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African leaders and other people’s summits for Africa

Kenya President William Ruto arrives in Rome for the Italy-Africa summit

Kenya President William Ruto arrives in Rome for the Italy-Africa summit

Another magnanimous country hosting an African summit - away from the shores of Africa. This time, Italy.

Speaking about the January 28-29, Italy-Africa Summit, Italian prime minister Giorgia Melon commented, “The objective is to present to African countries our vision of African development” through an initiative called, the Mattei Plan.

The $5.9 billion Mattei Plan aims to bolster economic links, create an energy hub for Europe, and curb African migration to Europe. Italy has skin in the game - it is the first port of call in Europe for many African migrants seeking better opportunities outside Africa. Moussa Faki, the African Union (AU) Commission chairperson, welcomed the plan, pledging AU support.

However, he remarked that it would have been desirable for the plan’s architects to consult with the African continent during the preliminary stages of creating the plan. Ahem!

Indeed, why are plans for Africa being drafted outside Africa, and then presented to African leaders who happily pose for photos keen to exude stateliness in their dark suits alongside world leaders?

Before the Italy-Africa Summit in 2023, African leaders attended the second Russia –Africa summit in St Petersburg in August 2023, which attracted 17 leaders. In November 2023, African leaders pranced off to the first Saudi Arabia–Africa summit, which had over 50 leaders in attendance.

One would have hoped that the Saudi Summit would have touched upon the plight of African migrant workers in Saudi Arabia but let’s not spoil the party. May 2024 heralds the second UK-African Investment Summit in London with 25 African governments invited. In June 2024 there will be the Korea-Africa Summit; India is also set for its India-Africa Forum Summit, this year.

Chatham House suggests that the growing number of foreign suitors will require African states to prioritize better, which could result in having to make difficult choices. What a heady time to be wanted and African! To be desired, to be Africa is nothing new.

Given the lingering and sticky history of Africa’s bounty and the lasciviousness of its foreign suitors, have African leaders learnt nothing from the colonial scramble for Africa?

The African Press Agency (APA) is scathing about the ‘African summits.’ APA excoriates African leaders in a January 2020 article titled, ‘Who really benefits from summits with Africa?’ While acknowledging that the summits offer Africa an opportunity to set its agenda, APA criticizes African leaders for attending the summits “in a scattered disorderly fashion without any common agenda, a position that does not seem to benefit the continent...”

The African leaders do not engage in pre-summit talks (preferably in Africa) to agree upon a common position as the African bloc. Hence, Africa pulls up to the table with individualistic expectations - as many as the number of African countries represented, while the host nation of the summit arrives with ‘one and indivisible expectation.’

Political researcher Abubakar Usman states in a blog article for the London School of Economics and Political Science that African countries should assert their rights as equals on the international stage.

Usman is scathing: “It is condescending for leaders representing an entire continent to turn up to a summit hosted by a single country. No other continent is treated in such a manner. There are no Russia- Asia, China-Europe, or America-Europe summits. Africa should not be the only continent that accepts such condescending treatment. African leaders need to assert their equal status on the international stage.”

He advocates for a different approach, pointing to how South East Asian nations approach these summits as The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The current approach of African leaders meeting a single host country gives the host a predetermined advantage over the entire African continent.

Therefore, Usman urges African leaders to pull up to the table through existing regional and continental frameworks, which foster greater cooperation and respect on the global stage for Africa.

Whether it is summits with the USA, Turkey, Russia, Korea, India, China, etc, the summits about Africa held outside Africa tell us that our leaders continue to miss the point. Our leaders grandstand about standing up to imperialists and colonialists yet continue to slide with their begging bowls, into the boardrooms of donor countries. If we must beg (because why resist the soft life of debt?), why not beg as one African bloc?

Political analysts opine that seeking consensus from all the African countries is a constipated and painstakingly laborious process; however, it remains our most viable avenue for global leverage.

Imagine African leaders inviting the G20 to Africa or hosting India in Africa. Yes, there would be no continental flights, or sojourns to top-notch medical facilities, shopping in glitzy capitals while being bussed around in buses like students on a field trip. If these summits are for Africa then our leaders ought to make them work for Africa in Africa.

The road ahead is long and arduous - but it is our path to take and walk that talk about ‘Africa’s time is now, African solutions for African problems, Africa rising, nio nio nio.’

Dear African leaders, stop going over there, band together; let the summits come to us. If we know and demonstrate our worth, they will.


The writer is a tayaad muzzukulu

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