The opportunities for investment by US business people have been there ever since Africa overthrew colonialism and became independent states but the old US with a colonial and imperialistic mentality is irrelevant to Africa. The US policy of dictating how Africans must rule themselves, of harbouring colonial conspiracies about “regime change” and lecturing African countries on “democracy” can be considered parochial, arrogant and insulting to Africa’s people.
That respectable African statesman, Tanzanian President “Mwalimu” Julius Nyerere was right when he said, “We, in Africa have no more need of being ‘converted’ to socialism than we have of being taught ‘democracy’. Both are rooted in our past – in the traditional society which produced us.” Prof. Chukuwuma Soludo, a leading African economist, once observed that, “at issue, is whether or not Africa can be allowed latitude to conduct trade and industrial development for its own development [other than for the benefit of the West].” He has intoned that with the European Partnership Agreements (EPAs) for example, a major difference is that unlike the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, these agreements are today signed by a free people under supposedly democratic governments, but the true context remains that Africans again, still remain with neither a voice nor choice in these new economic dispensations.
It is therefore unsurprising that African commentators are questioning some merits of the Obama US-Africa Summit. If the US-Africa Summit is about economic matters and trade, why has it not been organised by American businessmen with the involvement of African ministers of trade and economic affairs, as well as their expert advisors? Why is it not being held in Africa where the economic war against poverty and underdevelopment is being fought and needs to be won? Why must it be the African heads of state – many of whom are not economists – that are invited to the Obama US-Africa Summit for economic issues? And pointedly, what actually is new about this summit?
To begin with, if this summit signals an unprecedented change in American foreign policy towards Africa, the exclusion from invites of some African heads of state, such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir, not only arouses doubt, but opens the ever-festering wounds of colonial domination, and in pan-African political thought-leader circles, there is already talk that the African leaders invited to attend the summit must tread carefully and refuse to be used as tools in the age-old imperialist game of “divide and rule.”
There are calls that the African Union must not allow its members to be discriminated against by foreign powers and that the selective invitations not only undermine the broader continental interests, but render as irrelevant one of the continent’s major tenets, which is that African leaders must speak with one African voice. It is unabashedly imprudent for America to want to deal with some African heads of state and not with others in this day and age where issues and disagreement must be resolved with the involvement of all parties.
The other point that must be observed is that America is not a continent. It is a country, albeit an important one. It is contemptuous of President Obama to invite Africa – an important continent – as if it were some “Banana Republic.” Africa must be respected and African heads of state must not compromise the respect for Africa. As Prof. Ngungi wa Thiongo has put it, “Africa is a huge continent, the US, China and India can be contained within it. This means that Africa has the most natural resources – including land for agriculture and mines for almost every mineral. These, including her human resources, have played a central role in the evolution of capitalism from its mercantile through its industrial to its current global finance dominance – all to the advantage of the West, and to the disadvantage of the people of Africa.”
Many African leaders, now and before, have routinely been irritated by the condescending treatment Africa has received from some Western countries including the US. At one point, the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser elucidated: “We [Africans], are a sentimental people. We like a few kind words better than millions of dollars given in a humiliating way.” Another great African mind, the late President Ahmed Sekou Touré of Guinea once bluntly stated: “An African statesman is not a naked boy begging from rich imperialists.” Fast-forward to 2014, and the attitude of the US towards Africa largely remains un-reassuring and rather disturbing. The African leaders who met with President Obama at US Africa Head of States Summit, could only serve justice to their people if they had boldly and resolutely scrutinise and interrogate the US about why they (the US) have actually called the summit. This was their chance to seek answers to many events experienced at the hands of America in Africa.
When talking about moving Africa forward, both economically and politically, America has advanced the issue of African youth. One of its agendas – training “Young Africa’s Leaders” – saw, just this June, some 500 African students reportedly arrive in the US to be trained in several American universities on “African Leadership”. These students, who the Americans call “Africa’s Most Promising Leaders”, are wholly funded by the US government. As the African leaders sit around the table with the American government at the Summit, one would expect them to query why, and further question if President Obama would, for example, offer similar programmes to the Russians or Chinese. African leaders should be wary of the long-term intentions and impact of the US’s “training” of African leaders on Africa’s behalf.
The spectre of Africa being ruled by proxy or puppet leaders trained to serve not African interests, but those of their masters, can never be taken lightly or be ignored. African youth is a very important continental asset. Without the youth, there is no tomorrow, they are the future custodians and trustees of this continent. And as such, they must be meticulously trained for leadership in accordance with the deepest aspirations, interests and needs of African people. To allow a situation where African youths are trained by foreign powers with vital economic and other interests in the continent, is like parents who give their children to strangers to bring them up. This issue is therefore of vital importance to raise as African leaders meet up with the world’s lead superpower. What we require is a partnership of equals.
In this day and age, technology talks. And if this summit is truly “unprecedented”, one area that needs vigorous consideration is that of the massive transfer of high technology for the economic development and technological advancement of Africa. African governments should be lobbying to learn from the US, and through the transfer of technology and skills, obtain the required technology that will fast-track the development of the continent. The onus is on African heads of state to find solutions to questions of technology and skills transfer. One way that might be explored, is to seek an exchange of Africa’s raw materials, especially minerals and oil, for the continent’s needed technology, as opposed to cash, goods or services. Africa will only become wholly self-reliant if technological advancement is part of its economic development trajectory. If the intention of the US was to use the Summit as a forum for realising Africa’s economic advancement, for mutual benefits, then technology transfer should be at, or near, the top of the agenda. Practically all development analysts would argue that Africa needs to be assisted in this manner.
All nations of the world, especially the Western world, must awaken to the fact that the 21st century requires the creation of an interdependent world. The US and its allies must be told that they need to subscribe to this ideal because the Eurocentric view of the world is not the only view. The Africentric/Afrocentric view must also be accepted and respected, more so now that the US for the first time in its history has seen the need for a Summit between the US and Africa countries. Economic, cultural and military domination by one nation or a group is not a solution to the problems of this world. No nations should operate as if the UN and its Charter are insignificant. No nation must look only at its own interests and ignore the fact that all other nations of the world have their own national interests. Hopefully, this is a premise on which the US Africa Summit is anchored.
Africa must unite and speak with one voice. As they freely agree to be part of the Summit, the message should be that they come as a solid unit, as a collective. African leaders must always engage with the world on the basis of interdependence, not dependence, especially economically. This message must be clearly spelt out at the Summit. African Heads of States should not present Africa as a bankrupt, indebted continent, bringing nothing to the Obama table but a begging bowl. The African continent has reached a pivotal point regarding the social and economic liberation of her population. The peace dividend is more essential today than at any moment in Africa’s history. Stability and self–determined economic policy are critical anchors of African countries’ development path, particularly given the worrying incursions of terrorist groups.
China has a huge stake in the African regional economies, with massive investments in infrastructure, development loans, venture capital and other inputs. Current GDP figures illustrate that the Africa region is one of China’s primary trading interests. The era of economic incursion belongs in the past and the 21st century demands foreign investors who understand the fundamentals of partnership. This requires that African countries define and receive their fair share while international investors receive theirs as well. African countries cannot continue to be passive bystanders, while unscrupulous investors deplete Africa’s riches, leaving little or nothing in their place for Africa to benefit from. In the past some investors contented themselves with merely paying for labour and leaving no lasting heritage. African governments must declare this kind of exploitative investment as belonging to the oldest archives and evoke existing labour, environmental and trade regulations to support this position. All must be done on a level playing field and characterised by mutual respect.
By Dr. Motsoko Pheko
The writer is a former representative of the victims of apartheid at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Commission and Human Rights in Geneva as well as a former Member of the South African Parliament. He is the author of several books on history, politics, law and theology. This article was first published by the New African magazine at http://newafricanmagazine.com on 5 August 2014 and has been slightly edited.