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Is Africa waking or being woken up?

Is it again the famous story of the scramble for Africa — the refuge of God’s messengers according to scriptures; origin of civilizing (paper) papyrus, once-upon-a-time demonized as the Dark Continent; source of gold, ivory and disgraceful slavery and their accompanying historic routes; object of colonizers and now practically the world’s only remaining leading and promising nature-based tourism, trade and investment destination?

About seven decades on the independence road in respect of many African countries, the continent has become a hot cake again, even to non-colonizers. The catchword or catch line, as it is called in the media circles, is the “Summit” –the latest in the series being the UK-Africa Summit– hosted by the United Kingdom or better contextually put, by Britain breathing the Brexit air.  Earlier versions include China-Africa Summit, India-Africa Summit, Japan-Africa Summit, Korea-Africa Summit, Russia-Africa Summit and US-Africa Summit.

“We in the UK have a vital job of continuing to convince people across the continent that we’re just not a great friend and ally, a reliable ally, but also the people you should be doing business with,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told 21 African Heads of State at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, also attended by financiers, trade envoys and investors in London. 

Tagged “UK-Africa Investment Summit 2020—Great Partnership”, this Summit also heard Britain’s International Development Secretary, Alok Sharma, declare: “We have much to offer African nations…UK aid is tackling climate change and supporting women entrepreneurs, our tech and digital expertise  is helping Africa grow new industries and the City of London is channeling billions of private investment into Africa.” During the Summit, UK announced commercial deals worth GB Pound Sterling 6.5 billion ($ 8.6 billion).

For the UK, this first Summit targeting Africa was definitely not a shot in the dark; but rather timely as it was likewise tactful. It was held during countdown time to UK’s zero hour for setting the first foot on the eleven-month long leg of negotiations sealing the country’s exit from the European Union (EU).

Until then, the EU made trade negotiations for UK.  And on the score board, the reading was Britain’s export trade performance in terms Africa being below that of other EU member countries. Available EU data reveal that, for example, in the year 2018, UK exports to the continent stood at about $ 10 billion mark. It was also less than comparative figures for other EU members such as Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.  

Reading between the lines, one cannot rule out the possibility of EU not having been very enthusiastic about negotiations on behalf of the UK. From a critique point of view, one cannot avoid questioning even Great Britain’s level of EU commitment. Forty-seven marching along with fellow Europeans based on the mainland, the British Isles have failed to go that extra mile to adopt the use of the Euro. They stuck to their Pound Sterling and with it they are quitting Brussels back to London. 

For the majority of the African countries, of course whether UK is an EU member or not should not matter very much. After all, trade between Africa and the EU, strictly speaking, is between individual countries on either side of the continents. This is why even before the 2300GMT Friday Brexit timeline, UK had already re-set the very EU trading protocols with 11 African countries, accounting for 43% of the British total business with the continent.

So, for Africa, with or without Brexit or Summits – their sizes notwithstanding—the point at issue is whether the continent is waking or being woken up to global realities of the day. What are African leaders doing? Do they realize the place of the continent on the world map? Or do they look at it and get contented that Europe sits on top Africa?  Don’t they realize that every where is the centre of the world? How do they derive peripheral ideas, forsaking the real interests of their people?

I have just one related example. That is the “Made in Russia Sochi Summit.”  Forty-three African Heads of State could not afford to miss out. But what was on display? Military hardware! With high courtesy (and respect?) host President Vladimir Putin revealed having signed military agreements with 34 countries alongside deals for military helicopters, jets and armoured vehicles. 

He touted military aid and economic projects putting the level of Russian trade with Africa doubling in five years to $20billion and hinting the story could repeat itself in another five years. Russia is Africa’s largest arms supplier.

African nations account for 40% of the export orders with combat jets, gunships, BUK missiles and S-300 surface-to-air missile systems accounting for 80% of the purchases. He was quoted as saying that some of the supplies will be dealt with on a ‘free-of-charge basis’, which is very highly questionable because there is no free lunch in business. Moscow has also struck deals for provision of military expertise and training.

Putin sort of calibrated the full bait for African countries by going into areas such as joint efforts “to combat extremism by exchanging information between security agencies.” Heaven knows what African security agencies can exchange with the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation under the leadership of former KGB boss now holding top powers at the Kremlin. 

Africa must wake up to its reality.  It is a continent, home to 1.2 billion people, expected to hit a 2.5 billion mark by 2050. Africa has a rising middle class. Africa is a whole big opportunity for investment. It is also a big market constituting a continental free trade area worth $ 3.3 trillion. 

Continental economies are growing faster than global rates. Figures reveal a projected rise of from 3.4% in 2019 to 3.9% in 2020 and 4.1% in 2021. All in all, 20 countries are expected to achieve growth rates of between 3-5% and above. 

Some stories about African development are inconceivable.  Six African economies are among the world’s ten fastest growing.  These are Rwanda (8.7%), Cote d’Ivoire (7.4%), Ethiopia (7.4%), Ghana (7.1%), Tanzania (6.8%) and Benin (6.7%).  East Africa is Africa’s fastest growing region at 5%, followed by North Africa (4.1%), West Africa (3.7%), Central Africa (3.2%) and Southern Africa (0.7%).  

Natural disasters aside, Africa must appreciate the increasing problem of insecurity, which cannot be addressed by big arms spending. Africa needs budget allocations to training its children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Thanks to the intervention of the African Development Bank (AfDB), start has already been made on establishing centres of excellence such as the Mandela Institute of Science and Technology based at Arusha – nicknamed the Geneva of Africa – in Tanzania.

African leaders must not ignore the need to expand education at all levels and put in place a system that makes sense by producing relevant skills for the labour market. The only reasonable reason behind any production is consumption – the market. 

Finally, if Africa wants beneficial trade for its people, the formula is clear. Trade, like charity, begins at home. How do African leaders fail to see the continent’s market potential until the Russians, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Americans and Koreans not only come in but also summon them to their countries? Africa must wake up. It must not wait to be woken up.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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