Picture: GCIS – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is received by South Africa’s Ambassador Nomaindia Mfeketo to the US upon his arrival at Joint Base Andrews Military Airport in Washington DC ahead of his meeting with US President Joe Biden.
By Koffi Kouakou
Every other powerful nation has an agenda for Africa. But, in return, Africa doesn’t seem to have one for them. And that is a problem.
The continent lacks a collective, coherent and deliverable strategy to deal decisively with the world at large and with global powers in particular.
Of course, it is a mammoth task to ask Africa to do so at this stage, given its weaknesses. More importantly, it is also incorrect to combine the perception of Africa as a continent yet to assign to it a decisive united voice for the many countries that compose it.
While the AU exists, it does not speak with one voice at the UN. It speaks with many African voices. It has been an enormously complex task for 54 African nations to define a common agenda without difficulties. Wait. It seems Africa has one. First, designed as the African Union Vision 2063. But that was a vision, not a strategy.
Then it became Agenda 2063 with the ambitious and lofty goal of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent. Its application has been a challenge for the AU members, so has been its translation into specific objectives. While commendable, they are a trial test on a continent that faces enormous political, economic and social difficulties.
Nevertheless, it’s an African agenda, the one by which most African countries abide. Africa’s agenda is under siege again. It has been so since the 1960s when liberation movements across the continent have managed to snatch temporary freedoms and independence from their colonial masters.
Most global power agendas are cleverly articulated via extension summits such as the US-Africa summit, the EU-AU summit, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, the Turkey-Africa summit, and the Israel-Africa summit, among others. UN agenda As the UN annual jamboree takes place in New York this month, the African agenda is again questioned by many powerful nations, mainly Western, uneasy with a cohort of African nations’ newfound freedom to express a neutral stance at the recent UN General Assembly to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Many want to coerce African nations into playing by their agenda.
Overall, the African resistance has been quiet yet loud with silence. South Africa has been among the most vocal African countries to express its neutrality while deploring the Ukraine crisis.
On this year’s UN menu will be the usual posturing, diplomatic niceties, the grandstanding of powerful nations about human rights, democracy, sustainable development, and all other power plays. However, this year’s meeting is expected to have some major firecracker agenda items around the Ukraine war, in addition to the usual climate change, the sustainable development goals, and the wars in the Central Africa region, Libya, Mali, Syria and Yemen. African agenda Whose agenda should Africa push at the UN this year beside its own?
The answer should be clear to everyone. But not too fast. It is not. The continent is divided over many agendas. Its own and those of global powers such as the UN, Europe, China, Russia, Turkey, Arab nations and others. Interestingly, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Washington at the invitation of president Joe Biden on Friday.
They held talks at the White House. Talks about what? Will Ramaphosa carry an African agenda on behalf of his peers? Why would he do so instead of the AU chairperson and president Macky Sall? What’s in it for Biden? Oh, yes, also for Ramaphosa?
The snappy April 8 White House press statement about the visit said: “President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. spoke today with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.
President Biden emphasised the strength of the bilateral partnership, as well as global challenges brought on by Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, addressing climate change, and enhancing our partnership on trade, health security, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Biden emphasised the need for a clear, unified international response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. The leaders also shared views on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the impact of the crisis on supply chains, commodity prices, and food security in Africa.”
It is worth reproducing it in its entirety here because it tells a sorry story about what really matters for the US. Africa really doesn’t matter much. It is only mentioned as the last word, in relation to “the impact of the crisis on supply chains, commodity prices, and food security”.
Is this another begging bowl visit by Ramaphosa to Washington? On the other hand, the South African government’s press statement issued on Wednesday says almost similar diplomatic things: “President Cyril Ramaphosa will embark on working visits to the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
“The leaders will meet at the White House on Friday to discuss bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest, including trade and investment, climate change, food security, energy, and peace and security,” the Presidency said.
“During the visit, President Ramaphosa will reaffirm the importance of the strategic and mutually beneficial relations between South Africa and the United States. “The President will further emphasise the need for enhanced multilateralism and dialogue as the means through which the challenges facing humanity can be addressed.”
I couldn’t resist reproducing these statements as well. They have no clear African agenda at all. And, perhaps, President Ramaphosa has no mandate from his peers and an African agenda but a selfish one for South Africa.
As the world rapidly changes on the back of the Ukraine crisis, Africa’s place in the world becomes more important than ever as global powers scramble to cement their influence on a weak continent.
A real African agenda must be governed by the following five sovereignties.
First, a manageable win-win geopolitics centred around a commitment to multilateralism and a fully reformed UN with African interests. Second, a sustainable energy strategy. Third, a continental monetary independence. Fourth, a regional collaborative yet independent defence system strategy for peace and security purposes, and not one that depends on the UN, EU and US or any other global powers. And fifth, a self-determining technology development strategy. Ramaphosa’s visit to Washington must fully reflect such an African agenda, not a self-serving nor a coercive one.
It must help Africa’s overall strategy and be beneficial to the continent vis a vis global powers.
Kouakou is the Africa Analyst and Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Africa-China Studies, University of Johannesburg.