Africa appears to have captured the interests of the world’s key political and economic powers. Anthony Aduaka SJ observes that a spate of recent summits that bring African leaders together with political heavyweights, seemingly, to foster deeper multilateral ties and sign attractive trade deals, represent a new form of African dependency on the West. He calls on African leaders to put aside narrow political or personal interests and ensure that any bilateral partnerships benefit Africa equally.
In one of his 1984 classics, Nigerian musician Sonny Okosun asks “which way Nigeria?” A similar question could be asked as one reflects on the humanitarian and political crises in Africa today. The issues besieging Africa in the 21st century and beyond, are as obvious as they are numerous and heavy. The impunity of corruption, economic inequality, political crises and civil unrest in almost all African countries still gives us cause to ask “why?”
However, when one looks beneath the surface, it seems as if the continuous presence of these realities in Africa has become the new black gold being exploited by foreign powers vying for influence on the continent. The UK-Africa Investment Summit, for instance, plans to spend $400 million; the Chinese also have their Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC); India is looking to engage Africa through technology; Russia has increased her investment funds to $4.8billion, thereby making her a key player in the quest for Africa. The Turkish President has made over 30 trips to Africa since 2003, with a willingness to spend $20.6 billion, showing that the Arab world including the UAE has something to gain in Africa. While France is preparing for Afrique France 2020, the Unites States is gearing up for the US-Africa Business Summit, all in the second quarter of this year. Germany just concluded the German African Business Summit in February.
These summits have a common denominator, namely, the sustainable development of African states, each with different timelines. However, it baffles the mind to how these stand-alone countries in the name of partnership could assemble the presidents of all the 54 seemingly independent African countries, a whole continent, in one location just to negotiate the interests of Africa. Since these summits are not hosted in Africa or by Africans, presidents will have to travel to Europe or America to attend these events hosted on their behalf. It also makes one wonder if these world powers see Africa as one country and imagine that a one-size-fits-all development model for Africa will solve all of Africa’s problems.
Africa is not a country
Maybe African leaders need to attend these summits to learn how to solve Africa’s problems in order to participate in the corridors of power. Nevertheless, the incessant nature of these summits leaves the mind with bugging questions: Has Africa as a continent become so small and needful that a single president could summon all her leaders to fit into his agenda in order to avoid a conflict of interest?
Or is this a repetition of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, which gave birth to the famous Scramble for Africa? Are our leaders so quick to forget the past that they do not to apply caution in their efforts to earn political currency for Africa at all costs? What is Africa losing by partnering and aligning with unequal players in the political arena? Will African countries ever be regarded as equal partners in the political sphere?
These questions call for a renewed critical analysis of the African reality with a better understanding of what it calls us to give up as nations and as a continent. Sadly, the media tend to portray these partnerings as a move in the right direction without asking deeper questions that could bring about a genuine interest in the growth of Africa rather than emasculating her. This is not to assume that many corporate organisations are not working hard in the interests of Africa; or that Africa has no need of these international collaborations.
Moving beyond a ‘mindset of dependency’
But, if Africa is to survive and make progress, the frankness of President Akufo-Addo of Ghana during his press conference with the French president should be commended. He said:
We can no longer continue to make policy for ourselves, in our country, in our region, in our continent on the basis of whatever support that the Western world or France, or the European Union can give us. It will not work. It has not worked and it will not work. We have to get away from this mindset of dependency. This mindset about ‘what can France do for us?’
Similarly, in his speech against President Gerald Ford’s support of white supremacy and minority regimes in South Africa, General Murtala Mohammed during the 1976 OAU extra-ordinary meeting hinted that Africa has come of age. It’s no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power. Africa, he continues:
should no longer take orders from any country, however powerful. The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or mar. For too long have we been kicked around: for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interest and act accordingly.
Put differently, President Kagame said that it is the responsibility of African leaders to first work together and solve their own problems without seeking help from foreign powers. These summits create the impression that Africa is not able to address her problems, but they (African leaders) are happy to sit in Paris with the president of France and just talk about their problems, said Kagame.
This type of boldness, which will not come without consequences, is what is needed in African leadership so that Africa can change this ideology of dependency and take charge of her economic and political destiny. African leaders need to stand their ground, and not allow themselves to be bought by attractive deals that come with hidden conditions and allegiances. Murtala Mohammed warned that these deals presuppose that Africa is not “capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers which, more often than not, have no relevance for us, nor for the problem at hand.”
African leaders need to recognise these deals for what they are: a new form of manipulation. This does not mean that they are all bad. But it does mean that African leaders need to have the courage and confidence to negotiate deals that promote the best interests of individual African countries. Otherwise, Africa, now 44 years after Murtala Mohammed’s speech, will continue to be dependent on the Western world for financial aid, thereby constantly being vulnerable to manipulation.