Amongst many other posts within the United Nations, Dr Carlos Lopes has served as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. As a renowned international educator, he is currently a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town and previously has been a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford. Dr Lopes also serves or advises the boards many international institutions such as the Kofi Annan Foundation and UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.
Before I get into this, I will say that if I had the opportunity to go back to University, I would be on my way to the University of Cape Town and pick classes with Prof Carlos Lopes. That said, here are the lessons I got from him which I hope enlighten you, like they did me.
What is more important – Past, present or future?
In a bio Dr Lopes wrote while still at the United Nations the following quote caught my attention “Never underestimate the importance of building the future with today’s actions”. I have come to believe that the present is the most important time of our lives. The past has come and gone and cannot be changed. The future? Well that’s just a movie in our minds which is constantly re-edited and re-scripted often making us look forward to it or be anxious of it. If we eagerly anticipate the future, our actions today will determine how much of the success we envision will come true, we cannot leave it to luck or chance, what we do today creates that luck or those chances. If we are anxious, worried or fearful about the future – that can all be cured by right action today. The visions we have for our personal lives (and the vision pan-Africanists like myself have for Africa) rest on the decisions we make and actions we take today. We take that for granted sometimes. If there is something you wish to change in your life or community, only the actions that we make today can influence the results of tomorrow.
The Afrinaissance aka The African Renaissance
The Renaissance aka the ‘rebirth’ in Europe was a period in European history that ushered in many art, cultural and social changes. Some of its notable figures include da Vinci, Shakespeare, Galileo, Michelangelo etc. This period in Europe was a like a transition from medieval thinking to early modern thinking. Dr Lopes proposes that Pan-Africansim lean towards an African Renaissance. This calls for a paradigm shift in our thinking, which has already begun. For our leaders this means more assertive leadership which focuses on a Afro-centric approach to ridding our people and the continent of poverty, corruption, neglect and instability and the erosion of the “aid dependency mentality.” As Dr Lopes recalls in an article he wrote Patrice Lumumba said, “The day will come when History will speak… Africa will write its own history… It will be a history of glory and dignity.” This all starts with a shift in the mindset of our leaders, our entrepreneurs, our artists and but most importantly in ourselves as individuals.
The African Archetype
To honour the centennial of Madiba’s birth, the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture’s theme was “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World” and the key lecture was delivered by President Obama. This Annual Lecture is now in its 16th year and I am sure will continue till Kingdom come. This is testament of Mandela’s legacy. Prof Lopes acknowledges that yes there are many other Africans who fought the intellectual, political, social, cultural, and, sometimes, the military battles that now enable Africans to live a life they can claim to better control (in my view that’s still up for debate) however we can take so much inspiration and learn so many lessons from Mandela’s life and long walk to freedom. I think the Prof put it best when he said Mandela was “a great inspiration…he embodied the unification and integration of the continent…the struggle for the total liberation of Africa.” This is indeed true because the passion, character and conviction that Mandela had is something we could with in our personal lives and in our communities and political arenas. It is with these lessons in mind that Prof Lopes encourages us to view Mandela as an archetype of the new African whom we can draw upon for inspiration.
Intra-African Trade is the future
If there is one thing that I absorbed from Prof Carlos’s articles, blog posts and videos is that trade within the continent is the key our economic prosperity. I have always found it inexcusable that since the 1950’s our leaders have failed to integrate and deliver a system which allows for trade within the continent…that was up until the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was ratified by 44 African countries. The question is though, how seriously do we take intra-African trade because it turns out that “trade links to the rest of the world are more direct and efficient than trade between neighbouring regions” and that “it costs more to move a container from Kenya to Burundi than from the United Kingdom to Kenya.” Increasing the trade between us will provide jobs and massive transformation. For any entrepreneur minded folks out there, this might be a good time to look into a business idea that is related to transportation and development of transportation infrastructure.
Be sure to connect with Dr Carlos Lopes on twitter: @LopesInsights
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