Africa should put its house in order. It should strive to run efficient economies as well as respectable political systems
The permanent membership status recently granted the African Union (AU) by the G-20 at their last summit in New Delhi, India, has continued to elicit debate across the continent. But it is important to understand the context. In his opening remarks at the summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited the AU, represented by Chairperson Azali Assoumani, to take a seat at the table of G-20 leaders as a permanent member. What that confers on the AU, a continental body of 55- member states, is the same status enjoyed by the European Union – the only regional bloc with a full membership. The previous designation of the AU was “invited international organisation”.
Therefore, membership of the G-20 by the AU is not the issue. What Africa may be missing in the scramble by our leaders to join the ‘big boys’ in either BRICS or G-20 is the global struggle by big powers. Between the West and the counterweight of China and Russia, a hemispheric recruitment race is on for allies. What is Africa bringing to the table of these clubs? Begging bowls and raw natural resources? Photo opportunities in the capitals of both condescending blocs without money and technology? Are our leaders presenting only ‘opportunities’ for either side to exploit without strategic demands? These are legitimate concerns. Besides, G-20 derives its nomenclature from comprising 19 sovereign countries, along with the EU. Now with the addition of AU, will it now become G-21?
There is a measure of inferiority complex in the choices our leaders make. Africa should stop presenting itself as geopolitical fishing ground without a direction. The continent should act as a bloc of economic consequence. If we must join these elite clubs, we must work to meet their requirements. We should not ask for the standards or requirements for membership to be lowered for us to enter as it is currently the case. The clubs will seek our membership if we develop and run efficient economies, protect our people from poverty and institute respectable political systems.
For decades, African leaders have toyed with the idea of bringing their fragmented economies together through an integrated market. And since trade is a catalyst to economic development, a single market which enables free movement of goods and services within the 55 countries will boost the economy of a continent that increasingly lags others as it has the least percentage of intra-regional trade. Its inability to interconnect and pull resources together has cost it much in development and influence. At a period when Africa should produce more and, perhaps more important, process more of what she produces, there should be a strategic plan even if we must join these groups. At present, there is none. With an African as the new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), there is no better time than now to maximise the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). There are also no efforts in that direction.
African leaders have repeatedly made a compelling case for strengthening economic ties through the creation of a common market without success. They tried to reduce the thickness of their artificial borders and exploit the economies of scale, all in a bid to speed up the development of the continent and to curtail the deep-seated challenges of poverty. The Lagos Plan of Action which was adopted more than four decades ago set out with the ambitious target of integrating Africa’s market by the year 2000. The apparent failure of that plan gave rise to the Abuja Treaty of 1991, aimed also at the creation of a common African market, but which ironically is getting little or no attention by way of implementation. For decades, African leaders have not summoned the political will to enforce treaties and measures that would lead to the prosperity of their people.
Overall, the real race for Africa in the second half of the 21st century is for the emergence of specific economic and political breakthrough nations that can compete on the global stage. It is such nations that can proudly enroll in the new big power blocs on their own merit. That is what Nigeria should aspire to by putting its house in order. Other interim concessionary gestures remain cosmetic and condescending token gestures.
Africa should stop presenting itself as geopolitical fishing ground without a direction. The continent should act as a bloc of economic consequence. If we must join these elite clubs, we must work to meet their requirements