Today we witness uneasiness, impotence, widespread and stubborn intolerance vis-à-vis Africa. Western leaders, traditionally engaged in African issues, do not refrain from claiming their unrelatedness to the continent: from Sarkozy claiming that Africa falls short from entering history, to Macron who speaks of a civilization challenge… this “otherness” will eventually result into fueling rage and fear among the public opinion.
Africa ends up being perceived as an undifferentiated territory, one sized, inexpugnable and incomprehensible. As Calchi Novati puts it, Africa “must come to terms with its solitude”, even when appetite grows for its endowments.
I would like to highlight two pre-independence leitmotifs in the thinking of Europeans about Africa during the nine hundreds: a) Africa without history; b) Racial diversity.
Race: European race/racist philosophers and intellectuals of the XIX Century have no doubts about the divide stemming from a hierarchy of races, eventually ending up into apartheid. Nothing more to say on this, expect recalling that the slave trade, downgrading Africans to commodities, is at the origins of racial contempt. W.E.B. Du Bois stated in 1903: “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line - the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea”. A few years before, in 1899, Conrad in his Heart of Darkness, pointed out to the “extraordinary imaginative effort” which brought Europeans to view Africans as their enemies.
History: the issue is complex. Hegel pointed out to a “continent without history”. Lacking an administrative tradition comparable to those built in Asia, Middle East and Europa, Africa was the expression of a traditional power characterized by “light touch”, i.e.: a different concept of control of the territory (for example Mobile Capital); no need for deterrence; absence of individual land property; a more flexible system Europeans could not understand. The flexibility of the power structure was mirrored with the flexibility of the concept of citizenship or nationality. Crossing over from one people to the other was frequent, and lines of demarcation were blurred. Today, in times of liquid societies, this is understandable. Yesterday it was not. This is why Africa was viewed as ousted from history. Actually, it was just different from our world.
Most recently, negative statements were issued about failed development, as if Africa were unable to develop itself: a lost cause. Indeed the “failure” of Africa can be interpreted as the failure of the Westernization of Africa, as Latouche claims. The problems seems to be both ways.
In order to understand, to enter into a relationship, we first need to asses Africa today. There is no one Africa, but many - such as Europe is multiple and plural. At the same time, there is an intrinsic, historical and cultural unity among Africans. This is also comparable with what happens with Europeans. Proximity, similarity, difference. If we force Africa to uniformity, we end up applying our vision, our perspective. Instead, we have to accept that Africa is a huge, complex and differentiated continent.
In Europe, the spirit of our times creates affluent, often angry and dissatisfied people who want to be left in peace in their welfare. People believe that only the medicine of tranquility, preserving our achievements, will protect us from fear and the menaces of a globalized world. In a chaotic world where people end up being disoriented, the ideal place for living is an American suburb or a tiny European municipality... All the remainder, i.e. the world and its complexities, becomes a menace and incumbent risk. These feelings are manipulated by populists, extremists, sovereigntists, who manipulate our fear and our will of exorcising it. They are the entrepreneurs of fear.
This is why the issue we are focusing on is a crucial one, a wakeup call, compelling us to think, and retrieve the discourse from where our founding fathers had left it: the Euro-African relationship.
Yet there are reasons for concern: Africa is poised to become a demographic giant, thanks to better health care and rising life expectation rates... Today, total population is one billion; in 2100, perhaps it will rise to two billion. Actually Africa is catching up from the past: in 2030 it will host one fourth of the World’s population - as it did before the slave trade… between 1500 and 1900 world population increased 3.5 times while African population stagnated, reducing its share of total world population from 17 to 7 per cent in four centuries.
It is a fact that today Africa grows while Europe is aging. Talking cheap, this is perceived as menace, inextricable problem.. mind goes to of invasions, Ebola, AIDS, migration, poverty … so, the best thing to do is to stay away.
However, if we deepen our knowledge about the issues at stake in Africa, we discover that they are, in parallel, very similar to our own, despite differences and scale. We discover that solving African problems equals to solving problems at home, and vice versa. There is much more unity of interests, there are more linkages, than what appears.
With the Northern African, Arab-Islamic countries, for example, we experience the same problem of relating with political Islam: we are in search of solutions with regards to the relationship between Islam and democracy – in one word: integration. On the other side of the Mediterranean this becomes the choice of options between authoritarianism, reacting to political Islam, and the quest for democracy. We witness the same challenges both sides of the Mediterranean. European and Tunisian Foreign Fighters, for examples, share similar choices, and say the same things …
The other issue we share with Africa is immigration from sub-Saharan Africa. How to cope with this challenge? We hold each other accountable (Libya is a case in point) but we face the same problem, connected to other problems, such as revamping of racisms or traditionalisms.
We are blind when we do not acknowledge similarities, for example when facing the challenge of identifying the best form of democracy: how to address the test of globalization, the trade-off between culture and tradition, the alternative between looking backwards and being open to the future?
Migration from the South equals to net impoverishment for the countries of origin: a loss of educated young people (more educated than the previous generations). On this issue we witness hypocrisy on both sides: on the European side, we would like to send back home everybody, but at the same time we request labor force, making no effort for a proper integration; on the African side, the continent’s leaders do not shed a tear when their best youth leave and abandon their countries, or, in other words, vote with their feet. To date, no African head of State showed up in Lampedusa to mourn the dead.
Migration flows are also an issue of institutional stability and fragmentation risk. In the Sahel, the traffickers put at jeopardy the very States. In that region we share a common interest: avoiding other “libyas” or failed states. We may end up being overwhelmed. Think about Northern Mali …
The stability of an Unitarian State - whose failure in Europe means crisis, in Africa means tragedy – is put at jeopardy by competing forces, divisions, as well as by ethno-nationalist, local and tribal interests. It is the long-term effect of extreme nationalism, which is spreading out with its severe consequences. As a result, we inherited failed or semi-failed states in Africa; in Europe, useless states or secessionist menaces. The crisis of pan Africanism and the crisis of European Unity go hand by hand. It is useless, I say this to my African friends, to pursue the postcolonial controversy, to achieve salvation.
We are also united in tackling the crisis of our respective youth: young people in Europe in quest for a meaning for life; young people in Northern Africa manipulated by extremists; young people fleeing from Africa … we can maximize synergies by coping together with the crisis of many youth who believe nobody loves them … this is a global challenge.
Another common interest is the fight against the evils of globalization: obscure powers and players, born and nurtured in “grey” zones characterized by protracted or endless endemic wars (they are plenty, and forgotten) are much more globalized than States, co-operating with each other. They created a parallel network to the official one. These criminal minds foster corruption in public services (bribes to police officers, or to the élites only to quote a few examples).
Face to the above-described challenges, Religions should join hands: instead of being mutually competitive in Africa, they should co-operate fostering civic education, fighting corruption, creating social and educational programs for the youth, keeping down mortality rates and, most of all, promoting peace. By being extremists, by competing in proselytism, even in violent ways, religions end up being manipulated, and fail. We will all perish in competition.
Finally, the economic issue. We all know about the need for financing, we all know that remittances are more important than ODA as they support family consumption. What is lacking is Private Direct Investment. In some sectors, there has been an increase: infrastructure, works, dams, toll roads, railways, ports. It is still insufficient.
The Honest Accounts 2017 Report, just published by Global Justice Now, informs us that African countries receive $161.6 billion in resources such as loans, remittances and aid each year, but lose $203 billion through factors including tax avoidance, debt payments and resource extraction. There is no balance. Private investment should be oriented towards job creation: we need and industrial sector of small and medium sized enterprises fostering a virtuous circle of job creation and entrepreneurial spirit. Since 2006 private flows to Africa are more than public flows. This is not enough. We need to connect Africa to global markets.
A few countries stepped up investments: first is China which from 2000 to 2014 increased investments from 10 to 220 billion USD (a twenty-two fold increase!)
Other countries have shown up: Turkey, with a recent slowdown, India, Japan, Korea etc. Then we have the traditional investors from the US and Europe. Finally new investors show up from the Gulf Countries and Saudi Arabia (but they also import Islamic finance and Wahhabism).
European aid to Africa is more than fifty percent of total ODA (40 billion USD). The European Commission invests alone 20 billion. The suggestion of a new Marshall Plan is on top of the agenda.
Europe needs a long-term policy.
There has been a lot of talk about aid, dead aid, trade not aid. Trade is now faltering because of protectionist US policies. Controversy about aid actually missed the point.
Africa could benefit from new programs such as those for electrification and energy (600 million Africans lack access to electricity), transport, agriculture, agricultural transformation, pharmaceuticals, telecoms and IT (Kenya is a showcase of the potential).
There is one solution: Joint Development. Instead of looking inwards, Europe may take advantage from these kind of agreements. A positive example, despite criticism, is the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA): My proposal would be to negotiate a commercial and industrial agreement for Joint Development.... relocating part of the production (for example, agro-industry) in Africa. Agreements on commodities are not sufficient. They remind me of exploitation. We need an authentic agreement combining trade and industrial policy, a win-win for both.