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Is Africa’s priority a G-20 seat?

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By Bola Bolawole

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I felt the compelling need to allow my friend, Babafemi Badejo, Professor of Political Science/International Relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, join issues with Jeffrey Sachs on the recommendation that the African Union be made the 21st member of the G-20 economically-powerful nations of the world. Of what benefit will such membership be to the marginalised, oppressed, and long-suffering African people, argues Badejo: “The United Nations held a pre-Summit on Food Systems on July 26-28, 2021 as a primer for its first Global Food Summit coming up in September 2021. At this meeting, Jeffrey Sachs, American and popular economist as well as UN Special Envoy on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), made an important intervention. Many Africans were excited that Sachs called for the African Union, representing 1.4 billion people, to have a seat at a G-20 (to transform into G-21). The media focus has been on the tokenism of an AU seat at the G-20, instead of the many cogent issues that Sachs eloquently repeated.

“‘Repeated’ because this thought system dated from a long line of agitators for the independence of Africa and scholars such as Dr. Walter Rodney in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, and, more recently, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao in many speeches and YouTube videos beyond her “Africa 101: The Wake-Up Call”. Arikana was fired as the African Union’s Ambassador to the United States by the African Union! Many Africans saw the termination of Arikana’s appointment as punitive. She dared to point out that colonialists never left Africa and she showed how they have continued to rip-off and exploit the Continent.

“Lucky for Arikana to have only lost her job! Walter Rodney lost his life! He was assassinated in 1980 at the age 38. The riddle of who killed Rodney was never conclusively resolved. However, this illustrious Guyanese lives on through his works as an unsung but great African hero. The Nobel Prize will always elude the likes of Rodney. If his type had been recognized, it would have raised questions on the orthodoxy that Africa’s problems solely rests on African shoulders.

“It is extremely helpful and hope-raising to have an American economist from the US articulate and show the import of external dynamics on the continuing underdevelopment of Africa. He asked the pre-summit meeting to go into the history of why the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains in turmoil and poverty. Though Arikana articulated on this theme of the West causing turmoil in Africa in order to extract resources, Jeffrey Sachs rightly noted King Leopold of Belgium’s claim to ownership of the Congo through to the CIA’s assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the installation of Mobutu Sese Seko. Arikana details several assassinations of other visionary leaders of Africa as well as the overthrow of others by colonialists operating under a different mode of imperialism referred to as neo-colonialism.

“Jeffrey Sachs rightly pointed to Glencore’s extraction of cobalt from the DRC without responsibility or accountability to the sovereignty claims of the government of the DRC but paying taxes instead at Glencore’s home country of Belgium. Arikana had called attention to the exploitation of Africa through loans from the world arena – especially the West, including the Bretton Woods institutions. The US led some European powers at the end of the Second World War to design a United Nations at the political level and the Bretton Woods institutions at the economic level not to have a tea party but to rebuild and control the world for their own interests. The equals at the time were limited to the United Kingdom and France.

“The claims of the Europeans to ownership of Africa were ratified by the act of the US going ahead with the formation of the UN without insisting on self-determination and the need for all territories being free and at the table from the beginning. But why should the US so insist when it knew that the Europeans would not only accuse it of interference but also call attention to the unsalutary situation of race relations in America – an America built on the back of black people over centuries!

“Of more importance is the fate and living condition of billions of African people than the tokenism of mere political representation by an AU envoy at a G-20 or G-21 meeting. From the beginning up till date, neither the UN Secretary-General nor the president of the Bretton Woods institutions have dared to intervene or call for a stop to the continuing structured rip-off and exploitation of Africans. African leaders themselves are not exonerated in that most of them rip-off the continent and stash away the proceeds with the cover of major powers from the West. In effect, there is a commonality – and criminality – of interests between bad African leaders and external powers ripping off Africa!

“So also can African leaders themselves not be exonerated from the failure to move Africa forward in spite of the active efforts to assassinate any that showed promise on developing the continent. If some Asian leaders could be focused enough to wriggle through structured underdevelopment, why not their African counterparts?

“I doff my hat to Jeffrey Sachs for calling for vaccine equity as opposed to vaccine hoarding with respect to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Sachs noted that the US alone was able to raise seven trillion dollars in loans – at zero interest – to fight the scourge when Africans neither raised a penny/cent! Hence, it was possible for the West to implement lockdowns with some human face as opposed to what happened in Africa. As usual, African leaders found it easier to go-a-begging for vaccine donations through the COVAX arrangement. However, Africans will be naïve to think that the small quantity of vaccines received was out of love. Declaring the Indian version of AstraZeneca as not measuring up for ease of passage in Europe shows the long-term preferred interest on financial flow on vaccine purchases.

“I differ, however, with Jeffrey Sachs on his call for a stronger UN while, at the same time, canvassing a seat for the African Union at the proposed G-21. At the end of the Cold War in 1990/1991, the weak countries called for a new world order in which the United Nations would be a stronger coordinator of our world for good. Boutros Boutros-Ghali got carried away and thought the call was for real. He learnt the hard way as the carpet was pulled from under his feet and he became, so far, the only UN Secretary-General not elected for a second term. He relied on the French to save him by continuing to veto Kofi Annan with the hope that the decision would go to the General Assembly that would gang up against America and give him a second term. The French bargained and lifted their veto on Annan and history was made to have a black man at the helms of the UN. Annan also thought he could be daring in his second term but almost got fired! In summation, only the weak countries yearn for strong multilateralism.

“From antecedents, what use is an African Union’s envoy having a seat at a G-21? Being at the table should not be because Africa has a population of 1.4 billion but should be based on the summation of the material net worth of the African Union making worthwhile contributions. Slighting Nigeria, the G-20 has the token presence of South Africa but what benefits has that put on the table in Africa? Without real decision-making powers, will an AU membership stop Western companies from continuing their underdevelopment of Africa? If anything, such token presence would legitimize an erroneous perception that Jeffrey Sachs is inadvertently selling: that a multilateral G-21 would turn around and start to serve the developmental interest of Africans!

“Power exists to bolster interests. Under Western competitive ideology as opposed to the Yoruba “Omoluabi” (character plus integrity imbued with a “we” sharing spirit) or the Zulu “Ubuntu” (“I am because you are” spirit), it would be naïve to expect that granting a seat to the African Union would see to the protection of African interests. By the way, does our world really need a G-21 when so many UN agencies are deliberately being underfunded as Jeffrey Sachs rightly noted? Should the League of Arab States (LAS); the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); the Organization of American States (OAS) etc., not also be entitled to their respective seats at a G-24?

“Sachs could be of help to Africa if he directs a detailed study that builds on the thoughts of Walter Rodney, Arikana, etc., to unravel the mechanisms of continuing ripping-off and exploitation of Africans by private interests actively supported by their respective national governments and the Bretton Woods institutions. Such knowledge can help towards the implementation of policies that bolster the SDGs by a new set of purposefully-recruited African leaders”

This is food for thought!

Rest well, Mohammed Fawehinmi!

Published in my “TREASURES” column – Back page of the New Telegraph newspaper, Wednesday, 25 August, 2021.

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