The West must approach Africa in a new light

French President Nicholas Sarkozy said it well this past week at the France-Africa summit when he said this about Africa in today’s world: “Africa’s formidable demographics and its considerable resources make it the main reservoir for world economic growth in the decades to come.”

Chatham House has a new report that states the relationship between the West and Africa should be looked at in a new prism. Asian countries seemed to have caught the changing winds especially countries like China, Japan, India but many western countries have yet to fully adjust to the changing reality. Russia has a renewed interest, Brazil as well.  France due to historical reasons will always have interest in Africa and the lastest summit hosted by French President seems try and a new course with Africa.  Reuters has a similar take:

For the past ten years, fundamental change has been taking place across large parts of Africa. Growth rates and stability have increased. Political, regulatory and security reform have deepened. Increasing investment from China, but also Brazil, India, Turkey, South Korea, Argentina and other ambitious emerging powers has acted for the most part as an accelerant.

Even the global financial crisis has in some ways hastened this process, for while in the short and medium term it had a devastating impact on millions across Africa, it has also revealed the true ebb of power from East to West, and encouraged the new economic actors of the G20 to chase access to the 40 percent of the world’s mineral resources, and 1 billion consumers gathered in Africa. Almost as important is the 25 percent of UN General Assembly votes that are represented by the continent’s 53 countries.

Meanwhile, many Western countries seem trapped in a humanitarian conception of Africa.

Popular media coverage and policy judgement is overwhelmed with a perception that Africa is simply a problem continent with little strategic value, except as a space where largess is shown and good things done to make up in some small way for the messy reality of international diplomacy.

This is not only delusional and self indulgent, but damaging. For emerging power interest is showing that Africa is not a space distinct from the rest of the world. Many of their investments are valuable and welcome, but others are as exploitative and damaging as anything under colonialism.

Without a Western strategic and business engagement – bringing with it a focus on sustainability, regulation and transparency, the progress of the past 10 years is unlikely to be sustained. For the truth is that China’s development policy is first and foremost about China’s development, not Africa’s, and as yet the governments of many emerging powers are not focusing enough on ensuring their investments in Africa are sustainable, and therefore equitable.

African leaders have never faced so much choice, but they need to show more foresight as well, for it is only by combining the energy of the emerging East, with the regulation of the West, that Africa’s, and the world’s interests will be served. That needs Western strategic engagement, but more fundamentally it requires more effective leadership from within Africa itself. Post financial crisis, the opportunities for Africa and the world economy, but also the risks, have never been higher.

These are the main highlights of the report by Chatham House:

  • African countries are playing a more strategic role in international affairs. Global players that understand this and develop greater diplomatic and trade relations with African states will be greatly advantaged.
  • For many countries, particularly those that have framed their relations with Africa largely in humanitarian terms, this will require an uncomfortable shift in public and policy perceptions. Without this shift, many of Africa’s traditional partners, especially in Europe and North America, will lose global influence and trade advantages to the emerging powers in Asia, Africa and South America.
  • China’s re-engagement is for the most part welcome, as is that of the increasing numbers of emerging powers such as Turkey, South Korea and Brazil that see Africa in terms of opportunities – as a place in which to invest, gain market share and win access to resources.
  • Economic fortunes across Africa are now diverging, making it less meaningful to treat Africa as a single entity in international economic negotiations. Despite this, it is in the global interest that the African Union should be granted a permanent place at the G20. In turn, a more focused, sophisticated and strategic African leadership is needed.

Nothing to disagree with, as a matter of fact these are the points that we at Stratsis Incite have been emphasizing all along.


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