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Interview « Africa first … but not alone »

For Denis O. Mezui, Executive Secretary of the Think Tank Build Africa Network, US-African relations must be strengthened, Africa must break with an attitude too naive in the past to promote unity, according to a single creed: « Africa first, but not alone ».

Interviewed by DBM 

How do you think US-Africa relations should evolve under Donald Trump’s mandate?

US-Africa trade, which represents only 0.94% of its trade with the rest of the world, against 3.9% between Europe and Africa could, under Trump’s mandate, intensify and accelerate, in particular, with Paul Kagame, scrambled with France, at the head of the African Union. And for good reason, though the man from Kigali is more reserved, he seems to share with his American counterpart outspokenness, pragmatism, the need to see results, the sense of priorities, thus auguring a revitalization of trade.

Moreover, the « America First does not mean America alone. », taken by Trump in Davos, opens this prospect as well as the Africa-US trade forum in Lomé in August 2017, where the American part reassured: the Trump administration will not call into question the trade agreement mechanism under Agoa.

About the condition of a radical change in approach: « Africa First »?

If Africa remains naive, it could still be wrong, this time! That she does not imagine that the « global shift » in progress will be naturally in her favor, without efforts. Its priority at the regional level must be the building of a stronger and credible African Union, and its creed should be: « Africa first, but not alone ». The political influence and economic importance of Africa have not changed much; it has struggled to make herself heard because it does not yet speak with the same voice; it has not yet figured out how to play its role in the global economic environment; with its historical partners from the West, especially Europe and the US, and now with those from Asia. At the political level, the African Union is not yet this strong institution so dreamed to unite the continent and make its voice heard. And economically, the continent still accounts for less than 3% of world trade with 17% of the global population, while in the early 1960s it accounted for 14% of trade and its population was just 9% of the world’s population.

As such, the Americans cannot miss the African rush, the continent of the latest growth…

Although in the West the international vision of the world adapts itself to the great world changes, that it has of Africa, of their relations, seems not to have much changed, and this, since the first time the settlers have crossed the African coast in search of raw materials and free labor. On the other hand, what has changed so far is the way the vision is carried out across the continent by those who succeed each other in power in France and the USA, and this is the way Africa is now described: it has passed from the hopeless continent to unlimited land opportunities! But this description itself is still underpinned by the idea that either Africa is a « universal heritage », a no-man’s land where the West can come to draw whatever it wants, when it wants; or that of thinking that Africa belongs to the West because it was discovered and « civilized » by the latter. The major issue, if we are not careful, is that the history of colonization or neo-colonization is repeated and continues, as the continent has become a land to be reclaimed. The re-conquest is under a new face: neocolonialism; it goes through tactical or strategic alliances that divide and make difficult the agenda of a strong African Union and a prosperous and truly-independent Africa. We would like to say like Aimé-Césaire that: « the misfortune of Africa is to have met France », but it would perhaps be more accurate to say that his misfortune is to have met the West, to have believed in it, in its friendship, in its good words!

Yet, in your opinion, would there be a convergence of interests between “America First and Africa First”?

As the West’s global vision on Africa has not changed much, the attitude of the former is still marked by the same condescension as yesterday, as illustrated by Emmanuel Macron’s recent speeches in Ouagadougou and Accra and that of Donald Trump dealing with shitty African countries. The two presidents, with two different visions and styles, however, have the same basic philosophy, crucial for economic and social model in Western society: the interests first! This implies that Africa must review the percept sometimes naive enough it has from the North, and from its relations with it as there are only interests between the States, as General De Gaulle reminded us in repeating the words of Lord Palmerston. « England has no friends or permanent enemies; it has only permanent interests ». It’s about sharing shares in a now global market; working together to address common challenges to collectively improve the human conditions through sharing science and technology; that the North is finally a stakeholder in the great human adventure in which we live, to conceive together a new world, a little more equitable and prosperous for the bulk of the population. This would help establish perhaps, the friendship Africa has hoped so much and expected to have in return, after opening its arms to welcome its first visitors in the fifteenth century.

Africa is therefore at a turning point, according to you it now at a good position, but are the African leaders aware of that?

Closely, history still seems to want to be repeated. Today, there are enough serious, concise and concordant elements showing that if nothing concrete is done by Africa to change the nature of its relations and the importance of its North-South trade, this will only result in ashes and damage. It must absolutely reinvent itself to achieve its cultural, scientific and economic Renaissance, to increase its influence and hope to change the balance of power that keeps it still under the domination of the rest of the world in political and economic areas; to better benefit from the prosperity and growth of the global economy, to change the way it is still perceived by its northern partners. North-South power relations will not change at the instigation of the North. If they must evolve, change, reinvent themselves, in the sense of justice, respect for human dignity and peoples, more equitable sharing of wealth and growth, this will be done first under the impetus of Africans themselves. This impulse must be implemented through the development of a new African perception of the world (Africa first, Made In Africa, etc.), a real desire for change, courageous resolutions and finally, by strong and concrete actions across the continent. So Trump is right, when he says: « I will always put America first, just as leaders of other countries should put their countries first ». This sentence should challenge and inspire African political leaders. One of the first actions to be implemented is to build a strong AU, no longer financed by the international partners (73.79%, source: guide of the African Union 2017), but by Africa itself. This will be the first strong signal of an Africa that now wants to be respected.

It is therefore a battle of image. Can the Black Panthers movie contribute to this and to what extent?

Though there has been some progress, Africa still mainly exports raw materials. With the exception of a few countries, it is still a large plantation and an open pit quarry, and not one of the world’s factories. It is still under this prism that it is seen by the North with the only difference that today, the emerging class of its population, more than before, attracts the multinationals. Unfortunately, many of them are the other arms of neocolonialism and have therefore helped block alternations, to fund and support strong regimes to the detriment of the people. And as if that were not enough, for profit reasons, they no longer comply with the primary quality and service standards, which brought little respect they could still hope from the population. When they dare to remind them, as is the case with Veolia in Gabon, they tend to show condescension, contempt, cry scandal and rise to the crenel to treat all the names the regimes they have supported

Unfortunately for them and that they change their minds, the Black Panthers are now watching over the city. The Blacks Panthers are, in fact, the new generation of Africans, ready to enforce their rights, denounce whenever necessary, any attitude in North-South relations and disputes. They know that neocolonialism goes and is maintained by Western multinationals as well. The latter will now be appreciated at their fair values and will only report to governments. The consumers, themselves, will be the evaluators of quality and performance; they know their power. If these companies create value so much the better, if they destroy then too bad for them. The Blacks Panthers include the well trained and talented new generation, who can take things in hand and make the difference. Neocolonialism will fight only at the root at the diplomatic and political levels; it will be tracked along its value chain, to companies. Finally! The era of blacks Panthers has arrived…

Interview by DBM

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