Africa: Setting the Record Straight

Published on 6th June 2018

Africa Rising. Is Africa really rising? And, if so, rising from where? Did Africa fall? When did Africa fall and how? If indeed today we are said to be rising, then perhaps this is an admission, logically speaking, that Africa had fallen. Or is it? We speak today of our vision, of Agenda 2063, Towards a Peaceful, Prosperous and Integrated Africa, under our vision, Agenda 2063. There are at least eleven complementary components of this vision which together form the basis for Agenda 2063. They can be located, roughly, in the following thematic subsets:

Peace and Security

Political Affairs

Human Resources, Science & Technology

Infrastructure & Energy

Social Affairs

Trade & Industry

Rural Economy & Agriculture

Economic Affairs

Legal Affairs

Women, Gender & Development

Civil Society & The Diaspora

Besides all these, the African Union is in the process of reform to make the Commission “fit for purpose.” This is the message from the report, the Imperative to Reform, which can be adequately referred to as the “Kagame Report.” The aim of the Reform is to address the perennial question of our Africa, a continent rich in natural and human resources, but which still somehow, miraculously, manages to remain poor in the midst of plenty and described, derisively and contemptuously as the Hopeless Continent, by the Economist magazine. To Kwame Nkrumah, even the shape of the continent is like a question mark, with Madagascar as the dot. To President Sarkozy, Africa has contributed absolutely nothing to history. Clearly he has forgotten to take a look at the French national soccer team which won the World Cup. To King Leopold, Africa was a magnificent cake to be cut up and eaten, or rather devoured.

To Professor Hugh Trevor Roper, then Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, Africa has no history to speak of, other than “the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant quarters of the globe.” To the Hungarian Marxist, Endre Sik, who wrote in his history of Africa in 1966, “Prior to their encounter with Europeans, the majority of African people still lived a primitive barbaric life, many of them even on the lowest level of barbarism – therefore it is unrealistic to speak of their history in any scientific sense of the word before the appearance of the European invaders.” Now we have seen the historic Arabic scripts from Timbuktu, and we know the story is totally different, and have renounced what we are made to believe.

Africa is quite simply our home, our beautiful home, which we intend to develop by 2063. We have a proverb in Ghana, “you do not point at your father’s house with your left hand.” We want to develop our home, Africa, so that we can live comfortably at home, so that our youth, our very future, our incredibly talented, energetic and creative youth, do not, out of desperation, feel compelled to vote with their feet and flee from home, across the Sahara Desert, risk getting drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, in a vain and fruitless attempt to seek a non-existent El Dorado in a Europe which does not want them. 

What is our vision for Africa?  What kind of Africa do we want? Why does the world’s richest continent have some of the world’s poorest people? At a symposium held by the English-speaking Union in Westminster, London, in May 1960, Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, the first African country south of the Sahara to win genuine independence, argued:

“What are the aspirations of Africans? Above all, they desire to regain their independence and to live in peace. They desire to use this freedom to raise the standard of living of their peoples. They desire to use their freedom to create a union of African states on the continent, and thus neutralize the evil effects of the artificial boundaries imposed by the imperial powers and promote unity of action in all fields. These are Africa’s ideals.”

In a speech at the National Assembly, Accra, 8th August 1960, Kwame Nkrumah said:

“It has often been said that Africa is poor. What nonsense! It is not Africa that is poor. It is the Africans. And they are impoverished by centuries of exploitation and domination.” That is why we are poor. It is a product of history. It was caused by man, and it can be therefore be addressed by man.”

In his Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, Kwame Nkrumah again wrote:

“The concept of African Unity enhances the fundamental needs and characteristics of African civilization and ideology, and at the same time satisfies all the conditions necessary for an accelerated economic and technological advance. Such maximum development would ensure a rational utilization of the material resources and human potential of our continent along the lines of an integrated economy, and within complementary sectors of production, eliminating all unnecessary forms of competition, economic alienation and duplication.”

It was not only Kwame Nkrumah who expounded this view. His brothers, Jomo Kenyatta, Sekou Toure, Ahmed Ben Bella, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and so on, all believed this. In 1965, Amilcar Cabral wrote:

“The people are not fighting for ideas in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.”

Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown. Amilcar Cabral was assassinated. Samora Machel was assassinated. You must wonder why? It is time to look at this conundrum more closely. Writing on the British colonial legacy in Africa in 2002, Boris Johnson, new Foreign Secretary, wrote, “The continent may be a blot, but it is not a blot on our conscience. The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.”

In 2016, 44 per cent of respondents in a You Gov poll agreed with him, stating that Britain’s colonial history was “something to be proud of.” Why is it that Britain and other colonial powers continuously feel the need to justify this position? The psycho- analyst and writer Franz Fanon, put it this way in his classic work, The Wretched of the Earth: “Colonialism is not merely satisfied with holding a people in its grip and emptying the natives’ brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it.” It has no shame, just as Boris Johnson has no conscience, to be disturbed by facts. When the facts are inconvenient, simply change them.

It was the great Winston Spencer Churchill who once wrote, the further back we look, the further forward we are likely to see. This statement has been echoed by many officials and intellectuals including the immediate past president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, “to look forward and build the future, we must know the past.” Concretely, we need to make a concrete analysis of our concrete situation, our history.

If we are to examine the past, we would be duty-bound to consider the causes and consequences of Europe’s encounter with Africa. Consider the United Nations Human Rights Declaration from the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) Durban, South Africa (2001): “We declare that Slavery and the Slave Trade were tragedies in the history of humanity, and were crimes against humanity and should always have been so.”

Was slave trade legal at the time? Does this argument hold water? How were the slaves acquired? In the evidence brought before the Select Committee of the House of Commons in the years 1790 and 1791, on the part of the Petitioners for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, in Chapter 1,

“The trade for slaves in the River Senegal, was directly with the Moors, on the northern banks, who got them often by war, and not seldom by kidnapping; that is, lying in wait near a village, where there was no open war, and seizing when they could.”

Yet Prime Minister Tony Blair, on 15th March 2007, asserted that though now this would be a crime against humanity, it was legal at the time. We ask, when was the act of kidnapping ever legal?

“Those sold to vessels at Goree, and near it, were procured either by grand pillage, the lesser pillage, or by robbery of individuals or in consequence of crimes. The grand pillage is executed by the king’s soldiers, from three hundred to three thousand at a time, who attack and set fire to a village, and seize the inhabitants as they can.”

This happened along the coast of Senegambia. All the way down to Angola and Mozambique and across the Indian Ocean. Now what about the Gold Coast, where Cape Coast Castle was known as the Slave Emporium, that is to say, the Slave Supermarket? Here there was competition between the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese and the English. This letter from the Dutch West Indian Company is illustrative of what went on.

“Van Hodwerf to Assembly of Ten, 31st January 1687: On 26 December the “Portugaalsche Handelaer” arrived, which I have despatched today with 525 pieces of slaves, 386 men and 139 women. As before, there is a great abundance of slaves here, but there is also great famine, with the result that I have not been able to supply this ship with as much millet as I would have desired. The Negros, who as I have mentioned earlier, are here not at all polite, have torn up the Noble Company’s flag, on the day the ship Cormantyn left. On many occasions, it is custom, and one is even obliged to have such a flag on the beach for the reputation of the Noble Company.”

He continues:

“This event is therefore a serious matter, and the English and the French at Fida are quite happy about it, as they concluded, as can be understood, that our presence in this country is no longer brooked. I have, therefore, on my own costs, prosecuted and eradicated the flag-violator on behalf of H.E. the General, and sent him to Elmina per canoe; the General has publicly sentenced him (to death) and decapitated him, and has sent the severed head on board the company ship Goude Tyger hither. As an example (of the punishment for) for such wantonness I have put it on top of a pole here at the lodge …”

Just think about it. A man was decapitated, his head was cut off, for tearing up a company’s flag. This was the violence introduced on the Gold Coast by Europeans!!

Another letter dated 10th February 1688, from Van Hoolwerf to the Directors of the Chamber Amsterdam, 10th February 1688 is as follows:

“On 22nd January 1688 the small yacht Sara Maria, which had been sent hither on the orders of Hon. D.G. Nic Sweerts in order to take Your Highness account as many slaves as its cargo could buy, has been despatched to Governor William Kerckrungh of Curacao with 173 slaves …

“Up to now the slave trade has well progressed, but these days it seems to slow off a little as a result of the lack of wars in the interior as well as the abundance of this year’s corn crop, which does not, like last year the famine did, make them sell their slaves.”

In yet another letter from Van Hookwerf to the Assembly of Ten dated 28th May 1680,

“We have tried to make known to Your Highness our miserable conditions in the letter we sent per Den Grooten Africaen. In view of the fact that I have served Your Highness for over four years, although I have not been able to be of much service during the last two years as a result of the lack of arriving ships, I wish to request Your Highness politely and humbly to accept, with the first coming slave ship, my resignation if a certain person by the name of Hendrick Huybers were to come to offer his services to Your Highness, you may be fully assured of his fidelity, knowledge and vigilance, (and his ability to take my post) because for the intercourse with the Negros here, a person is required who – and Your Highness may correct me, and pray, forgive the comparison – is as noble and able as one who could be entrusted with a General’s post at d’Elmina, as I now experience with the long delays and lack of arrivals of ships …”

“PS … I would also like to request humbly the dispatch of two assistants to replace the two who have all the time been with me, and I also pray that Your Highness may have the goodness to give me permission to take with me, on my departure, 20 slaves, as may be permitted and over a long period sourly earned emolument, on my own account …”

The Middle Passage

During the voyage, the slaves were tied up and arranged like books on a shelf. The possibility of rebellion was never far from the minds of the slave ship officers and crew when they swapped stories in slaving ports. Slave traders had a variety of theories about what caused revolts and how to prevent them. After William Snelgrave, an English slave captain, had crushed a rebellion on The Henry in 1721, he interrogated the leaders as to why they had rebelled. They replied that Capt. Snelgrave “was a great rogue to buy them in order to carry them away from their own country; and that they were resolved to regain their liberty if possible.”

Against the background of slaves always seeking their freedom, the general prevailing policy was this. To guard against plots, slave traders should identify those slaves who seemed most “indifferent to their liberty” and give them preferential treatment to turn them into informers. When faced with the threat or reality of a shipboard uprising, most, if not all, slaving captains followed the theory that brutal intimidation was the best course of action. Such a theory had been expressed earlier by Jean Barbot, a celebrated French slave trade and author, who wrote that if a rebellion occurred, the captain should “spare no effort to repress the insolence and, as an example to the others, sacrifice the lives of the most mutinous. This will terrify the others and keep them obedient. The way of making it clear to them, I mean the form of punishment that scares the Africans the most is by cutting up a live man with an ax and handing out the pieces to the others.”

Can you imagine this? No wonder every effort is being made to suppress any debate on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. According to the Trinidadian historian and writer, Dr. Eric Williams, the negro slaves were described in the UK archives as the “strength and sinews of the western world.” The slave trade, its preservation, development and improvement was “a matter of high importance to the Kingdom and the plantations thereunto belonging,” according to a prominent English political economic/historian and writer, Malachy Postlethwayt.

In 1718, William Wood, an English economist, writing in A Survey of Trade, noted that “the Slave Trade was the spring and parent form where all others flow” – the great source of wealth for the English nation. Behind every great wealth is a crime.

In 1751, Postlethwayt, in his publication Great Britain’s Commercial Interest, described the slave Trade as “the principal foundation of all the rest, the mainspring of the machine which sets every wheel in motion.” It has been argued that the slave trade and the accumulation of capital arising therefrom, fuelled the Industrial Revolution in England and Europe.

The profit from the Slave Trade provided the mainstream of the capital accumulation which financed the Industrial Revolution. It was the negro slaves who made those sugar colonies the most precious colonies ever recorded in the British Empire. The British Empire, from which sprang today’s Commonwealth of Nations, was “a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power on an African foundation.” Governor John Hippisley, writing on the Population of Africa, observed that, I quote, “the extensive employment of our shipping in, to and from America, the great brood of seamen consequent thereon, and the daily bread of the most considerate part of our British manufacturing, are owing primarily to the labour of negros. The negro trade and the natural consequences resulting therefrom may justly be esteemed an inexhaustible fund of wealth and power to this nation.” Unquote.

As the Governor of Cape Coast Castle, he was bullish on the African Slave Trade and wrote “Africa not only can continue supplying the West Indies in the quantities she has hitherto, but if necessity required it could spare thousands, many millions more, and go on doing this to the end of time.”

The Slave Trade was eventually abolished in the late 18th Century. Subsequent developments then ushered in the Berlin Conference of 1884/85. At this Conference, the African continent was divided up between European powers and the United States. This was done to prevent war in Europe among the European powers, prompted by British invasion of Egypt, and the French of Morocco.

The borders which were created then are the borders which remain with us today. For another century or more colonies were developed in Africa whose countries were assigned the rule of single crop economies and apartheid in South Africa.

This is the background to the Africa in which we find ourselves. We can only hope to create the Africa we want when few really know and understand where we are coming from.

The independence of Ghana, wrought by a dynamic young Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah, ushered in the era of decolonization and independence which led to and was also supported by the Organisation of African Unity. After the final liberation of South Africa with the release of Nelson Mandela, came the metamorphosis of the OAU into the African Union. The colonial system entrenched poverty in Africa, and the system remains largely so to this day. This is the nature of our historical phenomenon, its origin, its evolution and its development. Now what is the current situation?

In the year 2004, Africa exported goods to the value of 232 billion dollars, the equivalent of 2.6 per cent of global trade. Africa imported goods to the value of 212 billion dollars, equivalent to 2.3 per cent of global trade. Of its exports, manufactures accounted for 5.1 billion dollars, agricultural products to 28 billion, and fuels and mining products 137 billion dollars.

Taking fuels, mining products and agricultural products together, unprocessed goods accounted for more than 71 per cent of Africa’s total merchandise exports in 2004. Only 10 per cent of the goods exported were traded within Africa, 42 per cent to Europe, Asia, 16.8 per cent of which 5.8 per cent was to China alone.

For long term sustainable development, Africa needs to prioritize its capacity to process goods. In any wealth-generation process, such factors as productive capacity, productivity and competitiveness are closely linked. This linkage is one of the prerequisites for sustainable supply capacity and regional integration. It is predicated on the proactive participation of complementary initiatives of the private sector, the government and support institutions, as well as learning and innovation centres.

It may perhaps be an appropriate juncture to recall that as far back as 1963, Kwame Nkrumah called for a Committee of Foreign Ministers, officials and officials to be empowered to establish: A Commission to frame a Constitution for a Union Government of African States; A Commission to work out a continent-wide plan for a United or Common Economic and Industrial Programme for Africa to include the setting up of a Common Market for Africa, an African currency, an African monetary zone.

He was advocating that with continental integration will come continental development. He was confident that with integration and unity “we shall be able to drain our marshes and our swamps, clear infested areas, feed the undernourished, and rid our people of parasites and disease. It is even within the possibility of science and technology to make even the Sahara bloom into a vast field with verdant vegetation for agricultural and industrial developments. We shall harness radio, television, giant printing presses to lift our people from the dark recesses of illiteracy.” That was in the dim and distant past over 50 years ago, in 1963, at the inaugural and foundational setting of the Organisation of African Unity in Addis Ababa.

A Changing Landscape in Africa

What is the landscape of Africa today? Africa seems today more confident, more dynamic and imbued with more optimism. It is also quite fragile, because it is still dependent on export of raw materials. Its growing number of young people, energetic and restless, are facing the brunt of lack of inclusiveness in the growth. The development is not sustainable and the large majority of our energetic youth are without employment. Many African countries still face severe constraints in their sustainable economic development and are still heavily dependent on the exploitation of natural resources.

What are the challenges? Transnational security problems, organized crime, human trafficking, religious fanaticism, Boko Haram, environmental degradation and outbreak of diseases such as Ebola. We are faced with famine in places like South Sudan, climate change, unprecedented levels of forced displacements, irregular migration within Africa and towards a Europe which does not want them. The demographic dynamics are spectacular in their projections. By 2050, Africa’s population will be around 2.4 billion people – predominantly young people. This is a danger, as well as an opportunity. What, then, is to be done?

Investing in our youth is the only way to harness the demographic dividend. Education should start early and remain continuous. In the African Union, we have three main priorities. It shall be education, education, education. Education is a major priority in the development of our youth. Early education is the first issue which requires investment of the best development chances are to be given to all the children to seize future opportunities.

Studies have shown that the level of education attained by individuals determine their level of exposure to poverty and the extent to which they contribute to economic growth. Education transforms an individual’s values, beliefs and behaviour and generally enhances his attitude, and this makes him more productive. The curriculum must be looked at again to reflect our strategic ambitions for that is going to be the software of development. What are our aspirations under Agenda 2063?

Agenda 2063                

The aspirations reflect our desire for shared prosperity and well-being for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want.

Aspiration 1: A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. We are determined to eradicate poverty in our generation.

Aspiration 2: An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism, and the vision of Africa’s renaissance. Since 1963, the quest for African Unity has been inspired by the spirit of Pan-Africanism, focusing on liberation and political and economic independence. It is motivated by development based on Self-reliance and self-determination of African people, with democratic and people-centred.

Aspiration 3: An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law. Africa shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Aspiration 4: A peaceful and secure Africa. Mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflict. A culture of peace and tolerance – education for every African child.

Aspiration 5: An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics. Pan-Africanism, and the common history, destiny, identity, heritage, respect for religious diversity and consciousness of African peoples and her diaspora.

Aspiration 6: An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth.

Aspiration 7: Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner.

A new momentum for structural transformation is gathering steam. After years of conflict, turmoil and economic stagnation, Africa’s fortunes are beginning to turn for the better. Africa is once again on a positive path of growth as well as political and socio-economic transformation.

The African Union Agenda 2063, the blueprint for Africa’s development, provides direction with key flagship projects such as: The signing of the Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) by member states of the Union, in April last month in Kigali, will boost trade within Africa; it will be a game changer. The launch of the Single African Air transport Market, during the June 2018 Summit of Heads of State and Government to create a single unified air transport market, will be an impetus to our economic integration agenda to ensure intra-regional connectivity between our capital cities as well as air carrier efficiencies.

The African CFTA will create a wider market of more than 1.2 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of 2.19 million dollars. This will scale up investments, resulting in the pooling of African resources to enhance structural transformation and the development of regional value chains.

Africa is finally on the move. We invite all of you, all our partners, all our young people, the train has left the station, but it is beginning to speed up. Get on board, and let us all build this proud continent. Where are we going? We are creating and integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena.

By  H.E. Kwesi Quartey,

African Union Commission  Deputy Deputy Chairperson


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