Where to Africa? An Afrocentric Foreign Policy?
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Where to Africa: Towards an Afrocentric Foreign Policy?
by T. Elijah Ngurare,
Bernadus C. Swartbooi,
14 November 2008
Africa is a continent of riches and yet the majority of its inhabitants are poor.
It is a continent that has no permanent representation at the UN Security Council. It is a continent that has extended an olive branch to its former colonisers politically, economically and socially. Since the days of Scramble for Africa (1884-5), Africa’s relationship with its former colonisers is determined by the commercial and national interests of London, Berlin, Paris, Lisbon and Washington DC.
The commercial and national interests of Abidjan, Lagos, Luanda, Windhoek, Harare or Kinshasa hardly feature on the menu of interest of our former colonisers. Put differently, the former colonisers can be united to pursue their commercial interest in Kinshasa but the former colonised fail to unite in demanding a just price for African raw materials.
This phenomenon can be partly explained by the mental colonial hangover that still lingers in the African people especially some of our leaders. Many have little regard for African traditional leaders who are the backbone of African societies. After all the Vienna Convention regulating diplomatic relations does not include the role of African traditional leaders but does extend such courtesy to the Western monarchs, et cetera. For example, African presidents and civil society organisations meet every year in international forums often parallel but why do African traditional leaders not meet alongside SADC and AU summits as true agents of the rural development agenda in Africa? In other words, the relationships of African traditional leaders should form part of Africa’s foreign policy. It is interesting that our “development partners”, for example, are quick to fund civil society to travel and attend SADC and AU summits, but why does the same not apply to funding African traditional leaders?
To explain this anomaly, we briefly refer to the Apartheid era as applied in this part of Africa. Apartheid has been universally declared as a crime against humanity. Coincidentally, the authors of this article were born under apartheid and grew up under this inhuman doctrine which instilled an inferiority complex through publication of mass propaganda pamphlets like “Grens Vegter”, “Die Wit Tier”, “Die Swart Luiperd” and the Mahomedy’s syndrome, which is a catalogue depicting the beauty of white faces. In essence, the environment of our growing up was characterised and defined by the foreign policy of the Apartheid regime in Pretoria, South Africa, which was supported and aided by the Western powers especially the USA, Britain, France, Canada and West Germany.
In the opinion of some African leaders, in line with the modern Mahomedy’s syndrome, they believe that foreign policy begins and ends with turning our beautiful countries to Western governments and their surrogate modern propagandist neo-colonialist institutions, namely the “Die Wit Tier” type of foreign policy of our times. It can thus be argued that before our independence, the Western powers’ foreign policy was ordained by race solidarity with their kith and kin in charge of Apartheid in South Africa, Namibia and in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.
In this first article on Afrocentric foreign policy, our intention is to begin putting into proper historical perspective the life in Namibia and of Africa before independence, albeit succinctly. As students of Pan-Africanism, we are advocates of a united Africa, economically, culturally, politically and socially. Our vantage point continues to be based on respect for all humanity. In this context, the content of this article is limited to specific issues relevant to the formulation of the Afrocentric Foreign Policy and the perceived impediments.
In view of the above, we must at this developmental and political trajectory of the African world, pose critical and vital questions, which affect and influence the future of our people and countries. In our view, foreign policy is therefore a quintessential valve to secure a future of political and social stability and economic prosperity for all Africans especially the rural poor throughout the villages of Africa. The question then is: Does Africa, as a whole and as separate nation states, have a “needs-interests- based” foreign policy? What then, if any, have we identified as the fundamental and transformative strategic economic, political, social, cultural and futuristic geopolitical aspects?
For example, to what extent does the AU, as a body of the collective expression of African unity design and direct the advancement of African strategic interests, viable for the achievement of a better life for our people? Is it an organisation worthy of its “assumed prestige” or rather a “neo-colonial” institution designed to make Africans “feel good” about having a continental body? It is granted that the frontrunner of the AU, namely the OAU, enabled countries like ours to get political independence.
We pose these questions in order to relate the matter of foreign policy being pursued by the AU and its relevance to the level of ordinary Africans. How many students from Namibia, Zimbabwe, DRC, Angola, Zambia, Sudan, Nigeria and other African countries, for instance, are studying with AU/SADC grants at various universities in Africa and/or Europe? The absence of serious investment in the human resources of Africans from African governments continues to hamper the articulation and implementation of African foreign policy agenda to be on par with other continents.
Amidst tremendous atrocities and destruction of physical infrastructure in such countries as the DRC, Darfur and many other conflict zones, the AU is not only quiet, inept and reluctant to act on behalf of the people of this continent, but also appears to wait for the “Mahomedys” in Europe to dictate the action to be taken by AU with the budget from the EU.
Who then, does this body essentially represent? To date various documents have been declassified detailing the atrocities committed in the DRC by the West, including their hand in assassinating Patrice Lumumba. Not even one of our African leaders sponsored a UN Resolution to condemn or call for indictment of these Western leaders for crimes against humanity. For example, in his virgin book “Chief of Station, Congo” Larry Devlin explained the stark reality on the conspiracy, mass murders and exploitation of today’s DRC’s natural resources. While posing these questions, we hope to at least ignite a debate among the readership, with a view to improve upon institutions and strategic governance issues of this great continent.
The principal thrust of our argument herein contained is, amongst others, that the absence of clear and concise economic development policies and programmes, or if there are any, the absence of sustainable implementation of such programmes in many African states, has the propensity to de-democratize governance, while perpetuating states’ incapability to meet basic rights of citizens. These two phenomena act as twin-troubles, hindering the proper coining of a strategic Afrocentric foreign policy.
The reason is simple: if African nation-states are unable to articulate domestic economic development policies, how will such states be able to articulate meaningful strategic foreign policies outside its national boundaries?By implication, the ability to formulate strong economic development policies at national level can be equated to the ability to formulate strong strategic foreign policy direction! In this context, African governments that fail to craft and articulate solid economic development and strategic Afrocentric foreign policies cannot bear the title of true democracies!
The time has come for African states, individually and collectively, to promulgate an African strategic foreign policy that accounts for the economic, political, social, cultural and future aspirations of the African people. In the aftermath of the global economic meltdown and ascendancy of Illinois Senator Barack Obama to the US Presidency, many conclusions have been drawn about the type of policies that Africa might embark upon, their ideological roots and thus their implications for the generations to emerge. This applies especially to issues of long-term national economic development planning and the nature of African political economy in the context of regional and global economic environment. In the next months, it will be evident that the interest of Obama will be America first, second and third. Africa will most likely only feature on the colour of his skin.
The question then is how should we collectively respond to challenges posed by the global economy and does the AU, in fact, have the capacity to interact pro-actively to answer these contemporary questions? In short, does Africa have a pan-African foreign policy, within which we negotiate collectively with the rest of the world? This question again emanates as a result of post-colonial African economic destruction and exploitation. Unfortunately, post-independent Africa continues to be exploited by western companies and consultants masquerading as agents of development as revealed by John Perkins’ book of Confessions of an Economic Hitman.
We conclude this first article by reflecting on the past with the hope of charting the way forward. During the 1960s when most African countries gained independence from European colonial powers, most African countries faced two choices: follow the status quo (colonial policies) or break away from it (seek independence from elsewhere). Unfortunately, most African countries chose the former, by mimicking every aspect of the former colonial powers. In other words, some African countries would appear to have vowed to be more English than England; more French than France. As such, after 50 years of African independence the African in Ivory Coast and the other one in Tanzania are not able to phone each other directly without connecting through Europe. The value of our currency end at the border as we willingly convert to the European “superior currency”.
The African is treated more foreign than a European from France and England under Africa’s ‘alien control Act’. The African turns on his brother and sets him alight in South Africa in the glare of world eyes. Ironically, the whites in South Africa who control and own the economy through historical illegality of Apartheid and the current compromises on national reconciliation, instead of calling for national economic reconciliation continue to live in economic paradise. Others will remind us of efforts being done now, here and there, but is that not appeasing tablets? Perhaps suggesting the need to apply sanctions on the West by imposing a blockade of all strategic raw materials from being shipped to the former colonisers, would be a start in asserting our foreign policy.
The demeaning tendency where African leaders are paraded in Western capitals in the name of foreign aid is surely making the likes of Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere turn in their graves with shame. The time is upon Africa to consider a new “Swart Tier” to formulate the new Afrocentric Foreign Policy in the interest of all Africans, including those in the Diaspora.