Among the many challenges facing Africa, there is one that cuts across them all and with painful echoes of our recent history, the possible recolonization of the continent. There has been a disturbing sense that foreign actors are taking hold of the assets and the growth of the continent. This fear is multifaceted, there is the fear of not being able to respond to the challenges of 21st Century Africa in autonomous fashion, the fear that it is the last chance to give the continent a push with the help of international partners, and simultaneously it is felt that this is the moment to stop the depletion of Africa’s natural resources. This fear, which is more or less rational and justified, translates a crisis of confidence creating doubt as to the basis for a clear pathway to sustained and long term development.
This state of affairs is dangerous because it can lead to withdrawal. We have recently seen a number of African countries threaten to leave the ICC. The ICC was founded with the idealistic goal of trying the perpetrators of the world’s worst atrocities and premised on the idea that nations must work in harmony. But the perception that the Court has been targeting Africa, at a time when the continent is asserting its political and economic independence, has not been well received. Mistrust is settling in, not the least from Uganda in the case of Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan Rebel Leader abducted as a child. The ICC is going through an existential crisis and the outcome of this case will set an important precedent for international criminal justice and determine the allegiance of African countries.
The question of recolonization also arises through the presence of the United States, China, India, France, Britain, Germany, Japan on the continent, powerful countries which all have important and increasingly competitive stakes on our lands. China, in particular, has a strong presence on the continent, with one million Chinese nationals and a burgeoning economic presence in Africa. Chinese capital investment into Africa, up to July 2016, had increased by 515% from full-year 2015 figures with more than $14bn invested in Africa by Chinese companies. China acquires the raw materials like oil, iron, copper and zinc that it urgently needs to fuel its own economy but builds and improves infrastructure such as roads, railways and telecom systems which are necessary to Africa’s manufacturing sector. This can be a win-win situation only if Africa governments are in a position to negotiate the deals in a way that makes financial, legal and economic sense for their respective countries.
In our dealings with foreign countries, there has often been a weak enforcement of environmental laws to our detriment, through illegal logging depleting our woodlands, unregulated and overfishing of our seas by other countries and the poaching of protected species of animals. Growing multinational investments in industrial plantations are also contributing to deforestation. Are we still supplying goods such as cocoa, sugar and tea to the West to the detriment of our own environment? Is the abundance of land, lax regulations and cheap labour, that we are too easily prepared to trade off, working against our ability to determine our own destiny?
The independence we acquired around 50 years ago requires ongoing nurturing in the tough questions we need to ask ourselves over the price we are willing to pay for accelerated development.