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In praise of the latest Scramble for Africa

Edited by Admin
In praise of the latest Scramble for Africa

A group photograph of 43 African rulers (and a few leaders) who met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, at what was dubbed the “Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum,” tells the tragic story of our mentality of dependency and learnt weakness. The custodians of our continent’s coveted wealth travelled to see the man who wanted access to our resources!  It was akin to a bride’s parents going to the groom’s home to negotiate the bride price. Surely it should have been the other way around, with Putin travelling to Africa to meet with our rulers in our headquarters in Addis Ababa.


As a general rule, the host of negotiations tends to have a huge advantage over his guests.  That is just how the human mind works. After putting on a glitzy show in Sochi; after wining and dining the rulers on Russia’s best; after sweet-talking them about Russia being “ready to help without political or other considerations”; and after writing off $20 billion in debts that dated back to the days of the Soviet Union, Putin had the upper hand.  No surprise, then, that $12.5 billion dollars’ worth of  deals were signed in Sochi. Well, at least on paper. We shall have to wait and see whether or not those signatures turn into real investments.


I agree with Putin’s strategy, of course. Indeed, I was pleased to hear him being upfront about his intentions to advance Russia’s trade with Africa. Any serious ruler or leader always looks out for the interests of his realm. At $20 billion a year from its sales to Africa (Putin says it $40 billion), Russia lags way behind China’s $204 billion a year and the European Union’s $337 billion a year. Putin rightly wants to double Russian’s revenues from Africa over the next five years.


In his speech, Putin mentioned that Russia exported military weapons to Africa worth $15 billion a year. It is his goal to improve on this item, whose sole purpose is to help us kill each other more efficiently. For the convenience of the assembled rulers and their aides, there was a huge display of assorted weapons, including the latest editions of Africa’s favourite killer machine – the Kalashnikov assault rifle. Photos of African men and women caressing and holding the weapons summed up the great paradox of our continent. While the Russian ruler talks trade, our rulers and their enforcers longingly eye killer machines they need to keep themselves in power.


It is tempting to resent or blame Putin for exporting these awful things to Africa. But that would be wrong. The fault lies squarely on our shoulders. If we are foolish enough to want to continue on the course of self-destruction, including  using these weapons to keep our dictators and torturers in power because of the small crumbs they toss our way, why should Putin pass the opportunity to cash in on our foolishness?


Putin also mentioned that Russia exports agricultural food products to Africa worth $25 billion a year. How scandalous! Considering that 60 percent of the world’s arable land is in Africa, who should be exporting more food to whom?


Meanwhile, the noise of discomfort that we have heard in western capitals - our so-called traditional allies and partners – in response to China’s dominance of foreign investment and trade in Africa, is likely to increase following Putin’s show in Sochi. The idea that Africa belongs to Britain, France and their tribal relatives in North America is a fraud that ignores the struggles of men and women who gave their lives for our freedom.


We now expect to hear comment about Putin being an undemocratic autocrat with whom we should not be doing business. Odd that our “friends” in the West should say such things. First, they do business with Putin’s Russia. Second, they turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the cries of Africans who are held hostage by ruthless rulers. Third, Donald J. Trump’s racist description of what he called African shithole countries was a wakeup call for us to abandon the delusion of having traditional allies.


Trump’s real problem was not that he thought of us as shithole countries, but that his impulsive nature disallowed him to filter what other so-called traditional allies and friends probably agreed with. For all I know, the Russian rulers may share Trump’s view of Africa. Indeed racist attitudes and actions against Africans have been reported from Russia so often that we can assume that Trump has soulmates in Moscow and St. Petersburg.


However, it really doesn’t matter. We know that we are the exact opposite of what Trump’s racist mind thinks. And we know that business mus never be clouded with emotions. What we need is the confidence to stand with our heads high and do business with the world on our terms.


We have what the cash-rich world desperately needs. We need not be beggars. That is why I am glad to see Russia’s re-entry into the Scramble for Africa. I am all for competition among the empires – British, French, American, Chinese, Indian, Arabian and Russian – for trade and investment in Africa. As Africans, we should welcome any opportunity for expanded external trade and investment and turn it to our advantage.


We must not be content with the dollars, yuans, euros and rubles these empires offer in exchange for what we have in the ground and our waters. They need our resources as much as we need their technological knowledge and equipment. So, we must insist on knowledge transfer to enable us to exploit, refine utilize and export finished products from Africa. Value-addition must cease to be rhetoric and become reality over the next decade.


I look forward to the day that Africa has leaders who can invite the top political and business leaders of the cash-rich world to Addis Ababa or any other African capital for a summit organized, funded and run by us, to talk about fair trade and investment terms and opportunities that do not give away our resources at discounted prices. It is our continent, for God’s sake. The business of America, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia having spheres of influence in Africa must give way to African people having the biggest influence in Africa.


It may sound like a pipedream at the moment. However, it is an achievable one if Africa focuses on getting a critical mass of leaders, not rulers – men and women with the capacity to galvanize their people towards true independence in a just society where meritocracy rules. African people have the intellectual ability to  excel and transform our continent, just like others have done to theirs. We just need the leadership to get us there.





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