Thursday, 1 September 2016

Of the Current Scramble for Africa: Is the Continent’s Future Mortgaged?

What were the imaginations and visions of the African leaders about the continent’s outlook and progress during the dawn of independence? Of course they envisaged a continent that is highly prosperous and absolutely independent from the neo-colonial tendencies of their former colonial masters and free from the hegemonic socio-economic and political practices of the foreign states.

It is unfortunate and disappointing at the same time that such aspirations of a truly independent Africa have been dealt a huge blow forthrightly by a cocktail of factors; both internal and external factors. Internally, it is well known that majority of the African leaders are the real enemies of the continent’s progress as they have perfected and sharpened the act and art of siphoning the resources that are meant to be tapped for the benefit of the African citizens. Externally, the imperialistic tendencies of some of the well-known Western states, the advances by some of the Asian economies and other emerging economies of the world continue to hinder the progress of Africa.

Unlike the first scramble for Africa which largely involved coercion, the current scramble for the continent entails the application of non-coercive practices. The first scramble for Africa involved the signing of treaties and agreements which is still the case with the current scramble. Some of these treaties are in good faith and for the common good but systemically, they are somewhat skewed in favour of the foreign nations so that at the end of the day Africa suffers from the haemorrhage of her economic resources and this isn’t different from the treaties signed in the pre-colonial and colonial period.

Most critically, the first scramble for the continent was informed by the need to fuel the economic well-being of the imperialist states of the time and hence, the desire to cheaply obtain economic resources from Africa. Similarly, the on-going scramble for Africa is anchored on the aspirations of the advanced and advancing economies to position themselves strategically in the world’s geo-political flux of gaining the status of a superpower state. And so this necessitates the sapping of economic resources from Africa.

One fundamental question that Africans need to keep asking is why the world’s leading economies are running to Africa to sign the so called “development partnerships” and “development agreements”. I presume that forward-thinking and patriotic Africans are constantly asking this pertinent question.

A few days ago, the sixth Tokyo International Conference of Africa’s Development (TICAD) took place in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. A number of deals concerning and related to development were signed by the African heads of states as well as the heads of governments and the Japanese government. This is just one of the many events that are used by the leading economies to lure the African leadership into signing agreements that are largely in favour of the former.

Objectively, some of the agreements as noted before, play a big role in propelling the continent’s economic engine and it is a fact that cannot be disputed. But it is high time that Africa’s leadership carries out an evaluation of these agreements from those ones signed or entered to from the 1960s up to now to clearly establish their costs and the benefits. This is a basic exercise that the African Union (AU) needs to be regularly doing. We ought to know by way of comparison, qualitatively and quantitatively, the ultimate benefits realized by the African countries against those ones by the foreign states.

TICAD is similar to other existing development initiatives by the world’s leading economies to shop for economic resources in Africa. Other development initiatives include: the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the USA-Africa Partnership, the Africa-European Union Partnership, the Africa-India Cooperation Agreement, the Korea-Africa Forum, and the Africa-Turkey Partnership among others.

In taking stock of these agreements and partnerships which in general are supposed to enhance the economic well-being of the concerned parties and entities, focus should be directed towards the ratio, rate and level of the exports and imports to and from the foreign states. It is common knowledge that the amount of Africa’s exports to other continents and countries of the world is seriously dwarfed by the level of imports from these units to Africa.

One may argue that the exports from Africa are largely primary products that are highly deficient of value addition which is an undisputable fact. But is it not economically freakish that a significant proportion of Africa’s imports leave the continent as exports in their primary form?

As much as we appreciate the efforts by the foreign nations through their multi-national corporations to promote value addition, a lot still needs to be done. This includes the following: Firstly, there is urgent need to assess the operations of the multi-national corporations especially on matters relating to capital flight from the continent through sinister and covetous economic activities such as tax evasion. Secondly, the so-called trading partners and the multi-lateral institutions should show strong commitment to curb the drain of economic resources from Africa.

In dissecting the current scramble for Africa, it is vitally important that we gain a thorough and clear understanding of the strands of dynamism that underpin this matter of continental and international interest and concern as well. After the dawn of independence, the Bretton Woods institutions saw it ideologically fit to build and develop the economic capacity of African countries by funneling financial resources in form of financial aid to them. Practically and realistically, foreign aid has remarkably failed to catapult the continent’s economic potential contrary to the initial expectations.

A closer look at the decision by these institutions to advance financial assistance to Africa needs to be made. The Bretton Woods institutions are controlled by the Western nations and so by them giving the financial assistance to Africa implies that they must get something in return. In short, they operate on a quid pro quo basis… there are no free things in this world that is highly enmeshed in capitalism. To an extent, the Bretton Woods institution could have been providing financial assistance to Africa with hidden intentions; to find a way to exploit the continent’s economic resources.

The emergence of China and other economies has necessitated a paradigm shift in terms of financial assistance and foreign aid to the African countries. The current foreign aid dispensation especially from the East doesn’t front for conditionalities, which is diametric from the old order championed by the Western nations. As a matter of fact, this policy of non-interference has also been fantastically dangerous for Africa as it has promoted the siphoning of economic resources from the continent.

The change in dynamics with respect to financial assistance in terms of embracing the mantra of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is fundamental for the economic growth and development of Africa. But unless there is a degree of near-proportionality and equality in the trade partnerships then our resources will be forever subjected to the predatory nature of the leading economies of the world. It is thus a great responsibility of Africa’s leadership to seize the moment and exercise bold leadership other than mortgaging the future of the world’s resource-rich continent through the talk shops.

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