In spite of all the controversies and mountains of news reports, the final outcome of the Africa-EU Summit in Lisbon is nothing but an anti climax. The joint declaration signed by the 67 leaders promised to be a new partnership that will propel both continents to 'a new, strategic level' which will forge 'a new and stronger partnership that builds on their new identities and renewed institutions, capitalizes on the lessons of the past and provides a solid framework for long term cooperation'.
Why should the EU and Africa be looking for a new partnership when the much touted NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) has been in existence for the past five years? Why are the same African leaders who claim that NEPAD is our economic blue print and the AU our political means of achieving its aims signing new partnerships? Why should other regional blocks who claim to support African initiatives use all kinds of carrots and sticks to induce us to sign new ones while making ritual commitment to support 'African solutions to African problems'.
The Yoruba have a saying 'Enia meji ki pa adanu iro, bi eniti an tan o ba mo o ye ki eniti ntan' ni o mo' (two people cannot both lose out on a lie, if the one being deceived does not know it is a lie , at least the deceiver should know it is a lie). The irony of Lisbon is that one is not sure who is fooling whom.
What is so new about this promised partnership which was dictated at all levels by the EU? It should rightly be called Europe's strategy for Africa instead of the deceitful tag of EU-Africa Strategy. The basic principles, contents, negotiations and processes were dictated by the Europeans with the Africans playing catch up or merely reacting as reviewers of papers drafted by the EU and their consultants. I should know what I am talking about because I was partly involved in the CSO (more appropriately NGO) process. Instead of the European NGOs talking and partnering with their African NGO counterparts, they were dealing directly with the AU bureaucrats, principally the African Citizens Directorate (CIDO). CIDO (which should be more appropriately called Centre for disempowering African Citizen Participation in the AU) then proceeded to cherry pick which African NGOs and NGIs (like myself) that they can involve. Things were not that different in the governmental processes. So bad did it become that there were deliberate leaks to NGO activists by concerned Ministers especially on EPA by African finance Ministers despairing at the bullying of African governments by the EU and their governments to force Africa to sign up by the time of the Lisbon summit.
It is obvious that the same divide - and - rule tactics which Europe successfully used to conquer us as slaves and later colonize and balkanize the continent into mostly non viable states were at play. How can we be negotiating with the EU as EAC, ECOWAS, and SADC, etc when they were negotiating with us as the EU? Perhaps it is most appropriate that the venue of the Summit was Lisbon, capital of Portugal. Portugal was the first European country to set foot in Africa and the last to leave its colonies forced by armed struggles in its colonies. Indeed it was revolution in its colonies that precipitated revolution in Lisbon itself that freed it from Military dictatorship.
We really cannot blame the Europeans for leading us by the nose. We should ask ourselves why our noses are so readily available. Why are we so ready and willing to respond to other people's agenda with no respect for ours? Is it that we cannot refuse any invitation to dinner even if the food is not palatable or when we may be full?
Respect is not given on demand but earned by the way one respects oneself. If African leaders can sign up to NEPAD, AU, RECs and other intra African multilateral agreements and conveniently forget them whenever extra African powers come calling, we cannot blame others for over writing them.
No amount of agreements signed by African leaders with other regions of the world will deliver social progress and development to our peoples unless we put our house in order, and deal with the rest of the world as a united front in spite of the contradictions between us. Others have their own internal contradictions too but they know where their best interest and what their long term strategies are.
If AU is the primary diplomatic and political organ for Africa's shared interests, we need to give it the essential power to do so on our behalf instead of constantly running around sucking up to any powers that claim to have interest in Africa.
The politics that led to Lisbon are a demonstration of the ugly truth that we are yet to take ourselves seriously. Consequently, we belittle our own institutions and through that ourselves whilst privileging others in our affairs. It is time to stop this circus of Executive mileage and saver miles across the world. Leaders should just stay at home and implement all the agreements we already have to accelerate regional and continental integration. Anybody interested can come and join us as we rebuild this continent from Cape Town to Cairo. We do not need new agreements. We just need to fulfill the existing ones we made among ourselves. Without this, all agreements will just be like one between cats and Mice.
By Dr. Tajudeen Abdul
Deputy Director, Africa, for the UN Millennium Campaign based in Nairobi Kenya. He writes this weekly column in his personal capacity as a Pan Africanist and a Director of the London-Based Justice Africa
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