Africa as a Partner; Not a Beggar

Published on 27th June 2016

I will use the following words I heard from an American in Bedford Texas in the year 2004. His name is Mark Neff. Mark said this to me: “Essa I was in Africa before you were born. I understand Africa’s case more and I am driven by passion when it comes to spreading the message: “Africa does not need handouts; Africa needs hands up.”  He also went on to say this: “ America is definitely a land of opportunities but these opportunities do not have legs, they don’t walk around.” 

A private US citizen made me think deeper and deeper on matters related to Africa. From that day onwards I kept repeating these words in my mind: “It is the duty of us Africans to sell the story of Africa to the outside world.” Instead of seeing it as  a challenge, I see it as a responsibility. One should never see a challenge in selling the potential of his or her people or his or her society to others who are yet know. Educating other societies about the potentials in Africa is a natural duty for every African home and abroad.

What is Africa for me?

Africa is a continent where resources are buried, potentials are readily available and talent must be synchronized. Who is an African for me? An African is the combination of  people like myself, Arabs, Whites, Indians and Chinese on one huge piece of land that we geographically identify as  a continent.  The taste or meaning of Africa cannot be reduced to imaginary perceptions that are left hanging in our minds by images from the National Geographic. Africa is not only a continent of drumming, dancing, ancient monuments, historical relics or safaris reserved for adventurers. Africa is not that continent where modern day “explorers” can go to and start shooting documentaries on wild life, wretched of the earth, paupers, famine, savages and images of bad taste. Worst of all those shooting these movies do so not with the intention to help anyone but  to resell them to major media houses or industries and earn a lot of  money from misinformation.

We as Africans and friends of Africa who live in America are aware of the uphill battle we are facing as far as erasing the perception and concepts that some of these images have left in the minds of their targeted audience. Communicating with Africa through television screens or journals that are impregnated with negativity leaves so much to be desired. Making films which depict Africa as a strange land where wildlife and prehistoric lessons are at the base of existence is indeed economical truth. 

Africa, particularly modern day Africa, is a continent where information technology and science in general have found a new home. Africa is not a country; it is a continent with more than 50 states.  Africa is not a dark cave where diseases are made and left to spread their wings around the world. Africa is a continent of activities and potentials. It has huge deposits of mineral resources like Iron ore in Guinea Conakry, Uranium in Niger, Hydro carbons or large oil deposits in the gulf of Guinea or other parts of the west coast of Africa like Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Mali.

The images people have built in their minds about rich Arab nations will along the way be matched with rich oil rich African nations. I am not dreaming. I am guided by science along this vein.  Ghana has already started exploiting and selling oil. Cobalt stones like the ones in the thick jungles of Democratic Republic of Congo and Timber in areas like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Casamance or Southern part of Senegal and The Gambia are enough to supply the entire USA where trade relations are established. Coming back to The Gambia, black sand, laterite stone and rare sea species like the prone tigers-extremely large lobsters are there to be exploited.

Why is China left to sign all contracts with African nations when America is closer and enjoys cordial ties with the continent? I am not here to defend Africa.  I am here as a salesperson of Africa. We have products for the USA  to  buy. In the year 2000 during the era of former President Bill Clinton AGOA – the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act was signed into law by the US government. AGOA has since been renewed to 2025. The legislation significantly enhances market access to the US for qualifying Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries.

The United States of America has a set a criteria to either qualify or disqualify SSA countries from accessing the US market. You know what pleases someone like me in that regard? It is the fact that state-to-state relations  are not blinded by the urgent need from huge industries who are so hungry for raw material, therefore would care less if contracts are signed with corrupt tyrants in Africa. That is the most appropriate way to take and indeed the most prudent path to follow. States come and go but the people do remain. 

People in Africa must be aware of the fact that they are obliged by prevailing circumstances to welcome or respect the very meaning of capacity building. Anything contrary to the latter means Africans remaining deprived in the abundance of natural resources. That would appear irrational within a social, political and scientific perspective. Enhancing the lives of people by creating equal opportunities could indeed be one of the fastest ways for Africa to eradicate tyrannical and dictatorial regimes within.

Most leaders in Africa who tie their failures to colonialism, slavery and the like should have used human capital and natural resources to turn things around. That is why expanding awareness and  strengthening trade links, business opportunities and the like is one of the best guarantees societies can lean on  to promote private sector development. Wherever the private sector thrives, dictatorship or leadership that monopolizes power will not survive.

Poverty, corruption and ignorance are the fertilizers of terror. How many of our youths traverse the high seas in search of what some call “greener pastures”? The number is in the thousands now. What are the causes? Abject poverty, rampant corruption, regimes that perpetuate themselves in power for years, porous borders, ravaging wars and divisions caused by ethnocentric feelings. All these can be eradicated when the economy booms and the job market absorbs skilled workers and professionals. That is also the answer to brain drain. As soon as all these challenges are addressed, there will be no illegal African immigrant in the streets of any western country.

Partnering with Africa is strategically and economically the safest possible route and a WIN-WIN for societies in the western hemisphere like America and others in Europe. The proximity of West Africa to countries like France, England, Italy, Germany and then further down USA is combination of two things. One is risky, the other is benefits. Risky because leaving West Africa in the hands of organizations like BOKO HARAM in Nigeria and AQMI in Mali will sooner than later affect both sides. On the other hand fighting these organizations by using arms to clear and install a working culture and opportunities to sustain the latter is wise and better.

By Essa Bokarr Sey.

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