Africa We Want

AFRICA: When Will Africa Become The Main Character In Her Own Story?

Repeatedly, African leaders have been told to pick a side in the rich nation’s contests and choices have been dictated and made without a single one meaningfully progressing the African cause. When then will Africa become the main character in her own story ? By Jr Sabena Mutabazi, Strategy and Policy Advisor

Next week, from 13 – 15 December, President Biden will host nearly 50 African Heads of State and Government for the US-Africa Leaders Summit, which is expected to discuss a broad range of issues, from food security to global health and promoting education. On day two, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will host a Business Forum whose agenda is focused on advancing two-way trade and investment partnerships for the good of the United States and Africa in general.

However, from an African perspective I cannot help but wonder whether at a strategic level there should be an appetite for African leaders to indulge yet again in another roundtable discussion that at best will yield more rhetoric about a set of democratic values that Africans ought to adopt than concrete actions about climate change transition required from heavily polluting rich nations (Africa remains one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change despite contributing the least to global greenhouse gas emissions), actions that meaningfully contribute to addressing vaccine inequality in the face of growing pandemics, and at worst more grandiloquence warnings about how Africans don’t quite know what is good for them in their dealings with China or Russia for that matter.

I recall with particular attention to a statement made by U.S Secretary of State Anthony Blinken while launching the Biden’s Administration’s Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa in August in Pretoria, South Africa. “Our strategy is rooted in the recognition that sub-Saharan Africa is a major geopolitical force, one that shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future,” affirmed Secretary Blinken. The strategy, continued the Secretary of State, “reflects the region’s complexity - its diversity, its power and influence - and one that focuses on what we will do with African nations and peoples, not for African nations and peoples.”

To his credit, Secretary Blinken also noted that the United States was going to do things differently while pursuing his country’s four objectives of fostering openness and open societies, delivering democratic and security dividends, advancing pandemic recovery and economic opportunity, and supporting conservation, climate adaptation, and a just energy transition.

And yet, despite the seemingly noble commitment to do things differently in addition to recognising the complexity of the continent and its people - the diversity, the competing priorities - one key area remains deliberately unattended to; the need to acknowledge that Africans are free to diversify economic partners from West to East and from North to South based on a set of determinants that fulfil their own interests rather than the interests of a super power that is contesting with an emerging one. While this particular issue is not on the official agenda of the U.S - Africa Leaders Summit, anyone can make an educated guess that it will be discussed and analysed in one-on-one private meetings largely from a ‘you better stay away’ viewpoint despite the fact that China is now Africa’s largest two-way trading partner recording $254 billion in 2021, and by extension becoming the largest provider of foreign direct investment to the continent.

When the inevitable does happen and China becomes the main topic of real conversation, I cannot help but speculate that once again, African leaders will have been used as instruments of progress by other nations to counter the ongoing economic rivalry with China. Sadly, repeatedly, African leaders have been told to pick a side in the rich nation’s contests and choices have been dictated and made without a single one meaningfully progressing the African cause. When then will Africa become the main character in her own story, remains the big question!

Author: MANZI
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