Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Assertive Africa: Can it be ignored?

African Heads of State: How Serious are they on ICC?
THE "AFRICA RISING" narrative is now firmly embedded in our vocabulary. The continent appears set to introduce another narrative: “assertive Africa.” And since this assertiveness appears directed mainly at the West, it had better sit up and take note. 

But how serious, one might ask, is Africa’s new narrative; what is its potential impact on global economy and politics? What are the potential risks and gains of misunderstanding Africa’s assertiveness? Can Africa sustain it?

To answer these questions we may ask; what are the causes of Africa’s change of fortunes from a hopeless continent to a rising one?  The major causes are in house, such as good housekeeping, end of wars, expanding domestic demand due to the growth of the middle class. Of course good commodity prices have also played their part. But by and large the causes of the progress are home brewed.

There is a growing body of evidence that Africa has learnt to make the right decisions and implement them:  It has put its house in order; wars in Africa are receding and economic growth has taken root.  The results are summarized in the “narrative of Africa rising.”

Africa has transformed itself from a “hopeless Case” to a potential growth pole:  Owing to robust economic growth the per capita domestic revenue mobilization has risen to U$441 shrinking foreign aid to $41 per capita. The continent is lifting an estimated 15 million people out of poverty a year. This means that so far an estimated 90 million have been lifted out of poverty. At this rate of growth, an estimated 120 million people will join the middle class by 2017.Africa has learnt to choose the right friends and make the policy-choices and implement them.

This takes us to the issue of Africa’s assertiveness. The recent AU heads of state summit in which Africa unanimously took a stand against the International Criminal Court, could be a first volley. Africa   will no longer take dictates from anyone, seems to be the message. And the West had better read the signs correctly.

Surprisingly, the West, with all its expertise, cannot read the signs of the times and correctly analyse the potential impact on its interests.  For this reason the west is panting in a bid to catch up with developments in Africa.  A good example is the 1980 and 1990s when the West abandoned Africa after dragging it through the painful structural adjustment programmes.  Africa was branded “the hopeless continent,” and abandoned.  Did the West realize that “street urchins” are adept survivors?

Like a street-urchin, Africa learnt to fend for itself and searched for new friends.  Out of the horizon, China emerged as an economic powerhouse and befriended the already- independent -street-urchin. Africa had learnt to make the right decisions.

The West again bungled on understanding the impact this friendship had on its influence in Africa until China was deep inside Africa. Previously, Africa could do with a lot of aid, some trade and a little investment. But now the order has been reversed to more trade and investment and some little aid.  Here the West bungled again: Rather than matching dollar for dollar Chinese investment and trade in Africa, the West took the moral high road: Ranting against corruption, democracy and human rights.

In the meantime, China was busy selling affordable goods to Africa; winning infrastructure construction contracts that it completes on time and buying African produce. In effect, China was busy providing solutions to Africa’s needs as defined by the street urchin. The west on the other hand was busy sloganeering.
Now Africa is the fastest growing continent in the world and, experts say, it is likely to remain in that position over the next five years. A growth of 5-6 per cent is considered robust.  Consequently, Africa is a potential growth pole- a region whose growth will lead to growth in other regions. Africa’s investment pattern demonstrates that it has every intention of being a growth pole soon.

 The continent is investing heavily in transport and energy infrastructure for which there is a backlog, in order to eliminate the bottlenecks to industrialisation. The backlog is partly blamed on the West which for years tried to make “Africa the biggest charity project in the world,” says the Foreign policy Journal. They made promises which they never fulfilled. Now Africa is in a hurry to expand and modernise her Sea Ports; Airports, roads, Railways and power generation capacity in order to increase trade.

Has the west read the signs of the times correctly? Not yet. Let us start here; a potential growth pole is a likely to be assertive in global politics. It is expected to make demand s that potential partners must meet or shop elsewhere.

Here is where the ICC comes in. The biggest bloc of signatories to the Rome statutes is in Africa. If Africa rejects the Court, its chances of success will be limited. And Africa has indicated that it wants out. In the past, the West would use aid to blackmail Africa into signing unfavourable agreements. It is possible aid was used as a carrot to bully Africa into signing the Rome statutes. Now it wants out. Would the world allow it?

Africa has demonstrated its assertiveness by rejecting the New Economic Partnership Agreements, which were to replace the Lome agreements to trade. EPAs are now six years overdue and there is no sign they would be endorsed anytime soon.  The reason is simple: the Eurozone is no longer Africa’s leading market. Africa’s exports to the Eurozone have declined by 11 per cent down to 33 per cent from 37 per cent over the 2010-1012. This is understandable as the Eurozone is going through a hard time. On the other hand Intra Africa trade is growing, rising from 9 per cent in 2009 to 11 per cent in 2011.

Which leads us to the next point: Africa’s assertiveness is coming at the wrong time for the West. It needs all help it can get to remain afloat, and exporting to Africa is one way of remaining afloat, can it afford to slight Africa?
Here we are talking about Africa asking that the ICC cases be taken back to Africa and Europe saying no. Who shall blink first, Africa or Europe? Could the West be misreading Africa’s seriousness-again? Can it afford an African backlash? Can Africa itself afford a  western backlash?

Was the presidential resolution just an empty threat by pampered autocrats afraid that their turn is coming?  Can they do more than just pass resolutions? My advice to the west is: treat these signs seriously. It is your best bet. Remember, opportunities once lost are difficult to find. We hope you’ve learnt something from your past blunders.

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