Are we Africans afraid of the unknown? 1,166,239,000 reasons why we should not be!

By Mercy Fekadu Mulugeta*

Several African countries have faced tragic situations and painful incidents because of dictatorial military governments and unjust systems. However, many have decided to live quietly while few objected. Many Africans face dire poverty, demonstrated by prevalence of undernourishment in 20% (UNECA) of the population while the continent losses US$60 billion (UNECA) because of trade mispricing. In addition to such corruption, the poor are further threatened by the growing gap between them and the rich. Seventy per cent of them live in rural areas, where clean water, health care, transportation and access to education are limited (rural poverty portal). Many of us face maltreatment in offices by bureaucrats, supposedly there to ‘serve’ us. We have to bribe security and traffic police officers, supposedly there to ‘protect’ us. In trying to explain this, I strongly realize that small yet significant incidents in our day-to-day life explain our situation more than statistical facts by international organizations do. We witness the fruits of bad governance and discrimination because of ethnic origin, gender or belief in various occasions.

So why are we quiet? it is either of two things. Either because we have not directly been victimized (and therefore are ignorant) or because we are afraid of the unknown than we are annoyed of today. The belief that ‘there are worse things in life’ often paralyzes our thoughts and actions. As the African proverb goes, “Better the devil you know than the angel you don’t.” It is true that fear of the unknown is the most generic of all fears to all human beings. Therefore, the answer to our question is: Yes. Africans are afraid of the unknown but so are all the people of the world. However, when as a society we are paralyzed by this fear, it is not because we are ignorant but because we have been misinformed.

More than any time Africans should be aware of their strength as the citizenry. I came across an interesting article on the Economist that stated that in democracies ‘the few (the political elite) are at the mercy of the many’. But how about in dictatorships? This is where we have been misinformed. Even in dictatorships, the few are at the mercy of the many. If only the many knew their strength.

One of the foundations of the OAU/AU is the recognition that the African people possess “inalienable right … to control their own destiny” (OAU Charter). Africans are not passive victims and recipients of national and global mishaps.The Charter recognizes the African people as the driving force to change, sustainable peace and development. For example, the African Union Peace and Security Council recognized the uprising in Burkina Faso that disposed a 27-year dictatorship a demonstration of “the right of people to rise up peacefully against oppressive political systems” (PSC/PR/COMM.(CDLXVIII)). The African Union is now differentiating the nature of coups (unconstitutional change of government, democratic uprising or civil war) before making decisions, as it is cultivating what Alex de Waal called a “Principled Stand”.

In September 2014, the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) conducted an expert workshop to define ‘African-centred Solutions” (AfSol). The experts discussed three principles of AfSol: ownership, commitment and shared values. One of the most important findings of the workshop was that these principles can and should be reflected in the actions of African institutions, states AND African citizenry. Therefore, it is important to understand the role of the African citizenry in finding African-centred Solutions to peace and security challenges of the continent.

The African citizenry, by accident or design, reinforces traditions and systems that work against the benefit of the people. It is time to realize that our voice counts, therefore we count.

In fact, according to population pyramid we are 1,166,239,000.

* Mercy Fekadu ( is a Research Officer at the Africa Peace and Security Programme (APSP), a joint programme of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) and the African Union. All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact

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