Alimamy Turay: Sierra Leone telegraph: 10 September 2018:
As if by coincidence, as China was preparing to hold the third summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), on the 3rd and 4th September 2018, the two political darlings of Europe, Angela Merkel of Germany, and Theresa May of Britain, were paying extensive visits to the African continent.
The German chancellor’s three-day visit which began on the 29 August 2018, spanned from Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria; as she highlighted the same message that the mass exodus of human capital from Africa – especially West Africa – to Europe, can be curtailed if immigrants can realize their dreams from source – by basically providing the necessary investment in Africa and consequently discourage the need to take up the arduous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
For the British Premier, her government facing the prospects of a disastrous ‘divorce’ settlement from the European Union (EU), she is opened to any viable business opportunities that could offset any impending economic ‘bump’ as she steers her country away from Europe.
Theresa May ended her two-way visit in Kenya on 30th August 2018, after transiting in Cape town, South Africa. In both countries, she committed Britain to huge increase in investment in Africa pro-Brexit era.
Other industrial giants such as France and the US, are also echoing their intentions to establish or strength existing partnerships with Africa in various areas including, direct investment, security and the fight against radicalisation and extremism, and cooperation in tackling corruption.
With such a windfall of opportunities, how is Africa going to maximise benefit this time round?
Is Africa going to try and secure a level playing field and strike partnerships that are on equal footing with their former colonialists? Or, is Africa going to succumb to the usual dictates of the Western World?
At the end of the Second World War in 1947, European holdings in Africa were disrupted by “the roots of African Independence Movements” that spread across the continent. “Skilled speakers such as Kwame Nkrumah in the Gold Coast, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, and Leopold Senghor in Senegal, led independence movements in their countries.
Such political pressure was enough to win independence in the British colonies that became Nigeria and Ghana, and in France’s many West African colonies”.
By the early 1960s, the growing pan-African movements across the continent led to most of the African nations regain their sovereignty with minimal resistance and casualties. Sierra Leone celebrated its independence in April 1961.
This outcry for justice, equal rights, and a fair distribution of the ‘pie’ manifested in the US in the form of the civil rights movement. The most notable figure here is undoubtedly the African-American Baptist minister and activist Martin Luther King Jr. This ferocious spokesperson had a dream: that “… one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood “.
Another great advocate and activist in that part of the word was African-American Muslim minister Malcolm X; whose activities many believe were overshadowed by the tragic death of Dr King in 1968. Malcolm X believes that “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”. Like Dr King, Malcolm X was assassinated, in 1965.
This idea of interacting with the African on a level platform was never envisaged by the imperialists prior to the struggle for African Independence. Impulsively, there was a kind resentment by Europeans toward Africa.
Africa was apparently becoming a strong negotiator in running its own affairs. And in future, Africa will be doing business with Europe … with all its available wealth.
In an effort to punish Africa, the colonialists withdrew their intellectual property, machinery and money capital from Africa and transferred these development pillars to South-East Asia. All of a sudden Africa did not know where it was going or coming from.
The interaction between Africa and Europe (including the US) was an arm’s length affair. ‘Aid’ became the norm. Africa was facing marginalization.
It was the ‘turning point’ for Africa.
This period saw the volatility of currencies across the continent – with most currencies, especially the African franc, experiencing free-falls. The incidence of unprecedented high unemployment was prevalent all over the continent.
Coup d’états became a commonplace; and there were civil wars everywhere. Corruption became a means to subsistence and this habit was practiced by all sections of society.
Consequently, this triggered the start of the mass exodus of human capital from Africa to Europe and America; a situation reminiscent of the slave trade, though this time the black man is voluntarily bargaining his labour service, in return for a ‘better life’.
On the other hand, the shift of capital (intellectual, machinery, money) from Africa to South-East Asia, was welcomed with both hands by these nations; but without changing their cultural values, governance, and economic objectives. They – the South-East Asians including, China, Japan, South Korea, etc – acquired all the technological know-how without any significant change in their identity.
Today, the capital deficiency in Africa, instilled by colonisers, has been steadily replaced by China – a nation that was almost at par with Africa before (Africa’s) independence.
With its Belt Road Initiative (BRI), the Chinese seek “to expand maritime routes and land infrastructure networks connecting China with Asia, Africa, and Europe, boosting trade and economic growth” around the world.
Overall, capital mobilization to Africa by China, though still lags western powers, is currently to the tune of US$40 billion. The US at the top with US$57 billion, and Britain and France featuring strongly at US$55 billion and US$49 billion respectively.
Undoubtedly, although the West treated Africa in ad hoc basis, they never lost the insight of Africa’s potential as an important player in the world; considering its vast natural resources, geographic position, and climatic conditions.
Global trends are gradually creating a macroeconomically linked economy across the world. Now the US would just have to sneeze, and Iran or Turkey would catch flu. The US currency is virtually the common denominator of all currencies in the world.
Thus, in a perfect competition, the cost of production is the only variable that can be manipulated (lowered) in order to maximise profit – as sale price is constant throughout the market.
In this regard, one would be tempted to ask the question: where else in the world that can boast of cheaper labour (production cost) than in Africa?
Is this revisit to Africa by the old colonial friends, coincidental?
Notwithstanding, there is a strong contender in this love affair with Africa. The new player, the Chinese, come with different chat lines that demonstrate a desire to build a “closer China-Africa community with a shared future” and that this promise is made without “the intention to impose its will on African countries”.
Evidently, the Chinese have matched their words by participating actively in various peacekeeping activities across the continent – working side-by-side with their African “brothers”.
Among the five permanent members of the UN security council, China has become the biggest contributor to peacekeeping mission. And it is symbolic that China’s first military base overseas was built in Djibouti, Africa.
All over Africa there is the presence of Chinese capital. And recently, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has ‘flashed’ another US$60 billion to assist in future development of the continent – with a promise of more to come.
After about 70 years of ‘separation’ from the continent, Europe and the US are coming back to ‘flirt’ with Africa – though, this time, with varying objectives.
For Angela Merkel and Europe, direct investment in West Africa is crucial, if Europe is to reduce the influx of immigrants making die hard journeys to Europe.
Theresa May and Britain have no clear alternative, but to start speculating for suitable business partner, as Britain continues with the divorce wrangling with Europe – Brexit.
Perhaps the Americans are in this love tangle in an attempt to keep stalk of the rapid spread of China’s tentacles on Africa.
At a time when political dogmas are gradually replacing religious beliefs, what is the fate of Africa as it prepares to entertain Socialism and Capitalism, and probably Liberalism.
Is Africa going to be subjected to fighting ideological proxy wars?
For Africa and the West, it is like having a girlfriend who outsmarted you the last time round; now she’s come back, are you going to let her outsmart you this time?
Most importantly, how is Africa going to welcome and utilise the potential influx of capital into the continent, in this scenario?