with poverty.  

“With an average per capita income of roughly US$ 1 a day, sub-Saharan Africa remains  the poorest region in the world. Africa’s real per capita income today is lower than in  the 1970s… With over half of the 700 million Africans living on less than a dollar a day,  sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of poor people in the world—some 50  percent …. Between 1981 and 2002, the number of people [on] the continent living in  poverty nearly doubled, leaving the average African poorer today than just two decades  ago.”13 

“Most of the global poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa. The average poverty rate for Sub Saharan Africa stands at about 41% and of the world’s 28 poorest countries 27 are in  Sub-Saharan Africa with a poverty rate above 30%.”14 People are told that there is  some hope for development There is no time for idealism in the face of practical  concerns like making a living.  

In Ethiopia, as is true in many other countries in Africa, young people have become a  threat rather than an opportunity. Ethiopia is currently gripped with civil war, fear,  extreme poverty, internal displacement migration and uncertainty. Its future is in the  hands of its youth, but when young people are not given work and opportunities and  protections, they will go to the only option they are offered. As the earlier quotation  from Aristotle reminds us, youth are “quick to hope” but when they lose all hope in a  government and feel that they do not have any future, this search for hope leads them  into bad company. They join criminal gangs, rebels, or ethnic and religious extremists  who give them money and empower them with guns to join a fight where there are no  rules of engagement. In the process they lose compassion and empathy toward others. 

This becomes a way of life. They lose their humanity. They commit crimes for the sheer  thrill or for money or because they’ve been taught to obey orders without question.  They become willing tools to whoever gives money and gives them “self-worth,” in their  own eyes.  

Wherever I travel in Africa youth unemployment is the most serious challenge and key  driver for conflicts and instability. Without gainful employment young people will take  the only option they have and that is to rebel. In all the conflicts in Africa young people  are on the frontlines in big numbers.  

It is said repeatedly that the next generation, will be the salvation of Africa. But the  truth is that most of the rural youth in sub-Saharan Africa are poorer than ever. Three  out of four live on less that $2 US a day and lack resources and skills. 23% of the youth  population (15-24) are illiterate in sub-Saharan Africa.15 

Young people are Africa’s most precious resource and with no skills and opportunities  can represent a risk rather than opportunity. African youth need to be included in a  meaningful way in policy debates and in the search for the solutions to the challenges of  the continent.  

“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

It is to our youth that we must turn for an improvement in the lives and livelihoods of  Africa. The greatest asset of any nation is its youth and with passion and hope our youth  can change Africa. But governments have to invest in young people by giving them the  education they need and inculcating the values of tolerance and peaceful coexistence.  Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund,  suggests “… if youth make up 40% of the population, and people under the age of 35  make up over 65% of the entire population of the continent, then 65% of the continent’s  resources should be allocated to this age group.” 16 

A mechanism to engage them is important for durable peace, stability and development.  At this moment, the youth of the continent should be involved in planning for their  future. Due to the increased challenges of the continent’s development, new dynamic  energy needs to be harnessed from our young people. Ignoring them is putting the  entire continent in danger. This is the population that will change the face of Africa. This  is the generation that will be held accountable for all the challenges that face the  continent. Young people are our greatest asset. It is critical that we engage this youthful  energy to create meaningful productivity for the development of the African  continent.17 

In 1993 I and my dear Ghanaian friend Osei G. Kofi, a passionate pan-Africanist and  author, tried to found a continental organization to address the challenges facing young  people.18 The project was titled “Africa: The Next Generation – Alliance of the  African Youth” (AYA). We put in a lot of hard work and considerable ground was  covered. However, with the constant demands of professional full-time activities we  weren’t able to move our goal forward to actualize it. “The consolation is that some 

measures of youth empowerment initiatives have sprung up in several African  countries in pursuit of social justice, leadership, and political engagement awareness,”  Kofi wrote.  

It often seems difficult to know what to say or what to do to address the problems  facing our young people. Bringing them back to normal life isn’t easy, but it comes back  to the hope for a better future. The creation of a government with a political system that  can offer them better is an extremely arduous process which first requires a good  honest leader, which Ethiopia does not currently have.  

What I can tell young people is this: don’t be deceived by charlatans and pretenders.  Control your own destiny. Many of your current leaders are using you and taking  advantage of your fears, your poverty, insecurity, your helplessness, innocence, and  naivetéfor their own narrow, egotistic agendas.  

Human Security 

Africa is beset by multiple problems with security issues at the top of the list. Unable to  provide the basic needs for their own people-which include freedom and justice—and  not being able to exercise full control over their Africa is beset by multiple problems  with security issues at the top of the list. Unable to provide the basic needs for their own  people—which include territory, many African countries are falling victim to  transnational crimes and terrorism.  

The crisis created by the activities of organized criminal groups is one of the most  serious challenges to regional and global peace, stability, economic development and  peaceful co-existence. Governance and the rule of law, corruption and dysfunctional  institutions, weak civil society, poverty and horizontal and vertical inequality, porous  borders, radical interpretations of religions and other extremisms, have coalesced,  leading to the rise of violent militant groups and criminal gangs. In many parts of Africa  the absence of hope for a better future has created an uncontested environment for  recruitment and indoctrination. The fate of several African countries hangs in the  balance as conflicts ravage parts of the continent, mostly in North, West, Central and the  Horn of Africa, and spreading steadily southwards, most recently Mozambique.(AISSS) Extremism and rebellion have turned people against each other in such a brutal way  that in some countries restoring harmony has become an impossible task.  

Members of violent political or extremist groups are disproportionally young men, and  even boys. Why? At the root of everything is poverty. “Africa is the world’s last frontier  against poverty. Migrating, or Joining criminal gangs ( drug, arms and human  trafficking)*or violent political groups or extremist organizations becomes particularly  attractive to these young men who crave a sense of belonging to something. The Africa  Institute for Strategic and Security Studies (AISSS) conducts research and makes  recommendation on the contemporary security challenges of Africa.  

*My recent book “ What a Life” from which most of the information has been taken. 


1 “Ghana is Free Forever” BBC World Service Mar 6, 1957 

2 “The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah”, 1971 

3 “Beginnings of African Unity to the Accra Conference” April, 15 1958 4 Haile Selassie “ Towards African Unity” Black 

5 Past August , 2009 


7 George Ayittey, “Africa Betrayed”, 1992 99-100 

8 “The Ideologies of the Developing Nations;” Paul Sigmund 1967 9 Njeri Wangari, “African Millennials” 27, 2017 

10 Bob Deutsch, “Why Everyone and Everything on Social Media is Fake” April 19,  2019 

11 Kate Kox, “Social Media in Africa” Sept 2020 

12 “Under Five Mortality” UNICEF Sept, 2020 

13 Dambisa Moyo, “Dead Aid” 

14 “Literacy” UNICEF, Oct 2019 

15 “Opportunity or Threat” ed Grace Maina, Africa Dialogue, 2012 16 Ibid, Kennedy Walsala, Forward” 

17 Osei G Kofi, “Hello Africa:” A Noble Continent in Painful Renaissance. 2005 

Editor’s note : Article was published first on Africa Institute for Strategic and Security Studies. Reprinted with permission from the author


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  1. I first met His Hon. Mr Dawit Wolde Giyorgis in the early days of January 1995 in one of the offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa.  He was in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Dergue Government in Ethiopia.  I applied for my visa to come to England for education.  It was difficult to travel out of the country for education during that time.  I had stated in my application that I would travel to Oxford, England, to study marine engineering.  My visa had to be approved by this great and very powerful man in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then known as Major Dawit Wolde Giyorgis.
    An official in the Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa told me to come back on the following day at 9 a.m. in the morning.  When I arrived at his visa office in the basement of the building, this kind and cooperative  man stood up from his chair and told me: “come with me”.  I followed him not knowing where I was going.  We went up to the ground floor and entered the only office one sees as one enters the Ministry of Foreing Affairs.  As we entered the office, I was able to realise that it was the chief officer’s office for a visa.  With the chief officer for a visa, the most powerful man, then known as Major Dawit Wolde Giyorgis, was sitting there.  Major Dawit was able to decide what my future would be.  He was even able to stop me from getting my visa.
    As the junior officer and myself entered the chief officer’s office for visa, Major Dawit, who had obviously already read my application, said: “You have never been to Massawa, or any sea port, and you have never swam in a sea but you are saying that you want to study marine engineering, thing that this field of study is not given in the country (i.e., in Ethiopia).  When you arrive at Oxford, you study medicine and it would be good for our country.”
    I bowed and said, “Eshi, (i.e., alright, it will be done as you said)”.  The junior officer took me to his office in the basement and started the process for the completion of the passport with an exit visa.  He told me to come back in the afternoon.  By 4 p.m. in the afternoon, the passport was completed with the essential signatures.  I was surprised by the way all the officers were cooperating.  I was expecting at least a week waiting for the completion of the passport.  No doubt, Major Dawit had given an order that the process must be expedited and that I should not be kept waiting for the passport.
    Indeed, to my surprise, I was given a blue and well bound hard cover V.I.P. passport, thanks to His Hon. Dawit Wolde Giyorgis.  The splendid work and exemplary work of this really great man remains in my thoughts at all times.  I know that Ethiopians and people all over the World know this great man His Hon. Mr. Dawit Wolde Giyorgis for his work in Ethiopia when he was commissioner for relief and rehabilitation in Ethiopia.
    Dr Haddis Gebre-Meskel

  2. Apology for an error and an important correction: “I first met His Hon. Mr Dawit Wolde Giyorgis in the early days of January 1975 . . .”

  3. Thank you for your compliments. I am indeed very proud of you
    You have become what you wanted to be and I was only a facilitator for the fulfillment of your dreams and hard work.
    I wish you all the best.

  4. Lersewona Lamalaw Bietasabochewo Malkam Addis Amet Endihonlewo Kaleb Emagnalahu. I wish you and your entire family from the bottom of my heart to have a lovely new year. Indeed, you are a great and kind person and Ethiopia is exceptionally proud of you. You have done a great deal of excellent work for Ethiopia and the people. When you were working in Ethiopia your work was clearly noticeable all over the World. When the people of Ethiopia needed assistance for relief on an urgent basis, you were there for them during times of hardship. History will remember you forever for your exceptionally great work and deeds.
    You are an extraordinarily great man because you have done great things for your people and country when you were needed. I am exceedingly proud of you.
    May God bless you and your family.

  5. “The destabilization in courtiers like Ethiopia is rooted in the infantile approaches designed and passionately argued by young men of the 1960s and 70s….In the case of Ethiopia these misguided approaches were inherited by successive generations and became a legacy that has refused to go away…”

    What a preposterous and unjustified judgment of a monumental struggle of a whole generation of young Ethiopians, my comrades and compatriots, who unwaveringly devoted everything earthly and beyond to catapult an archaic society, whose time was long overdue, into the modern age.
    That generation’s breath brought to life the Ethiopian Revolution, under the historic banner “Land o the Tiller!”, which threw into the dust bin of history an unreformable reactionary feudal tutelage. Indeed, it paved the way to changes no person could have imagined then.
    The tragedy, so to say as if no Revolution wouldn’t carry such a tendency, wasn’t so much in the “infantile ideological scribblings” and “infights” among the various groups but in the consequential power grab of petty-officers who, [to keep he historical facts straight], under the duress of bloody wars, facilitated by age-old enemies of Ethiopia and their imperialist protectors, particularly the US, opted for a kind of soviet oriented fast-track societal reforms for which the country and its peoples weren’t fit, eventually to ungraciously abscond the land they were obliged to protect.
    Easy on the facts, easy on their meanings.


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