Africa and Africans short-sighted in ignoring foreign policy affairs

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(L-R) Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, Guinea's President Alpha Conde, US President Donald Trump, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, Vice President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn pose following a family photo of G7 leaders with African leaders after an expanded session at the Summit of the Heads of State and of Government of the G7, the group of most industrialized economies, plus the European Union, on May 27, 2017 in Taormina, Sicily. The leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the US and Italy will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as teams from Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia during the summit from May 26 to 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JONATHAN ERNST (Photo credit should read JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images)
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Paul Okwemba

Africa was a foreign policy decision. Kenya and almost all the African states were created following a decision of 13 European countries, which also included the United States, and led by the French, British and Germans, to mark their spheres of influences during the Berlin Conference of 1884 (also referred to as the Congo Conference/ West Africa Conference).

The Conference, according to the General Act of the Berlin Conference, formalised the beginning of the Scramble for Africa and was motivated by some primary issues: freedom of trade in the basin of the Congo, its embouchures and circumjacent regions; a resolution to end slave trade, and the operations by sea or land which furnish slaves to that trade; neutrality of the territories comprised in the Conventional basin of the Congo; navigation for the Congo and Niger rivers, their effluents and the waters in their system; and to introduce into international relations certain uniform rules with reference to future occupations on the coast of the African Continent.

Considering this Africa was not created by Africans or for Africans, or even driven by the Principle of Effectivity (establishment of authority), the decisions made at Bismarck’s official residence in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, have shaped Africa’s international relations to date, and likely in future, unless a separate future is determined by a strong African leadership and a well-informed population.

It is not well researched as to what consumes the minds of the youth in Africa (who are currently the most talked about population on earth) with bias to global affairs, since they are the most privileged generation, blessed with technological capabilities that can filter knowledge out of the information provided on the Internet of the world. African governments and institutions could be apportioned blame when it comes to the ‘international political ignorance’ of the African minds on the world around them.

It is cause for worry when we have more Africa specific research and academic institutions in Europe and America than in Africa, implying that there could be people who know more about Africa than Africans. Another implication is that Africans could only be knowledgeable about Africa and not in any other part of the world, owing to the lack of foreign-focused research and academic institutions across the continent.

The long-term consequence of this is that the continent’s growth will continue to be slow and foreign-led despite some recent commendable developments in expanding intra-Africa trade and infrastructure. I hope that we can learn from the efforts of the pre-Berlin Conference; that all investments and growth should be led by proper research, organisation and planning. It is time that Africans developed full academic and non-academic organisations – state and/or non-state, and which are not limited to examples like institutes for American Studies, Centers for Asian Affairs, Schools of European Affairs.

These efforts should be conscientiously matched with intra-Africa sub-regional focuses – which are non-existent today, or only brushed through as units not concentrations in International Relations courses.

Closer to the people is the media, which deliberately or unintentionally is yet to improve the consciousness of the masses on these weighty issues. Foreign policies of African governments could easily go without much analysis or criticism from the people on the streets, apart from a few coincidences where the foreign media highlight issues resulting from the country’s decisions, global conferences hosted in African cities or headlines caused in other parts of the world and personalities.

Africa, as the cradle of mankind, should develop keenness in foreign policy and international relations to realise long-term growth in their security, economies and socio-political spheres of their lives. ^

Writer is managing director, Centre for International and Security Affairs

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