Africa: Fair Trade not Aid
How I wish I could write this article from beginning to the end without mentioning the G8, Tony Blair, Geldof or any of the other busy bodies running around like headless chicken claiming they want to help Africa. I will try and try very hard. One of the difficulties with becoming flavour of the moment is that you forget what you want for yourself as others divest you of the power to help yourself.
Everybody loves Africa now and is going to desperate lengths to show why they are our new best friends! It is like South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. Suddenly we could not find any supporters for the loathed apartheid system anymore both inside and outside of South Africa. Even the Boer Nationalist Party that institutionalised apartheid became anti apartheid. Everywhere Mandela went powerful politicians in powerful countries in Europe and America who had shielded the apartheid regime from international sanctions and prevented censure of the racist regime in multi lateral forums including the UN Security Council, Commonwealth, EU, etc were all queuing up to have their pictures taken with the Great Madiba. They all reinvented their political CVs to show how all along they had been fighting for his release and an end to apartheid. One of the worst of this latter day friend of South African Liberation was Mrs. Margaret Thatcher who as British Prime Minister resisted any criticisms of apartheid South Africa, invited Botha on a State visit to London and described the ANC as a 'typical terrorist organisation like the IRA.'
Africa is in a similar situation now. It is difficult to know how to react to this sudden show of concern for a people that have been so marginalized and humiliated for such a long time. It is like being offered a handkerchief by the same person who is beating the hell out of you.
After multi city parties, the whole world was programmed to look up to 8 White men in dark suits meeting in far away Gleneagles, Scotland, to save Africa yet none of them is an African.
Yet a much bigger assembly of another powerful group of people (at least in their countries even if the rest of the world may not feel their impact), all of them heads of state and government from across Africa met in the Libyan city of Shirte deciding on the future of Africa without similar focus in the global media.
It is these people through their action and inaction who have the power to change things for the better or worse on this continent. Anybody who really cares about helping Africa needs to know what these groups of unfortunately, all men, many of them also in grey suits but others in elegant African dresses have been saying to themselves.
The fifth ordinary Summit of the Assembly of the African Union ended in Shirte. The leaders amongst other pressing issues had to address themselves to the dances for poverty and pledges for action from outsiders about Africa. They welcomed the initial debt relief package for developing countries out of which 15 African countries will benefit. However they called for a universal debt cancellation that benefits all African countries, not just selected few.
This is a logical consensus given previous experience of African countries scandalously competing among themselves about who is more connected in Washington, London or Paris. Individually they sold out but collectively we may regain some dignity and credibility. They have to avoid being played against each other. The separate deal for Debt relief for Nigeria is potentially one of those divide and rule tactics. It may limit Nigeria's capacity to talk on behalf of Africa and also neutralise it in bloc negotiations whether in the WTO or in the IMF/World Bank. My own suspicion is that they have agreed to throw this carrot at Nigeria as an advance compensation for her not to get the much-coveted UN Security Council permanent seat, which will more likely go to South Africa.
Significantly AU summit did not dwell so much on Aid but rather called for the abolition of unfair trading rules that rig international trade against Africa and asked for a clear timetable for the abolition of these subsidies. One can see that the African leaders are not taken in by various pledges on Aid but rather want us to trade our way to prosperity instead of being aided to remain dependent. This contrasts with Prophet Blair's breakthrough in getting calendar on Aid targets. Just like the Algerian nationalists told their French colonialists when offered the choice of being independent or being part of a neo colonial French federation according to Malcolm X they said: they needed their land not some French! The AU is saying we need some fair-trade not some Aid.
These are the messages that the African leaders invited to the G8 as side salads took to Gleneagles. I really wish that these leaders would stop ridiculing themselves by appearing like an NGO lobby group at these Summit of Rich White men. From next year they should have a face-to-face summit to review any progress on mutually agreed targets. After all that is what the mutual accountability principle in the African peer Review Mechanism is all about. It is about us judging ourselves and also mutually
judging each other with our so-called international partners.
Apart from the response to G8 the summit made numerous decisions on a variety of issues that have direct impact on Africa and Africans than anything a group of ageing rockers and an exclusive club of White Men will do for Africa.
One of those defining issues is the call by the Brother Leader, Muammar Gadaffi, which President Museveni immediately supported, for an All African Union government and a dismantling of all barriers to freedom of movement for Africans across Africa.
While many dismiss this as hasty and too ambitious I would like to remind them to rewind to the reaction to Gadaffi's call for an acceleration of the integration process through a review of the OAU charter at an Extra ordinary summit in the same city of Shirte in September 1999. Then as now the idea was initially dismissed as far-fetched but within 3 years we had the African Union. Its institutions are now taking shape and at this summit the Libyan leader was upping the stakes for the AU to rise up to the next phase of the struggle for unity without which we will remain beggars and vulnerable to extra African powers. There is no point in asking the rich countries to open up their markets to us when we close ours against each other. We cannot sustainably globalise without Africanising.
By Dr. Tajudeen Abdul
Deputy Director, Africa, for the UN Millennium Campaign based in Nairobi Kenya. He writes this weekly column in his personal capacity as a Pan Africanist and a Director of the London-Based Justice Africa
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