Last year in December, 49 African heads of state were hosted by President Joe Biden in Washington at the US-Africa Leaders Summit. In the recent past, we have seen similar trips made by African leaders to London, Beijing and Moscow. These trips come at a time when the world is re-aligning itself geopolitically. China is starting to flex its diplomatic muscles to resolve conflicts, as it did between Saudi Arabia and Iran which recently concluded five days of discussions hosted by China, agreeing to restore diplomatic relations.
India, that was traditionally a western ally is now playing the geo-politics of “strategic autonomy.” This is clearly seen in the way India dealt with the Russia-Ukraine war.
Recent developments now indicate that countries such as Brazil, Russia, China and Venezuela are calling for an alternative currency to the dollar for settling their trade. It’s actually right to conclude that in under 15 years, the United States won’t be the sole power. But the question for many African elites should be, how they can leverage this global power shift to work towards achieving their own interests.
One point that should be made is that the solution to many of Africa’s challenges will not be solved by people outside the continent but by people within the continent. The major resolutions at the recent U.S-Africa summit in Washington just reinforce this view.
When African leaders traveled to Washington they called for the creation of the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States, the first-ever U.S.-Africa Space Forum, the formal announcement of Biden’s support for the African Union to become a permanent member of the G20, and a commitment of $55 billion to advance shared Africa and U.S. priorities in the framework of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
None of these resolutions made in Washington will work sustainably if Africa is still a continent with countries that continue to trade little with each other. Presently, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that intra-Africa trade stands low at just 14.4% of total African exports, the lowest on earth, in comparison to 66.9% in Europe, 63.8% in Asia & Oceania, and 44.4% in the Americas.
Africa is still the only continent where the trade partners of the majority of countries lie outside the continent. No trip of African leaders to Washington, Beijing, London, Brussels and Moscow will remedy this. If anything, it’s still largely in the best interests of those global powers to maintain the status quo where Africans trade little with each other.
Flying within Africa is 45% more expensive than anywhere else and often more difficult. If you want to get to Tunis from Gabon’s Libreville, you have to go through Paris. Africa’s air travelers pays higher ticket prices and higher taxes than travelers just about anywhere else in the world. How is a trip to Washington and Beijing going to solve this?
Africa as a whole is missing out on business tourism and trade because of its poor air service. There should be a coherent strategy at the African Union level if the ruling elite wants to transform African economies. A trip by African leaders to Washington in no way solves this. Today, in Africa, Air travel is still restricted by what lawyers call bilateral air service agreements (country to country) negotiations. It is a very fragmented market. This should change. For instance, within the East African community, we should realize that stand-alone air carriers aren’t viable. Why should we have Kenya Airlines, Rwanda Air, and Uganda Airlines when they are all very inefficient loss-making entities?
If Africans want to develop better geo-economic leverage in geo-political negotiations, with global powers as the world is growing more multi-polar, we need the African leaders and the African Union to first seek solutions from within Africa. Africa needs to put in place strategies for economic viability for sustainable businesses to thrive in Africa.
Continuing to make trips to Washington, Beijing, and Brussels will not solve any problems, let us organize ourselves internally first.
The author is an Agricultural Biotechnologist and Environmental Activist.
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