The just concluded U.S-Africa Leaders Summit brings to mind the Otto Von Bismarck hosted Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 where Africa was partitioned to the entire benefit of the colonial masters. Predicted as the world’s fastest growing economy hosting 6 of the world’s fastest growing economies in 2014, e.g. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Mozambique; Nigeria; Ethiopia; Angola; and Liberia, the continent is increasingly being targeted for trade and investment in a manner reminiscent of the colonial scramble for Africa. At the recently concluded U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit themed: “Investing in the Next Generation,” President Obama pledged his Administration’s commitment to sustaining and accelerating growth through a comprehensive strategy to realize the potential of a renewed African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The strategy which includes the following: “Renew and Update AGOA to Increase Market Access Opportunities for Africa; Find Synergies through Aligning Assistance; Improve Infrastructure to Enhance Competitiveness; Strengthen Trade Capacity Building, Value Added Production, and Supply Chains to Increase AGOA Utilization; Create New Markets for Africa” are trade liberation strategies meant to open up Africa markets for western opportunities and exploitation. The most important aspect of this summit was the commercial deals made, not the human rights; good governance and democratization speeches told on the sidelines. In that regard, according to President Obama, every investment made in Africa creates more jobs and opportunities for U.S. citizens. For example, goods and services exports to Africa, which reached a record high of $50.2 billion in 2013, support 250,000 U.S. jobs .
The Washington, DC summit is said to be a direct response to similar Africa summits hosted by the European Union (EU), China and France etc. In fact, these top world’s economies are fiercely and desperately competing for access to African markets and to benefit as much as they can from partnering with the continent. So, it is important to accentuate the purely economy-driven aspect of such a partnership with Africa. China, for instance, is heavily involved in the ‘scramble for Africa’, and is tirelessly working to establish influence and dominance in Africa, especially on trade. In 1995, China-Africa trade volume accounted for just 1% of China’s total foreign trade volume. Conversely, between 1995 and 2012, China-Africa trade volume grew to 26%. Between 2011 and 2012, China-Africa trade volume rose by 19%, from approximately US$ 166 billion in 2011 to approximately US$ 198 billion in 2012.
In the same period, Europe’s trade volume with Africa also increased. In 2004, Europe’s exports to Africa were 156.4 billion Euros while imports were 77.1 billion Euros. In 2013, it rose to 168 billion Euro for
exports and 87.7 billion Euros for imports . In Nigeria for instance, despite the challenges of insecurity, investments from European companies are continuing. French auto giants, Nissan-Renault and Peugeot are pointer examples.
As the modern day colonialism intensifies with new Powers partitioning and reapportioning the continent for the sole benefit of their own economies and people, what are the policy thrusts of African leaders for the benefit of their people? As economic growth is being bandied as a reason for engaging with Africa as a continent, how has the narrative of economic growth manifested in the lives of her people, especially as we witness no attendant shift in their living standard, but rather an exponentially rising inequality? The riches of the continent remains in the hands of few citizens, her natural resources are concentrated in the hands of foreign multinational corporations (MNCs), most of the continent’s national budgets are primarily financed through foreign aid (inclusive of resource producing countries). Accompanying this narrative is growing insecurity in most of African states, mostly adduced to horizontal inequality and marginalization. Poverty and inequality continue to soar within the continent. One out of every 10 Africans is living in extreme poverty; and it is projected that most of the world poor people will live in Africa by 2030. How have we fared as a continent? Where are Africa’s capable states?
The outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) again brings Africa capability into focus. The affected countries, namely, Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea and Sierra Leone are seeking assistance from the international community especially U.S.A., China, and Canada that appear to be the current hope of the affected states for tackling the virus to save the lives of their people. . This is however worrisome as drug companies may take advantage of the situation to use Africans as guinea pigs to experiment new drugs that are probably not even related to Ebola. It was the case when Pfizer utilized the outbreak of the meningococcal meningitis in 1996, to conduct clinical tests for its newly-developed anti-meningitis drug, Trovan , on children in Kano, Nigeria. Why has it been difficult for Africa to establish research centres and laboratories where African versions of Zmappthe experimental drug against Ebola that is being developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical could be produced, moving us away from dependency on the international community in matters of public health.
As the scramble for Africa intensifies, Africa must repackage its own kind of trade liberalization; renegotiate its democracy within its context specific development challenges and leadership problems. The issues of trade mispricing, taxation, illicit financial flows must all be judiciously taken care with political will mustered by African governments to implement sanctions. Corruption, capacity building and big data generation must all be priority issues to be immediately tackled.
As the debates and interventions on how to bring peace, stability and development in the region goes on, we expect that the West Africa Insight will continue to serve as a platform for information sharing. We deeply thank all who contributed to this edition and acknowledge their great work, particularly renowned Professor of African Studies, Prof. Georges Ntalaja Nzongola who contributed a piece on Armed Conflicts in Africa to commemorate the 54th independence anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Congo; and our friends and colleagues at the Chatham House, Leena Hoffman in particular who did a synopsis of her new Chatham house paper on Nigeria: Who Speaks for the North? We hope that you will enjoy reading this edition. See you all in two month time.