Of States And Human Behaviour And The Sleeping African Beauty
Today, globalisation defines world economics and has been pronounced since the twilight years of the last century. The state sponsors and vested sympathisers would want us believe it is about greater competition, increased investments, free trade and free movement of labour. Being the case, as is argued, it creates or should create and increase opportunities and wealth for all. What is not equally trumpeted is that globalisation is shy of a convenient scheme for pursuit of the permanent interests of a club of rich nations keen on enhancing their superiority of power in similar ways as well-positioned individuals in society exploiting their status for personal gain and security of family.
Globalisation is Western economics, and Western goods, services and labour do truly and freely move trans-borders and filter through into other parts of the world, but not necessarily the other way round. Otherwise, is it not ironic that despite its touted benefits Africa remains one continent that still has to lobby for preferential trade agreements such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act to allow duty-free imports of LIMITED products from ELIGIBLE, not all, African countries into the US? Or the Cotonou Agreement with the European Union that sets up a framework for trade between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries?
Truth is, gone are the days when it was possible for teeny David to floor giant Goliath with stone and sling. Greater competition, for instance, augurs well for the more established and state of the art Western conglomerates, not fledgling African businesses at the mercy of institutional, infrastructural and technological challenges. African farmers who drive most economies in the continent, with hardly any subsidies or mechanisation of methods, seem set up to fail in the global competition where their Western counterparts are state subsidised, backed up by superior technology.
As her goods, services and labour remain literally embargoed in the West, as if they are sub-global and sub-interesting, the globalisation that applies to Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in particular is a fantasy at best or a phantom at worst. Who will blame the West? Most students of International Relations would hesitate to disagree with the realist maxim that “nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Usually credited to a certain Lord Palmerstone - an English statesman, the German born US Secretary of State - Henry Kissinger, took serious note and placed it right at the centre of US international relations in the 1970s. He was neither pretentious nor ambiguous when he declared the obvious that “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”
Controversial as it may seem, it sums up realism and still arguably underpins and informs current foreign policy relations of the United States, most Western countries and many non-Western others with the palpable exception of the sleeping African beauty. Rightly or wrongly, the concept of individual human survival and self-interest as often manifested by crooked leaders is precisely what states extrapolate into pursuits of national or permanent interests whether those interests are the supremacy of their security or the primacy of the welfare of their own people. Long before Palmerstone and Kissinger, states replicated such human behaviour in dealings with other states even at the expense of weaker and more vulnerable nations such as has been visited on African countries over the centuries and still counting.
Often perceived as one country by the outsider, and having suffered victim of trite divide and rule policies of same outsider, push factors suffice for Africa to deepen unity of foreign policy relations and internal trade, especially now that the economics of exploitation has never been so much more nuanced and sophisticated in the name of globalisation. Quite unfortunately, the foreign policy objectives of the continent are anything but coherent and tariff barriers still handicap intra African trade. Not even the ceaseless foreign stampede for Africa’s precious mineral and agro resources and the extant Chino/Western scramble for spheres of influence in the continent have helped inform or define permanent African interests. Neither has the increasing economic and political marginalisation nor the somewhat over reliance on foreign aid or multilateral financial institutions helped coalesce African foreign policy.
Sadly, the response of the continent has instead been largely moral epistles and intellectual lamentations of all sorts without the pragmatism to recalibrate course, stand up united and say never again with steely resolve. Of course, it is not unreasonable to bawl over the Trans Saharan and Atlantic slave trades, colonialism and the continued rape of the continent in the guise of globalisation. The slave trades alone qualify for the odious, the heinous, the atrocious, the obnoxious and what have you. They remain an unparalleled monstrosity of human inhumanity, and no amount of the perfumes of Arabia can sweeten this murderous entreprise. To pile colonialism and the likes of apartheid and colour bar on top of it was nothing else but the clearest manifestation of vested greed at work in pursuit of some nations’ permanent interests by all the means necessary.
Angry as the intellectuals may have been, and still are, political leadership have largely remained asleep since the exceptional days of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and Steve Biko. Very few have woken up to that aha realisation of permanent interests and the imperatives of gate keeping the resources of the continent for present and future generations. Of course, there is no universality of human behaviour and it is arguable that not every state necessarily replicates the realism of “no permanent friends or enemies, only interests” in its brazen facet. Some nations indeed prefer the subdued liberal cooperation with every other nation with shared values and interests albeit with the same objectives of maximising security and providing welfare for their citizens. Europe, as is represented by the European Union today, is archetypical.
Other nations, especially the not too powerful or small ones in fear of their very existence and survival, often elect the strategy of exchanging some of their sovereign rights for protection by more powerful nations in what pundits describe as bandwagoning. In human behaviour it is a bit like how young diminutive students surrender some of their pocket money to giant bullies for protection in schools. The classical scenario in inter state relations is the Israeli-American so-called friendship but the relationship between the US and the oil rich nations of the Gulf and many others in Asia is also quintessential. Much closer home, the East African countries of Ethiopia and Uganda, are not darlings of the West for their democracy, if they have any, but for aligning their security interests to those of the US and the rest of the West for mutually reinforcing permanent interests.
The pity however is that Africa, as a collective, is not learning from any of the above. If she is, she is doing so too slowly, rather poorly or vulnerably separately in a competitive global world. In principle, the African Union is tantamount to the European Union and represents a liberal framework for cooperation. With 54 member states under its belt and with a population of well over the billion mark one would expect the continental platform to command serious visibility at home and abroad. The reality however suggests it is more a forum for elite felicities than a muscle of defence in matters of the permanent interests of the continent. The reasons may be debatable but with hardly any rigorous criteria or test for membership, other than being a sovereign state in the continent, it is not too difficult to imagine commitment has been lip service for far too long.
By default, Africa is already a vulnerable target of predatory capitalism by being home to 57% of the world’s cobalt, 50% of the platinum group of metals, 46% of its diamonds, 21% of its gold and 13% of its oil. But what actually imperils the continent is this incredible lethargy from which it seems incapable of rising up to the defence of its own patch as would happen in human behaviour or in the worlds of Lord Palmerstone and Henry Kissinger. It is tough out there and the competition for resources to oil the wheels of permanent interests has witnessed a phenomenal surge in cross-boundary capitalism conveniently facilitated by unbridled globalisation. If globalisation did not exist some other form or system of economics will be devised to serve exactly the same narrow objectives of the powers that be.
For Africa to avoid being pushed about and continuously milked by everyone else except by herself she needs to appreciate that other nations will always seek to extend their influence because it serves their permanent interests to do so. Running home to self pity or playing the blame game has never changed the game. Africa must bite the bullet without further feet dragging, and to do so require a serious blueprint that seriously commits leadership to a serious delivery of the very serious and mutually reinforcing twin interests of security and welfare.
Beyond the highlights of promising economic growth rates characteristic of many countries in the continent lately, but which almost always mean nothing to ordinary citizens struggling to get by, Africa is capable of reaping its own real dividends of globalisation. It can do so effectively through the clout of a common foreign policy and pursuits of internal free trade and free movement of labour amongst other home grown strategies for holistic development of continent and people. The African Union holds the promise for that to happen but until it wakes up to make things really happen soon, the continental union will remain what it is, a promise!
The Writer is Freelance International Relations Analyst and Political Commentator