The US-Africa summit will serve the interests of many but ultimately not the African people. The themes of the summit are centred around investment and business which is nothing more than the continued exploitation of Africa for external beneficiaries
Lots of questions came to my mind. What’s the importance of the “The US-Africa Summit”? From whose perspective shall we measure its relevance? From the US leaders’ perspective (especially President Obama)? From African leaders’ perspective? From US citizens’ perspective? Or, from African citizens’ perspective?
From my point of view, it is an emblematical event for the legacy of President Obama. Probably he is using this initiative as one of the lasting image of his tenure. As a political leader, it is normal and well accepted to make an effort to leave behind a signature that will make the leader memorable after his leadership.
AFRICAN LEADERS ARE EXPERIENCED HUSTLERS
From the African leaders’ perspective, I really don’t think that they have a lot to do in the summit than to be “esteemed guests of honour” and keeping on the business as usual. The blurred and unclearly defined issues such as sustainable development, democracy, accountability, peace and security, good governance, climate change, trade, investment and partnership will remain to decorate the newly discovered “Africa is rising” rhetoric. They are well experienced in doing this in various African Union Summits and also in Istanbul, Delhi, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo and Brussels. Now, it’s time to do it across the Atlantic in Washington D.C. The trend suggests that there might be a similar big event which may gather the 50 plus African leaders in Rio, sometime soon. So, I honestly do not expect anything more than a ceremonial performance.
However, I remain baffled with the mentality of African leaders. It is a bit unsettling to see how they flock to the capitals of other countries in such great number whereas most of them remain reluctant to attend African Union Summits. It is unfair to expect some level of respect for the continental institution by others if it is not given the minimum level of honour by its own members. I will certainly count the number of African leaders coming to the next AU Summit in January 2015, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I wonder when is the time for the African Union to be the representative of African states and citizens. After more than a decade long effort of laying the foundation to establish a strong and united continental institution by the same leaders, it is disappointing to see that they themselves do not give the credit for the AU in every context.
I do not think I am in the right position to comment on the relevance of the Summit from the US Citizens’ perspective. So let me not get carried away by my very critical view about the most unrepresentative politics of the country which considers itself as the ‘beacon of democracy’.
THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF AFRICA’S YOUTH
My primary focus is to look at the relevance of the Summit from the eyes of the African citizens’, particularly the African youth citizens. Recent studies by the World Bank and Mo Ibrahim Foundation provide remarkable statistical information about the current status of African youth which can inform possible policy frameworks in every aspects of society. It is argued that between the years 2015-2035, there will be more than half a million 15 years old Africans, as each year passes by. With this trend, in less than three generations 41 percent of the world’s young population will be an African and the continent will have a larger labour force than China in two decades time.
Interpreting this factual information into the present daily lives of African youth can be a challenging endeavour mainly because it is easy to make crude generalizations. This is true particularly in a context where the mainstream academic, political and policy perspectives are dominated by a view that puts the youth in the uncertain future and the yet to be achieved status of becoming. Alcinda Honwana’s term of Waithood is worth mentioning here. Youth in general and African youth in particular are struggling to make their presence felt and to determine both the course and destination of their lives’ journeys because of the waithood status society puts them. Their marginal position shifts to the center only during violent political struggles as foot-soldiers of civil wars or election related violence. Often times they are presented as “tomorrow’s leader and as people not matured enough to make decisions by themselves” mainly by their political leaders and also as “a huge human resource” that can quench the profit seeking mentality of foreign investors from every corner of the world.
The Young Africans Leadership Initiative (YALI) was launched by the Obama administration to include the issues of youth within the US-Africa Summit context. Reportedly, YALI brought nearly 500 African youth leaders from Africa to participate in skills development trainings on various socio-economic and political endeavours. It is a remarkable initiative and a good opportunity for many African young people. However, there is still a bigger context that needs deeper reflection and analysis. I would like to paint this bigger context in line with the three themes of the Leaders Sessions.
SESSION I: “INVESTING IN AFRICA’S FUTURE”
This is a rephrasing of the “Africa Rising” rhetoric which is a very narrow presentation of the African context dominated by the profit seeking business relation. Historically speaking, there has been an “investment” into “Africa’s future” probably for the last 500 plus years. Of course the nature of the investment has been changing according to the time to ensure its political correctness as deemed necessary. The inhuman slave traders invested in Africa to lay the foundations of the present unequal global political economy relation, the settler colonizers also invested in Africa to establish a system that serve their economic and political dominance. For the last few decades, the investment has been done within the pretext of development (trade, FDI, SAPs, ODA, good governance and democracy …etc.) The common thread that runs through all these engagements and “investments” is the presentation of Africa as a fertile ground just waiting to be ploughed, or a ripe fruit ready to be picked.
These historical relations which contributed to the structural global inequality that puts Africa at the center will never be raised and discussed. If we are really concerned about “Africa’s future”, let’s talk how we can stop American based companies that are plundering the resources from Africa, let’s deal with the contribution of American business and political leaders role in the 50 billion dollar that Africa is losing every year through illicit financial flows. The recent study by Oxfam argued that the world’s 85 richest people have a wealth that equals the total wealth of three and half billion people of the world. If the genuine concern is “Africa’s future”, let’s find out how many of these are exploiting the natural resources of Africa, benefiting from the failed political process of countries like DRC, cuddling with greedy, opportunist politicians and warlords to make their fortune and deal with them in the name of justice & equality.
SESSION II: “PEACE AND REGIONAL STABILITY”
Peace and regional stability cannot be achieved separately unless it is approached within a broader political and developmental framework that tackles the root causes, symptoms and consequences of violence and conflict. There is a great lesson from the “Cold War” period which in fact was not really cold in the African context, rather hot and bloody - that the American foreign policy does not consider the will of African citizens when it establishes military cooperation with African governments. The case of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak and the multi-billion dollar military assistance is a good example. Tying the agenda of peace with a narrowly defined agenda of militarization (through the AFRICOM base in Djibouti), and disregarding the politics at each and every level of decision making, resource allocation and power structure is a very short sighted approach.
SESSION III: “GOVERNING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION”
This theme is a bit confusing. It gives me two different meanings, albeit not necessarily contradictory. It seems that the objective of the theme is within the context of the dominant definition of sustainable development where the needs of the next generation is given due consideration while pursuing present developmental objectives. On the other hand, it seems that the focus of the agenda is mainly on the today’s young generation with the intention of making the process of governance conducive to their interests and expectations. In line with the second scenario which takes the next generation as equivalent to the young generation, I have the following comments.
Within the present African context, statistics shows that the median age of African leaders is three times higher than the median age of African population. This is a simple example of showing the power imbalance in Africa, particularly generation wise. We have regimes that are more than quarter a century old that favour kleptocracy, clientelist socio-political relations and systems that deny the civil, political and social rights of today’s young generation. The number of young people that are fleeing their countries escaping political intimidation, structural and physical violence, the number of young people that are denied of the basic human rights of freedom of speech, thought and expression is staggering. While the young Africa generation are negotiating and pushing for a political space to influence the political processes to meet their interests, the theme of the agenda remained caged into the mentality of doing things on behalf of them. The theme “Governing for the next generation” shows the patronizing mentality of the current leaders and decision makers who consider themselves more knowledgeable and capable of addressing the challenges of today’s young generations than the youth themselves.
In conclusion, I think the US-Africa Summit is more rewarding and successful from the legacy point of view for President Obama’s administration. Since African leaders are very good at failing to address the pressing issues of African citizens both at their own meetings and conferences organized by others, this summit will remain a business as usual for them. It still signifies the fact that they still prefer to dance to the tunes of others and go as 50 delegates plus the African Union Chairperson, than to show their determination to present a united Africa, at least as a gesture. Theme wise, I certainly believe that the core factors that contribute to Africa’s socio-economic and political problems will be sacrificed for the sake of the profit-seeking mentality that present Africa as nothing but a buffet full of food. In this process, the interests, capacities and expectations of African youth that constitute a significant majority and yet marginalized will remain loosely incorporated mainly to ensure both political correctness and strategic acceptance.
*Eyob Balcha Gebremariam blogs at www.eyobafrikawi.blogspot.com
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