AU leaders met on Sunday in Addis Ababa for the first post-Gaddafi summit
and stuck to commerce as opposed to politics, notes
AU%20code> Gamal Nkrumah
The concept of Intra-African Trade has to be viewed alongside a slew of
basics facts of the realities of African economies. It also has to be judged
within the context of the continent's struggle against the gerrymandering of
the World Economic Order. Africa is an immense continent, the second
largest, only surpassed in landmass and population by Asia. Moreover, there
is a gold rush mood in Africa.
The People's Republic of China appears to be the one country that seems to
be in the best position to cash in on the new African bonanza. However, if
China truly wants to assist Africa and develop its markets, Chinese
politicians must understand that the continent is not what it used to be.
Take Senegal of instance. The country was once seen as being among the most
democratic and politically stable on the continent. Paradoxically for a
president so visceral in his hostility to the authoritarianism and nepotism
of his predecessors, Senegalese President Abdullah Wade's version of
democracy is one that would surely win plaudits from the Arab autocrats
ousted by the Arab Spring.
The political troubles of a small West African nation can be a harbinger of
bigger dangers around the corner from African giants such as Nigeria, God
Higher oil prices enable the Nigerian government to proceed with the
politically sensitive reduction of lavish fuel subsidies for the general
public. But that did not stop nationwide protests.
Wade's journey from progressive Pan-Africanist to a president accused of
nepotism sounds the alarm bells. After two terms in office, the 86 years old
Wade wants an extended three years period in office in order to groom his
son Karim for the presidency. But is Karim ready for political office? In
the 2009 local elections, the president's son ran for mayor of the
Senegalese capital Dakar and lost -- sending a powerful message about the
vibrancy of Senegalese democracy.
The Senegalese, like other Africans, are more interested in politics over
personalities. And like Egyptians, they have no use for dynasties. Yet, in
Senegal the authority of the courts has been restricted and the judiciary
subjected to closer political supervision.
The Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour wanted to run for the highest office
in the land, and yet the Supreme Court ruled that N'Dour was not eligible
for running for the presidency. His supporters took to the streets of Dakar
and scores were injured and a policeman killed in the rioting that ensued.
N'Dour plays to people's hopes and aspirations. Wade's government promptly
changed the constitutional ruling stipulating that presidents can only serve
two six-year terms in office. The court ruled that Wade could run for a
third term in office in the next election scheduled for 26 February.
Nigeria, like Senegal, has been precariously balanced on a knife's edge. But
Nigeria's problems are of a much bigger and more complex scale. Senegal is
now shining a light on the political risks of economic ruin. Senegalese
youth are clamouring, risking life and limb, to cross the Sahara and the
Atlantic Ocean to reach the shores of Europe. Senegal should serve as a
warning signal to other West African democracies.
Then there are Africa's perennial problems of civil wars and border
disputes. Some would-be autocrats are taking full advantage of the mayhem
and chaotic lawlessness.
It is tempting but wrong to write off the diplomatic endeavours aimed at
breaking the deadlock of some of these power struggles by the AU. This
week's AU summit in Addis Ababa might have marked a change in this
Which brings us back to Beijing. The historic inauguration on 28 January
2012 of the spanking new high-rise AU headquarters in Addis Ababa built and
donated by China symbolised the prestige of the People's Republic on the
continent and the economic clout it commands.
So far the response to Chinese economic hegemony over Africa has been muted,
at least on the official level. The new Chinese-built building towering over
the Ethiopian capital cost $200 million. Beijing foots the bill so few
African leaders complained. Few AU heads of state and government have made
public their dismay. The 54-nation continental organisation has on the
contrary welcomed China in its midst.
Gaddafi is no longer the star of the African show. Beijing is now in the
spotlight. Jia Qinglin, chairman of China's political advisory body, the
People's Political Consultative Conference was guest of honour in Addis
The question of timing is trickier for Beijing. Although the line between
politics and economics has been blurring by decades of neo-colonialism in
Africa, the trend has gathered pace, thanks in large measure to China. If
African leaders liked what they heard from Jia Qinglin, they will get a
chance to hear more of the same from even more senior Chinese officials.
Against this backdrop, the commercial success of Beijing's diplomatic foray
into Africa has a certain logic to it. A vital principle is at stake: there
are no strings attached to China's friendship with Africa.
The uncharacteristically bold political pronouncement by United Nations
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on discrimination based on sexual orientation
at the AU summit in Addis Ababa, in sharp contrast, fell on deaf ears. This
was the first time the prickly topic was raised and many listeners were not
amused. "Confronting this discrimination is a challenge. But we must live up
to the ideals of the Universal Declaration," the UN secretary-general said
knowing all too well that the topic is taboo in Africa.
Ban's pro-gay statement will change few minds on that score. Still, as
Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi succeeded his Equatorial Guinean
counterpart Teodoro Obiang Nguema -- two of the tiniest nations of the
continent, neither one expressed outrage at Ban's sacrilegious utterances.
What intrigues me is that Ban's championing of homosexual rights in Africa
backfired, sending his audience in the direction of gender discrimination.
South Africa's Interior Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had hoped to snatch
the AU Commission from the incumbent Jean Ping. No woman has held AU
The election on Monday by secret ballot confirmed Ping, a Gabonese national,
as AU Commissioner. He did so by ending a sterile ideological argument
within certain Western circles about African attitudes to gender and
politics. The strong man, the macho leader, remains a prescription in
African politics with apparently potent appeal.
"Our peacekeepers are doing all they can with what they have. Despite severe
logistical constraints, particularly air transport, the mission succeeded in
saving many lives during the recent crisis in Jonglei," UN Ban declared on a
more positive note. He dwelt at length on the tug of war between Sudan and
In certain respects the diplomatic impasse between the two Sudans comes at a
convenient moment for the AU.
Sudan's running oil dispute has poisoned relations between Khartoum and
Juba. Gaddafi had backed certain Sudanese opposition group including
Darfur's Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Gaddafi championed JEM's slain
leader Khalil Ibrahim. JEM's extraordinary general conference convened last
week in South Kordofan elected Gibril Ibrahim to succeed his brother Khalil,
who was assassinated last month by the Sudanese authorities after he fled
Libya. In one respect, however, this is a traditional African political
intrigue -- passing on the political mantle to a relative. That,
unfortunately, is Gaddafi's unwitting political legacy in the continent.
But all the gun smoke of Sudan and South Sudan cannot obscure the real
motive of the African leaders congregating in Addis Ababa. "Growth on the
continent has remained robust. Many observers consider that Africa is on the
verge of economic take-off. However, we are only at the beginning," Ping
proudly declared, evading the question of disunity and petty political
Ping pointed out that intra-African trade was a must. Trade between African
states currently stands at 10 per cent -- in comparison, for the EU it is 63
per cent. Ending civil war and taking China as an example of pragmatic,
focussed on independent economic development looks to be Ping's pong. It is
no coincidence that Ping has a Chinese father.
Last year's AU Chairman concurred with Ping. "We need a situation where
African leaders are much more united and show solidarity to deal with the
interference from external powers," noted outgoing Obiang. He likened
African leaders to pawns on a chessboard. And, the continent to "a
chessboard where the nations and leaders are like pawns on the boardê being
manipulated by foreign powers," Obiang concluded. But China is increasingly
one of these players, to the benefit of Africa.
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Received on Tue Feb 07 2012 - 18:54:37 EST