Columns / Discourse / May 29, 2013

Changing fortunes: Noticeable progress in Africa

Over this last weekend, African heads of state met in Addis Ababa to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the African Union and congratulate themselves on how far they’ve come. So how far have they come?

To find out, let’s see what they said, and what they do.

In opening up the ceremony, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said they had taken “a great leap forward in the pan-African quest for freedom, independence and unity.”

Okay, sure, that doesn’t really mean anything. After that, the head of the African Union stated that conflicts could only be silenced by solidarity — a much more interesting statement. Does silence resolve conflicts?

Solidarity, in this case, means Africans against the West, an understandable dichotomy for a postcolonial continent.

However, it also means that the African Union will continue to protect characters like Robert Mugabe, whose independence credentials have been destroyed in the eyes of all but the AU by his repressive, violent tactics.

Spinning directly out of this, the AU has accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) of “hunting” Africans. This is a strong claim, and a very racial image, reminding one of a description of American adventurer Henry Morton Stanley, who “shot negroes like monkeys.”

This statement by the African Union is in reference to the election of Uhuru Kenyatta to the Kenyan Presidency, who is wanted by the ICC on charges of inciting genocide during the 2007 election violence. This brings the number of standing African presidents wanted by the ICC to two — two more than there ought to be.

As far as the evidence lies, both Kenyatta and Omar Bashir seem to have a lot to answer for. Why has the ICC spent more time prosecuting in Africa?

Largely, because there are fewer world powers backing dictators in the region. The ICC hasn’t even bothered to look into North Korea, and hasn’t issued warrants for the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad either.

However, these political tensions shouldn’t be overemphasized — Africa is an incredibly dynamic continent and the fastest-growing in GDP terms as well. Six out of 10 of the fastest-growing economies are in Africa, and the African Union is getting more serious about its security commitments, with troops in Darfur and Somalia.

Perhaps most importantly, Africa’s relations with the outside world have been evolving extremely quickly this century.

Historically held under by dependence on unfair trade rules with the West, and held back by corrupt domestic mismanagement, this is changing with the new roles of China and, to a lesser extent, Brazil and India.

Over the past two decades, China’s reformed foreign policy has seen a huge increase in investment in Africa, and they have paid for a variety of major projects, such as the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa that hosted these recent celebrations.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was also in Addis Ababa, where she announced Brazil’s cancellation of around $900 million of debt. Brazilian-African trade has increased fivefold since 2002, according to the BBC.

The most distinguishable difference is in the rhetoric — where the UK and France tend to speak of ‘helping,’ China speaks of ‘mutual cooperation.’

Africa’s time is arriving, and there is plenty proof of real progress on the continent. Unfortunately, academia is lagging somewhat.

My dream for Knox is to have courses on African politics, history and literature. With the return of Dean Breitborde as a professor for the 2014-15 academic year, African anthropology will arrive.

Let us do our duty as students to listen and investigate independently, and we can go far, not just in African studies, but anywhere.

Tom Courtright
Tom Courtright is a columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering Africa. He grew up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and is currently studying international relations, history and journalism. He begins his volunteer term with Peace Corps in September 2014, on the Pacific island of Fiji.

Tags:  African studies African Union Darfur Hailemariam Desalegn ICC Kenya Omar Bashir Robert Mugabe Somalia Uhuru Kenyatta

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