West must back up “equal partnership” talk with action in Africa

Bryant EarthaBryant Eartha | Updated: 26-08-2022 16:26 IST | Created: 26-08-2022 16:26 IST
West must back up “equal partnership” talk with action in Africa
Image Credit: Flickr

The war in Ukraine appears to be casting long shadows, as high-level Western politicians flock to Africa in order to curry favor on the continent. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is the latest to embark on a charm offensive, following hot on the heels of French President Emmanuel Macron – and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – last month.

As well as jostling for position in a region that the US has neglected for far too long, Blinken's visit signaled his country's intention to treat African countries as "equal partners in addressing global challenges" going forwards. Of course, climate change is one of the main issues to which he was referring, but it's unreasonable and hypocritical to expect developing nations in one of the most impoverished parts of the planet to forgo the same advantages upon which Western nations have built their wealth without being sufficiently compensated. At the same time, another of Blinken's priorities in Africa was to try and make strides towards settling a regional dispute between the DRC and Rwanda, which could have far-reaching repercussions for the continent and beyond if allowed to escalate.

Deeds as well as words

Given that many African nations were supported by the USSR during their efforts to emancipate themselves from their European colonists, it's perhaps understandable that they have been unwilling to publicly condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. As a member of the BRICS community alongside Russia and China, South Africa – which was Blinken's first destination on his three-country tour – is likely to be particularly impervious to American pleas to take sides.

Indeed, Blinken and his superior Joe Biden have their work cut out for them to undo the damage wrought by the latter's predecessor in the White House, Donald Trump. As well as using highly offensive language about the African people, Trump neglected the continent for years. Blinken's stated intention to treat sub-Saharan Africa as a "major geopolitical force" is certainly cause for optimism, but Western policymakers will need to follow through on that strategy in deed as well as word.

In particular, his stop-offs in the DRC and Rwanda are hugely significant because of the current tensions between the two, which Blinken himself has warned could destabilize the wider region. Both parties accuse the other of funding insurgency groups within their own territory, with each denying the allegations. However, a panel of UN experts recently published a report claiming to contain "solid evidence" that Rwandan forces had facilitated the resurgence of the M23 rebels after a near-ten-year hiatus. As well as being improbably well armed and organized after a decade in the wilderness, Rwandan troops have also been implicated by plentiful anecdotal evidence and even aerial footage taken by UN peacekeepers.

Predictably, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has rubbished the reports as an attempt to "distract from the real issues", though Blinken himself said they seemed "credible". Rwanda has long been linked with a series of human rights transgressions and the authoritarian regime there has recently been lent international legitimacy by powers such as the USA and the UK. The latter country has struck up a deportation scheme for asylum seekers to the African country, despite its own officials raising concerns over the morality of the proposals and the European Court of Human Rights blocking the first scheduled flights.

Ethical environmentalism

It's high time that Western heavyweights like America and Britain stop giving corrupt and morally bankrupt dictators a pass simply because of the usefulness that they sometimes offer – but it's also high time that they step up to the plate when it comes to sustainability. If Africa is truly to be treated as an "equal partner" in tackling such weighty challenges as global warming and climate change, the West must first recognize the stark inequality that has characterized the issue.

Again, the DRC is a prime case in point. The country's president Félix Tshisekedi recently warned that 15% of Congolese GDP could be wiped out by climate change in as little as eight years, asking for $5 billion per annum from rich nations for the next five years to avoid such an eventuality. Despite the fact that the current crisis has been caused almost exclusively by Western nations his plea fell on deaf ears.

Little wonder, then, that his government announced they would be auctioning off permits to drill for oil and gas in the Congolese basin last month. The region is home to the world's last remaining large rainforest which absorbs more carbon than it emits (it even swallows up more CO2 than the entire continent of Africa produces), as well as the planet's largest tropical peatlands. Predictably, environmental groups have been up in arms about the decision, though the hypocrisy of condemning Tshisekedi for attempting to keep his people out of poverty in the face of uncompassionate inertia from the West is startling.

Blinken has again made the right noises about forming a working group to help protect those precious but imperiled environmental resources. However, given that two-thirds of the African populace rely on subsistence farming for their survival, 600 million of them lack access to electricity and their numbers are expected to swell to four billion by the end of the century, it will take more than just well-intentioned soundbites and virtue signaling to achieve the intended outcomes.

Lip service no longer

Indeed, the African Development Bank Group (AFDB) estimates that merely adapting to the challenges posed by climate change could cost the continent $50 billion each year by 2050. Averting such a huge financial outlay on an annual basis is possible, but it will take targeted directives backed up by international collaboration and appropriate investment to become a reality. At the same time, Western powers cannot pick and choose when to regard Africa as equal partners in global affairs, nor can they turn a blind eye to internal tensions within the continent, or dubious practices perpetrated by individual governments.

For the West to repair its fractious relations with Africa, it must cease viewing the continent as a pawn in its struggle for supremacy with Russia, China, and other rivals, instead making good on the promise contained in Blinken's recent addresses. Only through support, collaboration, and mutual esteem – alongside deep-pocketed investment and reimbursement – can the inequalities of the past be undone to set the stage for a more equitable tomorrow.

(Devdiscourse's journalists were not involved in the production of this article. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)

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