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FOR THE RECORDS

Scramble for Africa continues

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THE first-ever Russia-Africa Summit ended last week. At the end of the meeting in Southern Russian resort of Sochi, Russian President, Vladimir Putin said he wanted to trade with the continent to double over the next four to five years and added that Moscow had written off over $20 billion of African debts.

It’s now becoming a common feature for the United States, Europeans, and Asian emerging powers to gather African leaders, mostly in their respective countries in the name of economic cooperation, capture it diplomatically; bilateral talks, aimed at fostering development on the African continent.

On the surface, it seemed to concur but real picture suggests the second scramble for Africa. the continent has become a playground for others.

What we have playing out in Africa today is passive colonialism. From time immemorial, colonialism anchored on economic expansion beyond one’s territory; economic expansion that came with forceful territorial land grab in the past.

 This time around, they are not after Africa’s lands for the continent’s resources as in their first coming but on combinations of factors; her resources and perhaps her cheap agricultural produce and sell innovative technology and loan African countries money. These non-Africans simply want to develop trade for their benefits.

African resources were plundered with impunity during the colonial era through the fiat of the colonial masters. This new wave of colonial expression lacks forceful control of people’s lives but comes with innocuous slavery disposition towards Africa. In this instance, we can never be short of niceties of diplomatic words to sound appealing to both parties.

Harsh words and actions it was in the beginning. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany conceived and hosted the Berlin Conference of 1884 to 1885 not only to recognise European colonial claims in Africa but also hastened the process of the continent’s partition. The meeting resolved that those nations claiming parts of Africa had to physically occupy them in order to legitimise those claims.

After the unification of Germany in 1871, Bismarck became convinced after persuasion from some lobby groups in Germany that the country needs to acquire colonies abroad, especially in Africa, arguing that Germany needed the territories to maintain her economic preeminence.

Earlier in the 15th century, the Kingdom of Portugal, the first European power began building a colonial empire. This was in the era known as Portugal’s Age of Discovery. Portugal through her sailors did more of exploring and acquiring trading routes than acquire territories.

During the colonial era, Africans have little or no control over their resources. For instance, most rail systems were constructed not to aid Africans rather to transport the continent’s resources to the sea for onward export to Europe.

The 1960s brought waves of independence that swept across Africa. To maintain its political and economic relevance, many African countries signed secret deals with their colonial masters who imposed and protected their anointed people or ethnicity over others.

In Cameroon, France signed business deals with the leadership of the newly formed government of the independent country that kept them in charge of the economy. It was not different in Nigeria as the ‘future gold’ crude oil played a decisive role in the Nigerian Civil War. The Royal Dutch Shell would be the major benefactor after the war.

But such deals the colonial masters perceived wouldn’t hold long and other avenues would have to be exploited innocuously. France, which has closer ties with her former colonies (Assimilation policy) took the initiative by convening the inaugural Franco- African Summit in Paris in November 1973 with a modest participation of 10 African countries at the inaugural meeting. As at the last count, about 40 African countries participated in the last summit.

The United States felt her presence and control on the continent whittling, in her role as the only superpower after the Cold War the U.S. supposed her role threatened by China, an emerging superpower.

 China’s incursion into Africa had America did a rethink on her foreign policy towards Africa. The United States had lost Africa’s trade benefits to China. In President Barack Obama’s three-nation tour of Africa in 2013, he announced his plans to host a summit of leaders from across Africa, the reason is not far-fetched America’s annual trade with Africa was about $85 billion compared to China’s $200 billion.

The first United States–Africa Leaders’ Summit held from August 4–6, 2014, in Washington D.C. it had 50 African heads of state in attendance for the three-day summit, which was hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama. The summit had three key focuses: trade, investment and security of the continent.

China had emerged from her dormant role by making inroads into Africa in a win-win foreign policy towards the continent promising unlike the Americans and Europeans not to interfere in Africa’s political affairs.

The first Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit between African heads of state was held in November 2006, in Beijing. Hu Jintao, President of China, and African leaders from 35 African countries attended the Summit. President Hu rolled out $5 billion worth of concessionary loans to Africa during that summit.

Since 2008, China has been Africa’s largest trade partner but with a stark imbalance in the composition of trade, besides the debts owed to China by African countries.  As Hannah Ryder puts it, “In one direction go raw, unprocessed materials from a few countries, and in the other come manufactured, cheap goods to the majority of African countries.

For land-locked Uganda the ratio of imports to exports to China was 22:1. Even the continent’s top oil producer Nigeria, for every $1 of exports to China, it imported $11.”

The summits didn’t seem to have a different shade of colours. For instance, 97 per cent of agricultural products from some African countries are to be duty-free but according to a 2016 United Nations study, 50 per cent of these agricultural products coming into China still end up having to pay import taxes.

The India–Africa Forum Summit kicked off in 2008. The first summit was held from April 4 to April 8, 2008, in New Delhi, India. The rotational summit was the first of such meetings between African heads of state, and government of India, in attendance was 14 countries of African Countries chosen by the African Union.

The forum has grown with 41 African countries participating in the last summit.  The summit discussed significant aspects of the India-Africa partnership with the objective of enhancing and widening its ambit for mutual benefit.

When it comes to international relations, it has always been what you stand to gain first even if it will be beneficiary to the other party. But you must have something superior which the other party lacks.

This is hugely the African challenge, given that Asian and Latin America had a taste of colonialism; it’s different narrative for those continents today. Economic power gives any country or continent more political influence.

How come Malaysia of 21st century offer Nigeria technical expertise on how to grow palm fruit and its industrial applications? Nigeria was way ahead of Malaysia in everything palm fruits in the 1960s, even with a richer economy. 

Most African countries depend on the Chinese to revitalise their outdated rail lines or build second-generation rail system. No country or continent Europe, Asia or America is without her challenge but none falls under the gross weight of underdevelopment affecting Africa collectively.

Africa has not had a better bargaining power when dealing with other continents because the continent has no superior products better to offer. The continent has the largest of the world’s deposits of mineral resources, yet sells cheaply and buys the finished product more than twice the price it was sold as raw materials.

For the developed world, they have moved from the resources of the earth to that of the mind. Country like Singapore, which had no mineral resources understood that long ago and invested heavily in human resources.

The resources of the mind are inexhaustible and lies in future technological trend. The United Arab Emirates has benefitted immensely and has diversified with attention shifting to scientific and technological innovation.

China was able to achieve this feat when it broke from its peasant revolution to the new China today. Japan was able to overcome her World War II challenges through technological breakthrough of innovative products.

Ever since India began to invest heavily in this regard from the early 1980s, the countries have been exporting scientific and technological products to African countries and elsewhere. 

Remember the made in Taiwan and Hong Kong products of those days; these countries were the Dubai of those days, where Africans go to import cheap devices. Their cheap devices flooded African markets. China borrowed the idea from them but has advanced in that regard.

At the Russia- Africa Summit, the Russian government donated Tupolev Tu-160 bombers, the world’s biggest military aircraft to South Africa, while Nigeria purchased 12 of the aircraft. The two countries are Africa’s biggest economies.

The Russians built the Ajaokuta Steel Mill which was supposed to solve Nigeria’s iron and steel need and spur technological advancement but 40 years after, the steel complex has remained uncompleted with millions of dollars down the drain.

Another aspect of these deals is how Africans handle or sustain the little gain they make of it. Nigeria Paper Mill, Jebba, like Ajaokuta Steel Mill, remains a typical example. The Japanese with no mineral resources built Nigeria refineries, yet we cannot maintain it.

African countries need to sit down in Africa and chart a new course if it means stealing technologically by copying to produce cheap technological devices that will solve our everyday needs and then improve and look for export.

It is high time other people stopped gathering African leaders for summits or in whatever name it comes.  Yes, there are some economic benefits attached to those summits but these are bits to what the continent deserves to get if she arises from the ashes of mentally induced dependency to the platform of the progressive mindset.

No country or continent comes to Africa to borrow money, none imports technology from Africa, yet we have Africa flooded with second-hand products. African agricultural products are subjected to the strictest of regulations outside Africa, yet we have frozen chicken, turkey, fish, other foods and fruits containing chemicals used in preserving dead bodies imported into Africa for consumption; they flood our markets.

It appears the UAE is preparing the ground to assemble African leaders in future for UAE-Africa Summit, or the Saudis beating them to it. In February 2019, the UAE participated in the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa. Reembint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, led the UAE delegation to the 32nd ordinary session of the assembly of the African Union in the Ethiopian capital.

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