By Olakunle Agboola
Africa in a Global System
“If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.” – Nelson Mandela
“As Africans, we need to share common recognition that all of us stand to lose if we fail to transform our continent.”- Thabo Mbeki.
At the turn of the 21st century, the commonly trending question and debate was whether this was Africa’s time, and whether this continent Africa, wealthiest of all in natural resources, would claim her rightful place in a globalizing world system. This question was posed against a background of a long history of attrition against the African continent. For more than five centuries Africa had seen the worst in human decimation: slavery, partition, occupation and colonialism, all of whose logic was extraction of Africa’s resources. Driving this project was race and racism that defined the African as lesser of human being, in need of the civilization project.
A combination of factors and forces, driven by external interests that found expression within our territories dimmed the possibility of most countries on the continent. Instead of arising and asserting ourselves as predicted by our first generation of African freedom fighters, including Kwame Nkrumah, Abed Nasser, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Jomo Kenyatta, our own Obafemi Awolowo, amongst others, most of whom led their nations to independence through a path of vicious wars against colonialism, the independent trajectory of Africa was subverted soon after independence. As crisis strucked many young African nations, the framework of the cold war exacerbated instability across the continent. Despite the populations’ resilience, by the 1980s and 1990s, the continent was suffering under devastating conflicts and effects of natural disasters, earning Africa the stereotypical perception of a continent of “wars, conflicts, diseases and natural disasters.” Defined as a sick continent, in spite of the insidious control by external actors who continued extraction of its wealth, Africa was pushed to the periphery of the global system.
In spite of a history laced with instability and tragedies such as the genocide in Rwanda of 1994, the wars in Eastern Congo, the collapse of Somalia, the experiences of Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, and the tragedy of Libya more recently, today Africa sees and defines herself as a promising work in progress. At the commemoration of 55 years of the Organisation of the African Unity, in May 2018 – there was a consistent reaffirmation of an “Arising Africa” that is ready and demanding of its rightful place among the community of Nations.
Today’s Africa, questions the dominant ideology that was perpetrated to rationalize and excuse occupation, domination, colonialisation and exploitation of Africa and its wealth throughout history. It is this collective understanding that is shaping Africans’ positions on international affairs including the demands for insulation of our policy spaces, the imperative for effective and value adding partnerships and solidarity, the demand for reforms of the international and multilateral spaces to reflect the democratic imperatives, the demand for sustainable development that does not compromise our future generations and indeed the absolute importance of international systems that are rule based and consistent with the principles of international justice and equal treatment of all.
The efforts to search for peace and stability are buttressed by the pillar of governance. The struggle of governance has been vexing the continent since independence. Each country emerging from colonialism adopted administrative structures that were largely untransformed from the domination ethos, and that were, therefore, incapable of responding to the needs and participative desires of the populations. No wonder in under a decade, between 1963 and 1973 Africa had witnessed more than 20 military coups and seismic instability.
The African Union vision is to create an integrated, peaceful and prosperous continent. Independent Africa inherited economies that were organized, since the colonial days, to respond to the development needs of the colonial masters. Therefore, by 2010, intra-Africa trade stood at 5%, today this has increased to 12%, which is still a pittance in comparison to the size and potential of the African continent. Today, African leaders are vigorously promoting regional integration and intra-African trade. Bilaterally, countries are engaged in expanding their trade, regionally, the blocs are undertaking measures to break-down the barriers created in the past. Currently, discussions are underway to conclude a free trade zone between three regional blocs namely COMESA, EAC and SADC. Conclusion of this would bring together a bloc of more than two third of the continent. In West Africa, ECOWAS has made significant progress towards integrating West Africa.
The African regional integration is part of the grand vision of helping African countries to enable them to engage with a fast globalizing world, improve their competitiveness, diversify its economic base and create enough jobs for its young and fast-urbanizing population. With working population of more than 700 million and set to double by 2040, overtaking both China and India, and an improving business environment, Africa has the potential to become the world’s next emerging economy, with an intra-trade Africa of about 50% by 2030. The benefit of this approach is beginning to get clear. Today Africa has the largest number of countries in any region to register sustained growth through the global crisis in the last 9 years. This trend is set to continue into a decade from today.
Political architecture, particularly the lead role being played by the G20, and in Africa’s own evolving international partnerships; provide opportunities for high-level dialogue on Africa’s interests and priorities; attract coalition-building with existing and new partners, premised on Africa’s regional integration and promote Africa’s transformation, under the auspices of the African Union. In the recent past and in the same breath Africa has engaged in structured dialogue with various countries including China, India, Japan and Turkey with a few to attracting support to its home grown agenda for long term growth and development.
The development of Africa is becoming apparent but there is still so much work to be done to liberate the economy, end rancor, Fight terrorism, promoting good governance, peace and unity. Africa is on the very terrain of becoming a global phenomenon and this is the time to convert her into a beautiful home of global development.