Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Africa resurgent?

Egypt rekindled its special relationship with its neighbours at this week’s African Union Summit, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Africa has long broken free of the shackles of colonialism. Political independence was constrained by economic dependence on the former colonial powers, in short, neo-colonialism, making African governments in some cases obliged to rely on the West. However, this may no longer be the case.

The 24th African Union Summit met this week in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the theme being Women’s Empowerment and African Development for the Concretisation of Agenda 2063. While the summit was like many others before it, there were also signs that African leaders are attempting to liberate their compatriots from the intellectual prison of the conventional wisdom of neo-colonialism.

African people have reason to be frustrated by the slow pace at which African politicians have embarked on the fight to end Ebola, poverty, terrorism, unemployment and underdevelopment across the continent. Recently there have been uncertainties over the the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. And the involvement of the United States has become a prerequisite for the resolution of African crises.

Indeed, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Nigeria immediately after his stopover in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, and dictated his views on Boko Haram and other matters to the Nigerian political establishment. The general elections must go ahead as scheduled on 14 February, he said.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, with more than 170 million people, is the key to the continent’s future. The Nigerian economy is the largest in Africa, superseding the South African economy as the locomotive of West Africa. And Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and retired General Muhammadu Buhari, political rivals, will have understood this week that Washington wants to see political stability in their country.

On the sidelines of this week’s summit, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his main political rival, Riek Machar, also decided to mend fences. Again, it was Washington that insisted that the two rival leaders come to an understanding.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was obliged to cut his trip short to return to Egypt to deal with the security situation in the country. The war against terrorism also topped the political agenda at the summit, the burden falling heavily on African leaders to tackle terrorism and in particular militant Islamist terrorism.

Elsewhere at the summit there were some inspiring interventions, among them the briefing on Mali and the Sahel by Pierre Buyoya, AU high representative for Mali and the Sahel. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, bête noire of many Western powers, was elected chair of the AU and promptly met with officials and staff of the AU Commission.

“Let us see programmes and projects emanating from the commission fully implemented thanks to your commitment and fighting spirit with a view to ensuring that mother Africa is developed,” Mugabe said. “The AU must demonstrate that Africa is more united than ever before, a self-sufficient continent where illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and hunger are alleviated.

“Africa is for Africans. Governments should make sure that African resources benefit African people,” he said.

The chairperson of the AU Commission, Nkozana Dlamini-Zuma, is a methodical leader who speaks her mind. She praised Mugabe as “the custodian of what Zimbabwe is.” Mugabe was “a defender of women’s rights,” she said. Whatever the West thinks of his politics, domestic and foreign, Mugabe has done public service in African eyes, and his election came “at the right time” for the continent, she said.

The president of the AU staff association, Salah Hammad, spoke highly of the redoubtable Zimbabwean chairperson. “The commission is counting on the political support of the new AU chairperson to implement the critical projects of the commission,” he said.

Many of the themes dealt with at the AU Summit had already been touched on at the earlier 23rd Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. But the leaders assembled in Addis Ababa for the summit were more forthright, with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil Al-Araby delivering a speech extolling African-Arab cooperation.

President Al-Sisi reiterated his commitment to the rekindling of Egypt’s special relationship with its African neighbours and not just the Nile Basin nations. Egypt must find its rightful place in Africa, he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also reiterated his people’s solidarity with the African people. He paid tribute to the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, noting the monarch’s largesse in Africa, and not only in Muslim Africa. He expressed the hope that Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, will continue the tradition of assisting both Palestine and Africa.

The Cost of Hunger Study in Africa (COHA), a project of the Union Commission and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), was presented at the summit. COHA is also supported by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Africa is the least developed and most impoverished continent in the world, and it is the continent where the largest numbers of malnourished people live. A growing number of policy-makers across the continent see alleviating hunger as a top priority, since hunger and malnutrition kill more African women and children than Ebola, malaria, yellow fever, tuberculosis and a host of other diseases combined.

The COHA study was first presented to African ministers of finance, planning and economic development some years ago. It was reviewed at this year’s summit in the light of news that recommendations are currently being carried out in 12 countries, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Rwanda, Swaziland and Uganda.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also participated in the AU Summit, reminding delegates of the target date of the millennium development goals and the negotiation of the set of sustainable development goals that will replace them. “No continent has more at stake in these negotiations than Africa,” he said.

If Africa does not absolve itself of its neo-colonial status, many Africans will be caught wrong-footed for generations to come.

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