The world we live in is history unfolding and unveiling itself everyday of our lives. I find it particularly of great significance and essence for me to be part of this history. Africa, our beloved continent remains a major part of such history and its place of importance cannot be overemphasized.
It is also a humbling task for me to represent the several millions of African students from the 53 states of Africa and the 54th state of the Diaspora to share some thoughts on the topic “AFRICOM in Africa: Implications for Human Security and Development in Africa”.
The All-Africa Students Union (AASU)- Who we Are
Permit me to briefly state what the All-Africa students Union (AASU) stands for. As the name suggests, AASU is the convergent continental student organisation consisting of the entire 53 member, national student unions and associations across Africa with the mandate of securing the welfare of all students of Africa. AASU is an international organisation in operational relations with UNESCO and is a member of the International Union of Students (IUS) and a few other United Nations committees. Our values are clearly articulated in our fight for human rights, especially the right of every African child to education, world peace, good governance; global and social justice.
Historically, AASU has been one of most vocal organisations that fought for the decolonization of Africa and further for the subsequent restoration of democratic rule across Africa. AASU was a strong anti-apartheid campaigner and let us not forget it was the sacrifice of our South African students who, from Soweto, in June 1976, stood up to the then repressive regime that finally gave momentum to the movement that annihilated apartheid rule.
In other words, we have been at the very center of African and world history: we have shared in the tears and cheers, the ups and downs, the good times and the bad times; the dark days of terror and the bright days of hope of our people. The history of Africa, the struggles of our people and the challenges at hand for our continent are therefore no hidden secrets from our view.
Africa: Why History Matters
Too often, some people are too quick to dismiss history and its bearings on modern events in Africa. However, we surely need to recall history and the lessons it offers to support our present position in the 21st century. History undeniably is the compass with which the present and future trajectories of a people and a continent like ours are navigated.
I need not remind all of us gathered here that Africa had been the hot-bed for over 300 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and over a century of colonialism. These developments wrecked colossal havoc on the identity of the African personality and her institutions. They led to the loss of lives in the millions, the weakening of institutions of governance and the exploitation of our resources. The Africa we see today has been the creation of the European countries that divided the continent among themselves at 1884 Berlin Conference, without regard to ethnic or cultural considerations.
David Lamb (1985: page 5) in his book The Africans: Encounters from the Sudan to the Cape, encapsulates Africa’s situation in the following words
“Africa is a continent where events have conspired against progress, where the future remains a hostage of the past…As setback followed setback and each modest step forward was no more effective than running in place, black Africa became uncertain of its own identity and purpose, divided by ideology and self-interests, perplexed by the demands of nationhood-and as dependent militarily and economically on foreign powers as it was during the colonial era…a continent in crisis, explosive and vulnerable, a continent where the romance cannot hide the frustration and despair that tears at the fibre of African society”. This assertion largely reflects the true state of affairs in Africa today, after two and a half decades since that observation was made.
The founding fathers of the many independent African states such as Sekou Toure, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Abdul Gamel Nasser secured for Africa its political independence. However, the continent is yet to emancipate itself economically. Dr Kwame Nkrumah observed long ago that the way out for Africa was continental unity, a one strong and united Africa that exploits the economy of scale and scope to leapfrog its developmental steps and by so doing remain strong and competitive globally. The experiences of US, UK, China and India seem to validate this proposition that size really matters.
AFRICOM in Africa
The other speakers have made presentations to the effect of what AFRICOM represents. However, let us ask ourselves why a great nation like America seems to be more interested in Africa’s security, than ourselves as Africans. Is it for the sheer love of our continent or it is for a strategic purpose? Is it in our interest, in their interest or both?
Today, Africa has a combined GDP of about US $ 1.5 trillion (World Bank, 2008 GDP Estimates). Nevertheless, our contribution by volume to world trade is less than 5% and most of the goods exported from Africa remain raw, unprocessed commodities such as Cocoa, diamond, gold, bauxite, timber, vegetables and fruits. Africa remains highly endowed with natural resources which hardly get processed into finished products which explain our weak position in the world today. Also, a staggering 33 out of the 53 countries in Africa are classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by UN.
Again, Africa, as chronicled by David Lamb, the renowned American Journalist who travelled across Africa in the 80s, holds the following economic potential: 40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric power supply; the bulk of the world’s diamonds and chromium; 30 percent of uranium in the non-communist world; 50 percent of the world gold; 90 percent of cobalt; 50 percent of phosphate; 40 percent of its platinum; 7.5 percent of its coal; 8 percent of its known petroleum reserves,12 percent of its natural gas; 3 percent of its iron ores; 70 percent of the World’s cocoa; 60 % of its coffee; and 50% of its oil palm
These discoveries led David Lamb to conclude, arguably “there is not another continent blessed with such abundance and diversity”. I therefore, very much agree with an observer who said “Africa is not poor, it is only poorly managed”. President Obama, addressing Africa from the floor of the Ghanaian parliament in July 2009 rightly said “Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men”. Africa needs therefore to develop the institutions that will create the basis for sustainable socio-economic development.
Once again, all of a sudden, Africa has become the center stage for the great powers in the world to flex their economic and military muscles. In a fashion akin to that of the 1884 scramble for Africa, the continent is now inundated by competing interests from China, USA, Russia and the EU. Chinese flow of FDI into Africa has overtaken World Bank investments and rivaled that of US. The gold of South Africa and the former Gold Coast, the diamonds of Botswana, Liberia, Namibia and Sierra Leone; the timber and uranium of the Congo; the oil reserves of Sudan, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Angola and lately Ghana; the Cocoa of the Ivory Coast and Ghana have witnessed increased attention by investors from these very powerful countries. The irony of the situation is that whiles this inward flow of FDI on the surface looks promising for us in Africa; unfortunately, they seldom come on a win-win basis.
It is incontrovertible that Africom creates synergy and harmonises US Military Operations in Africa. All-Africa Students Union is aware the Africa Partnership Station (APS) of Africom (Ghanaweb, 21st January 2010) is already in the implementation phase in many regions of Africa. This position is well understood by us. However, the reception and response from many African citizens to AFRICOM have been that of suspicion and mistrust as is reflected by the on-going campaign against Africom by many members of civil society. These fears are not far-fetched, knowing clearly the role played by the CIA in the overthrow of the likes of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, the support for dictators like Mobutu Sesekou and the indifference of US towards deviants like the late Idi Amin and Jonas Savimbi. Africans are also reminded of the failure of the UN (of which US plays the most significant role) to protect the life of Patrice Lumumba – the first democratically elected leader of the Congo- and to avert or mitigate the Rwandan genocide and nip the Liberian civil war in the bud. Again, let us not forget Liberia was a creation of the US government for freed African slaves, a situation which therefore imposed a moral obligation on America’s conscience to act when it was most needed.
As much as Africom, as argued by the US government, seeks to help establish and promote peace in Africa, it cannot be divulged from America’s awakened interest in protecting its own interest in Africa, especially the rich oil and gas reserves the continent holds. The US must therefore come clean and clear, if it wants to be taken serious by Africans. The US needs to disclose fully its interests in Africa through Africom and not assume the people of Africa are unaware of the possibilities of any hidden agenda. Though Africom undoubtedly can build the capacities of any AU Stand-by force to respond effectively to the threats of terrorism and conflicts on the continent, let us ponder over the question “Whose war are we fighting, what price are we to pay and for how long?”.
The US is like the big-brother in the comity of nations which has imposed on itself the task of policing the world. It is exceptionally a great nation, which many of us admire. Also, history is replete with the intervention of US in many wars across the globe. We know over 57,000 gallant US military personnel sacrificed their lives to save what is today South Korea. We know thousands more sacrificed their lives to end the World War II. But we also know of America’s failure in the Vietnam, of its inability to stop rogue North Korea from acquiring nuclear power and its prolonged, protracted on-going war in Iraq and Afghanistan. As President Harry Truman once observed, “what price should America pay to defend its freedom?”. Whatever the answer may be, history has taught us that militarization is definitely not the answer and not so even in Africa.
The All-Africa Students Union stands opposed to any attempts whatsoever to establish any military base in any part of Africa. We belief the militarization of Africa will not only pose danger to our peace but also create conditions of fear and rivalry amongst our people. As Dr. Kwame Nkrumah once said “Africa is not an extension of any other colony”. We do not want to be drawn into the conflict of powers which seek to out-maneuver one another in pursuit of “super-powership”. To the contrary, Africa needs democratization, not militarization, more than ever now!
“The decisiveness of the short period of colonialism and its negative consequences for Africa spring mainly from the fact that Africa lost power. Power is the ultimate determinant in human society, being basic to the relations within any group and between groups. It implies the ability to defend one’s interests and if necessary to impose one’s will by any means available. In relations between peoples, the question of power determines maneuverability in bargaining, the extent to which people survive as a physical and cultural entity. When one society finds itself forced to relinquish power entirely to another society, that in itself is a form of underdevelopment”, Rodney Walter (1972).
On the way forward, All-Africa Students Union asserts the need for Africa to regain power, one that is of the people, for the people and by the people. AASU does not blame other countries for Africa’s current woes, but so are we not oblivious to the dangers of interference, of not controlling our own destiny and spearheading our own initiatives. However, we still regard the UN as the most credible international institution to partner Africa to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The unilateralism and the imposition of foreign crafted policies will never save Africa, unless there is ownership from the African people themselves.
The All-Africa Students Union reaffirms her belief that the creation of equal opportunities for all Africans to realise their full potential, the consolidation of democratic institutions such as independent electoral commissions; a vibrant and responsible media; a functional and independent judiciary that upholds the rule of law; the guarantee of universal adult suffrage and the ability of the greatest majority of citizens to elect and change their own governments at will as the best guarantees for security and sustainable development in Africa. AASU also calls for the redemption of the ideals of the founding fathers of African political independence- a strong and united Africa- without which we remain vulnerable to the vagaries of the politics of our world.
In the words of Kwame Nkrumah, may Africa continue to march Forward Ever, Backwards Never in the face of all these challenges!
Thank you for your attention.
By Selorm Kofi Dake
(Presentation to the School of Global Studies University of Sussex on the 26th January 2010)