Please accept the expression of my appreciation for being invited to share my thoughts with you about a very dynamic subject, and indeed my condolence on the demise of Professor Calestous Juma, a friend I made and kept since 2010, when I last spoke here. May his soul continue to rest in peace.
As I said earlier, the subject of Global Partnerships for Africa’s Development is a dynamic one, it seems to me therefore that how we as Africans navigate our pathways to our desired future will require us first to understand how we got to where we are.
This requires at least a working knowledge of the history of the world, starting from the modern civilization as we know it, documented from Greece, Rome, Britain, USA, and now China.
In between all of these, we must acquaint ourselves with the roles of territories like Persia (most of today’s Iran), the Ottoman (modern Turkey) Egypt, Timbuktu (modern Mali) and the Soviet Union (modern Russia and most of East Europe) and the roles they have contributed to shaping our world today.
We must remember that Africa, contrary to the generalisations that come from the West is not one country, but many countries, kingdoms, empires and nationalities, stitched together by imperialism, colonialism and military might into a pot of enormous diversity.
That diversity is as intra-territorial as it is inter-territorial. Fulani, Masais, Kanuri, Bantu, Zulu, Ashanti, Berbers, Xhosa, Yorubas, Ibos, Hausas, Ijaws to mention a few.
The list is much longer than the 54 countries that constitute the African Continent and the pot of diversity is much more enriched by religious and cultural differences between and amongst the peoples of African countries.
If this is all that makes the subject dynamic, it is enough to engage our minds for a long time; but there is more – their history and their origins and the choices they have made or had imposed on them.
All these take me to the context of discussion around the idea of a “partnership” and raises the question whether there have been partnerships in the sense of:
- a) Voluntary Choice
- b) Consent
- c) Equality of Bargaining Powers
- d) Mutuality of Benefits and Dividends
If we subject our global relationships and affiliations, not “partnerships” to these tests of choice, consent, bargaining powers and benefits, whether it be with Europe, Asia, Middle East or America, it is hard to come to the conclusion that they properly qualified as partnerships.
The Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Berlin Conference, and similar incidents that brought Africa into contact with the rest of the world, fail the test of choice and consent.
Many treaties, for trade, purchase and sale of national resources, investment in infrastructure, defence and military pacts and support will not pass the crucibles of equality of bargaining powers and mutuality of benefits.
Let me be clear that I do not intend to repeat what many before me perhaps said, that Africa was cheated, pillaged etc.
No. On the contrary, I wish to stress the reality of our World. Borrowing from relationships between men and men, women and women, offspring from the same biological parents, this is the real world. We are not equal. We seek to intrinsically dominate, to take advantage and to optimize self-benefit.
Therefore, the relationships that are characterized as “partnerships” which they are not, are driven by self-interest. And in the case of nations, by national interest.
For citizens of African countries and leaders of African nations, they should wake up and smell the coffee. Nobody is going to do Africa any favours and the current generation of Africa’s youth and leaders must quickly banish what I call the “Foreign Investor” syndrome.
Nobody will help African nations fulfil their individual promises except the people of those nations by the choices they make.
We, the people of Africa must change our mindset from users to makers. we must make things that others can and want to use.
We have enough resources in copper to dominate technology, enough cassava to replace corn starch with cassava starch, enough cocoa to make our own chocolate, enough nickel iron ore to build our own steel plants and 1.2 Billion people who guarantee a market for what we make and a shared prosperity for as many.
I know you have heard this before. The question is whether you believe in its possibility or not and more importantly whether you are willing to make the choice to try.
Of course the road to the prosperity will not be easy. It will be long and demanding, painful and sometimes littered with failure. But that is the story of those successful societies whose relationship with us is the subject of this discussion.
It is the story of different choices, a reform of education system, a story of replacing spiritualism with self-confidence; and a belief in the enduring and indomitable spirit and capacity of the African person.
It is a choice that will require us to own our own identities as we have seen the Chinese and Emiratis do recently.
A choice that will make us proud of our own hair and not wigs; our own accents and languages and not a foreign one and our own abilities, not borrowed ones.
The choices will make clear to us that we may have what others want, and want what others have, and we can approach them on the basis of real partnerships to use what we have to get what we want.
For example, we have seen that the relationship of the USA with Israel is different from that of USA with Israel’s neighbours, as that of USA with South Korea is different from that with North Korea; and even more interesting is the relationship between the USA and Saudi Arabia as distinct from her neighbours within the Arabian peninsula.
The price of oil at home, cost of technology, local security of their respective citizens define and underpin those relationships.
African citizens and their leaders must understand that policy, politics and economics are inter-related, and they must study and understand the history, policies, politics and Economics of their affiliates in order to assist them in striking deals of true partnerships.
Because of her diversity, Africans cannot choose together, but they can choose smartly and sensibly.
The choices must not only be informed by knowledge as I said, but also by deep reflections.
In today’s world of globalization, and Africa’s urgent need for infrastructure for power, transport, health care and water supply and in the wake of emerging global powers from Asia, USA and to some extent the Middle East. Africa’s and African choices must be deeper in reflection, and sober in choice.
In Nigeria where I come from, which is in West Africa, we gave up our languages to get an English based education, early infrastructure in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and Democracy.
Our farmers and merchants benefitted in cash from produce exports conveyed on road and rail networks that started from the farms and the mines (for coal) and terminated at the sea ports that were built by our “partners”.
When we (they) discovered oil reserves, our partners shifted focus.
Instead of extracting our oil, we owned the mining rights but our partners developed the ability to make the Rigs, the oil platforms and the ocean-going vessels.
In the event, for what we owned, we got less ( from production sharing contracts and joint ventures) because production cost belonged to our partners, and whatever was left, we chose to spend or keep in their countries and their banks.
The Saudis and Emiratis have made a different and better choice.
So must we.
On the other side of the spectrum is a new “partner” called China.
They have built an economy starting from cotton, on to construction and technology. They now have needs for some of what we have.
Another relationship beckons. Under its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) policy, China is offering modern infrastructure, roads, rails, power plants under an agreement of “Joint Financing”.
China offers a loan at low interest, contributes 85% of the loan, and the beneficiary contributes 15% counterpart funding and is expected to repay the full loan.
In exchange, Chinese technology and know-how is used to build the infrastructure, Chinese labour is exported to Africa, and China is also buying oil and gas assets to support her people and economy back home.
The benefit is that the infrastructure is being built and it is impacting lives, but as in Politics and Economy, it has a cost.
The Chinese language is gradually penetrating Africa and so are Chinese products, phones, cutlery, televisions, clothing and anything you can think of.
Alarm bells are being rung in the West about espionage as China seeks to launch 5G technology and lead the rest of the world. (It portends extra data speed, widespread deployment of Artificial Intelligence, connectivity of hundreds of billions of devices, revolutions in healthcare and human well being and Trillions of Dollars of annual business)
Whether the alarms of espionage are True or false, they at least raise a call for a new consciousness about the choices that we must make as our planet is at the brink of a change, the like of which we have never seen.
Back home, President Buhari has urged some choices upon us.
- Grow and produce our basic foods, staples such as rice, wheat, sugar, fish and tomatoes which have seen our import bills for these items reduce drastically between 2015 and 2018 as follows:
Our total import bills for these products have reduced from $2.1Billion in 2015 to $595Million in 2018.
- Invest in infrastructure to grow the economy and improve the ease of doing business which has seen to:
- Rail construction
- Road Construction
- Housing Construction
- Power project development
III. Domesticate the benefits for our local economy which has led to the Executive Orders that prioritize the employment of local persons and capacities in construction and related businesses irrespective of where the funding comes from.
Therefore, even with the Chinese loans, we will not allow the importation of items that Nigerian industries can competently produce or the employment of Chinese manpower, where Nigerians can competently do the work.
These may be the small steps but they signify a choice informed by consciousness (the deep reflections about which I have spoken) on how to reposition Nigeria.
It underlies the maxim of global diplomacy of being strong at home in order to be respected abroad.
It is consistent with the idea of a journey (about which I have spoken) that African Nations must undertake.
And Nigeria’s journey is directed by a compass called the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) that has 3 (three) objectives and 51 (Fifty-one) action points as responsibilities for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Nigerian Government.
The objectives, for the purpose of reiteration are:
- a) Rapid growth of the Nigerian economy
- b) Investing in the Nigerian people
- c) Building a globally competitive economy
These are lofty goals for any nation, but in reality, they are not always globally welcome goals.
Why should Nigeria’s economy grow? That is not necessarily good news to some parts of the world and some of our “partners”.
If the investment in Nigeria’s people yields positive results the reality of the global economy (in which everybody seeks to dominate and take advantage as I have mentioned) is that some economies will lose business.
Of course if we became globally competitive, we become less dependent, and the market is shared when we become a competitor.
Herein lies some of the hard choices that Nigeria must make.
To tread a difficult, sometimes painful road in order to experience prosperity.
Please do not be deceived that it is the global competitors alone whose interests are affected by such lofty goals.
On the contrary, the threat lies within, among African citizens themselves who profit from Africa’s lack of infrastructure and inefficiencies.
These inefficiencies, internal strife and conflict are the oasis of their prosperity, whether acting alone or with external partners.
They will fight to resist the attempts to embark on this journey, not because they dislike it but because they have acquired a vested interest in the existing order, however dysfunctional it might be.
This is why the choice of the leaders of the African nations has always been very important and currently now assumes an even greater importance.
Once the leader lacks the integrity or has compromised himself, he will more likely succumb to the pressures to abort, delay or at worst attempt the journey of reforms with duplicitous commitment.
I will conclude by saying as I have said before that there is nothing wrong with Nigeria and indeed Africa as I know it.
What is wrong, if anything, have been the choices we have made and the affiliations we have nurtured.
All of our challenges whether it is conflicts, lack of infrastructure, corruption and even disease are opportunities for ourselves as they are for members of the global community with whom we must be related.
What we get will be determined by what we choose and how we choose.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN
Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing – Federal Republic of Nigeria