Think about this dear Africans. African presidents are with the Chinese government in Beijing for the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit. Is it possible that Asian presidents or European presidents can all at the same time, hold a meeting with South African government in Pretoria or a Nigerian government in Abuja? Or, has there ever been a need for Asian or European presidents to leave their continent for a meeting with just one country, and not the UN or so?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a new scramble for Africa, Africans themselves actively playing a role this time, with a more preferred benefactor: China. Over the years, Africa has maintained its status as the unfading bride, everlastingly wooable and hardly ever saying no to offers. Ever heard of polyandry?
Full circle. That is the situation. Sub-Saharan Africa has once again become the topic on the global table -or, maybe it has always remained an unfinished business since the 1884-85 Berlin Conference? Maybe. The big difference is that there are new participants now and the region itself can even have a say, if it knows so or has an idea of how to say what. But whether it says anything or not, the summary is that everyone still wants a bit (if not all) of this continent more than ever.
Thirteen decades ago, European colonial powers, alongside an aloof United States, had some tea in the house of Otto von Bismarck, in Berlin of Germany, arguing and sharing African territories on a ludo board while the natives were busy worshipping their gods or ancestors and observing their endless traditions. Colonisation was made official, drowning the yearnings of Africa and it’s voice for years, even after getting their ‘freedom’.
Building modern societies in Africa have been a struggle for every leader that has risen since the post-colonial era. How they have succeeded or are succeeding in that is another story. However, criss-crossing political interests, both domestic and international have joined to hinder or delay possible growths; the most painful thing in all of this is that after all those decades of colonialism till now, the region is continuously losing its many resources, both human and mineral.
What this means is that industries for processing the African raw materials are not open enough to sustain its rising population and the young people are not having enough work to do. They want to go to the developed places where industries are alive, some processing the same raw materials littered in the backyards back home. The illegal migration problem, for instance, is resulting from such; a lack of precision in governance.
Last week, Angela Merkel of Germany and Theresa May of the United Kingdom were both in Africa for two different but similar reasons.
Merkel, who has been heavily disturbed by illegal migration, has looked down and discovered that to fix that problem, European powers have to come back into Africa and join to pull it out of the mess they pushed it into earlier. And her watchword was investments: the word African leaders love, especially when it is monetary. She came with different CEOs and signed deals to help rejuvenate industries in West Africa, the major sub-region where the migrants come from.
For May and her queendom, the UK’s fallout with the European Union (EU) has reawakened their need for the continent they impoverished years ago, from the stools of their royal majesties. She comes with a made-in-Nairobi dance to re-ignite an unequal ‘friendship’ because there is a bigger need for Africa now. Societal growths have always depended on education and trade; to lose the ties with other EU nations now is not a good thing for the UK but then, they know that Africa is there, open and waiting, as always. May too knows the keyword in controlling African leaders: investments.
Back to FOCAC. Trust African leaders and their penchant for traveling to beautiful cities, never doing much to make their own cities that beautiful. A meeting that was slated for the 3rd and 4th of September (Monday and Tuesday), many of them were already in Beijing on Friday, 31 August. For China to have the audacity to pull Africa out of Africa to Beijing, is to demonstrate how much economic inroad the Chinese institutions have made into the continent. Imagine just one country pulling the entire leadership of another continent out of their offices. It is not Asia-Africa forum, mind you.
Aside China’s FOCAC, there is the Germany-Africa Business Forum (GABF) as well as the Russia–Africa Trade & Investment Forum (RAFTIF). From the United States, there is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) aimed at offering trade and other opportunities to African beneficiaries so long as they meet the pro-US requirements.
Intercontinental or inter-regional trade relations are key for industrial growth and development. That is to say that all these different fora are not wrong to engage in. The concern is the role that modern African leaders are playing and how they ensure that past mistakes made in passive ignorance are never repeated. On whose terms are all these relations put in place? The initial motives of foreigners coming to Africa, which are to have raw materials and prepare a ready market for finished products have not changed. Do African leaders understand this, to pitch their deals on absolute fifty-fifty MoUs?
Africa has the raw materials. Africa has the human resources. Africa has a very large market. Why is Africa still waiting for international forums in Beijing, Moscow and Berlin before Africa can get industrialised? Either way, whether foreign countries import raw materials from or export finished products to Africa, they have nothing much to lose. So they all come in with different trade packages and drag for trade spaces within the continent. But Africa is still ‘reflecting’ on having such intra-continental fora for domestic business opportunities.
China is painting Africa red. The USA is in Africa. Germany is in Africa. Russia is in Africa. The UK is in Africa. India is in Africa. Yet, Africa is not in Africa, neither is Africa in those other places. Because of the laxity, the large continent has been compressed into having a country status. We cannot talk of Kenya-Asia or Ghana-Europe relations because Ghana is a country while Europe is a continent. But we can comfortably say China-Africa relations, as if they share the same geographical status. How can the whole continent, with all its wealth, become a ‘subject’ to just one country?
While the world leaders come from their countries to have markets and resources from Africa, intra-African trade still suffers due to blockades in trade relations. Now you see the irony: developed nations scramble for Africa’s raw materials and market to grow their economies while African leaders scramble for mean-time favours and investment crumbs from them, to use for re-election bids!
Africa must come of age. While the continent flirts with all the foreign investors, prominence must be given to domestic trade ties. The AfCFTA is halfway done, halfway neglected; we cannot keep selling the continent out and expect foreigners to grow it for us: beware, Africa.
McDike Dimkpa is a contributor to The African Progressive Economist and the opinions expressed here are his own.