In the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, European countries sat to discuss and apportion Africa. There was a notable absence - Africa had no seat at the Berlin table. A century later, conversations about Africa are still being held around foreign tables with the slight difference that Africans are now being summoned to take their seat at the table. The agenda is still foreign with the convenient black bodies to make the discussions cosmetically acceptable. The dominant voice at the table is that of foreigners who determine African futures in line with foreign policies. Africa now has a seat at the table but it is not really allowed to speak. So why are our leaders still at the beck and call of foreign powers, embarrassing us all in the process?
Some in business class and others in chartered planes, Africa's birds of passage, its Presidents, fly from one country to the next guzzling millions and selling off their countries to the highest bidder. Since 1990, the Center for Strategic International Studies reports that there have been 41 regional summits with African leaders, all of which were convened by foreign countries. 13 times, African leaders attended the France-Africa summit, 7 times they attended the Japan-Africa summit, 7 times they attended the China-Africa summit. 5 times they attended the Euro-Africa summit, the India-Africa summit has been hosted 3 times while Turkey and Arab nations have convened summits twice. Not to be left out, Russia and the United States of America have convened one summit each. The hosting of most summits alternates between an African country and the convening state but a lot should still be said of how 26 summits about Africa have been held out of Africa. Are African countries still partners if they are summoned to far off lands to discuss the future of their land?
In August 2019 at the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) held in Yokohama, Japan, the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe boldly declared, "We will do whatever it takes to assist the advancement of Japanese companies into Africa." For their part, African leaders took to the podium and advertised their countries. President Paul Kagame, for one, spoke of how, "Rwanda has put private sector development at the heart of our strategy for prosperity..." The auction had begun. All leaders in the room may have been earnest patriots looking out for their different countries but good intentions in a dysfunctional setting breed the worst results. The old adage: the road to hell is paved with good intentions rings true here. For starters, an entire continent had been invited by a single country for a conference. Were the different African presidents in the room there for their respective countries or for the continent? Secondly, agenda setting had clearly been done by the Japanese who hosted the summit because it was their idea after all. The foreign policy ambitions pursued were Japanese.
At the 2017 France-Africa Conference, President François Hollande said, "If Africa goes through instability and insecurity, we’ll have a number of consequences from it. If, on the contrary – and we’re trying hard for this –, Africa develops, emerges and experiences growth, stability and democracy, then France, Europe will be able to experience what will be lasting development and growth with that continent. " In itself, African prosperity was meaningless to the French unless it carried some benefit for Europe. African leaders were converging in Europe to pursue a European agenda which had a momentary marriage of convenience with African prosperity. It might be genius that African leaders are effectively using whatever podium is available to them to advance their interests, or absolute foolishness to pursue the agendas of other countries, flying over seas in chartered planes from impoverished nations to do it. It seems more foolish than genius that Africa's future is being modelled around foreign policies. Africa should set its own agenda and foreign countries should adjust to it!
Within Africa, conversations are already being had to ensure Africans collectively take part in the sustainable development of their continent. In 2018, the Africa Investment Forum was established to get the capital flowing throughout the continent. At the 2019 edition, the African Development Bank President, Akunwumi Adesina said, "The Africa Investment Forum is the work of a collective, of those who believe in the development of the continent. Africa's time is now and we want to be more determined than ever! You will soon see Africa at the top of the peak!"
At the end of the conference, 56 Boardroom deals valued at $67.6 Billion had been tabled. It was a 44% increase from last year's $46.9 Billion. 52 deals secured investor interest to the tune of $40.1 Billion. As President Adesina said, the spirit of the forum was, "Transactions, transactions, transactions. Deals, deals, deals."
The icing on the cake is these are deals done within Africa on Africa's own terms. The Forum's Senior Director, Chinelo Arohu even said, "The Forum is a platform that will change Africa's investment landscape. Africa is ready to engage on its own terms." Over 2 221 participants from 48 African countries and 61 other countries attended the forum. There is a gradual shift in the way Africa is doing business and with the African Continental Free Trade Area and the coming 2028 African Economic Community, the future is looking distinctly African. Before these ambitious attempts at redefining Africa's place at the negotiating table come to fruition, African leaders would do everyone a lot of good if they stop embarrassing themselves by running after every first world country which has an agenda with Africa in it.