A fed-up young woman asked this rhetorical question at a business breakfast I facilitated in Manzini recently.
It was at the 10th anniversary of the celebrations to commemorate the legacy of Rebecca Makgomo Masilela, affectionately known as uMagogo.
Her challenge was fair, but not practical. She should have known better, as she had come from a big wigs’ meeting next door.
This was the get-together of heads of states and ministers from the Southern African Customs’ Union. Leaders of countries need to talk to one another, as long as they back their talk with deeds.
Even as the feisty delegate raised her objection to endless conferencing at the expense of action, my mind strayed over 4 000 km to Uganda. Another conference was under way; except only three heads of states - out of the expected 10 - were present.
Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn had joined their host, President Yoweri Museveni, for the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) heads of state summit at State House, Entebbe.
Their counterparts from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania opted to send representatives, instead.
Good for them, for prioritising local issues. The meeting, unsurprisingly, ended without any concrete commitments. It was convened to create a lot more equitable dispensation for the 10member countries of the NBI. That is the long way of saying: agreeing on how to share the economic benefits of the Nile and its tributaries.
While these countries continued the tradition of haggling over who uses what percentage of the water flowing over the 6 853 km of the world’s longest river, from its many sources in Africa’s Great Lakes Region to the Mediterranean Sea, one had already stopped talking and started doing in April 2011.
Tired of talking about who had what rights to how much of the river’s natural resource, Ethiopia laid the stone for the $4.8 billion project to generate what is expected to reach at least 6 000 MW of hydropower.
If the young woman in Mbabane had been looking for a real African hero to demonstrate that actions do speak louder than words, she would have to award that honour posthumously to former Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi; just as the 2009 Order of Luthuli in Silver went to uMagogo for her selfless contributions to the anti-apartheid struggle.
Zenawi had grown tired of talking about environmental impact assessments or the prescriptions of this or the other pact over the exploitation of the Nile. He lobbied extensively, most decisively the International Hydropower Association, to be able to start what would probably still have been the subject of endless workshopping and debate.
That is perhaps why so many heads of states skipped Museveni’s shindig.
Besides, Zenawi’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd) is slated for its first power production this year. Why would these leaders still be huddled up in Entebbe over it? What could possibly come out of the meeting, that will change the course of the project?
Zenawi’s bold move was not without criticism, he reportedly even jailed some journalists opposed to the project. However, Africa is better off with decisive leaders like Zenawi.
Prior treaties over the use of the Nile River were prejudicial to upstream countries from which the major tributaries of the Nile originate, especially Ethiopia.
Ethiopia never signed any of these, but the colonial powers or their collaborators expected compliance.
Notably, in the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement, Sudan and Egypt gave themselves full control of the Nile waters. Before this, there were about five other treaties between Italy and the UK, binding Italy not to build any dam across the river - everybody else, but Ethiopia.
As Africans, we should get ready to celebrate the first MW generated from Gerd next month, while the big kahunas of African politics conference to their hearts’ content.
Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business,a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for Sunday Independent. Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica.