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 A vision for Africa’s post-Ukraine global order

By Adekeye Adebajo
24 August 2022   |   3:30 am
With recent high-level visits to Africa by the foreign ministers of Russia and the United States – Sergey Lavrov and Antony Blinken – it is critical that the continent define its own vision of a post-Ukraine world.

President Volodymyr Zelensky (Photo by Ukrainian presidential press-service / AFP)

With recent high-level visits to Africa by the foreign ministers of Russia and the United States – Sergey Lavrov and Antony Blinken – it is critical that the continent define its own vision of a post-Ukraine world. Africa must focus on concrete strategies in the three areas of security, political, and economic decolonization.

The continent – from the Sahel to the Horn – continues to be wracked by violent extremism fuelled by socio-economic inequalities and poor governance. Africa must thus prioritize democratic governance to curb conflicts and consolidate popular participation in decision-making. South Sudanese scholar-diplomat Francis Deng’s 1996 concept of “sovereignty as responsibility” should be urgently embraced in order to protect populations at risk and manage diversity more effectively.

The US, France, and Russia continue to launch damaging military interventions across Africa. Africans must therefore return to late Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui’s notion of Pax Africana which argued for a “continental jurisdiction” and “racial sovereignty” to keep meddling outsiders out of African disputes. Its regional bodies should work closely with the United Nations, as envisaged by the first African UN Secretary-General, Egypt’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali. These organisations must also be urgently strengthened. The clearest failure of Pax Africana is the non-operationalisation of the 25,000-strong African Standby Force – first announced in 2003 – leading to improvised and non-self-sustaining interventions. African governments should therefore increase financial and logistical capacity in this critical area, and the UN must use assessed contributions to support these efforts. Africa should also pressure the anachronistic 15-member UN Security Council to bring in Southern powers such as Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, and India.

In pursuit of political decolonization, Africans must craft a radically reformulated “non-alignment.” This was an approach employed by the newly independent Third World from the 1950s to balance East and West in order to avoid becoming Cold War proxies. Such a strategy could be useful in future battles between two Pax Americana and Pax Sinica-led blocs. In the spirit of the 1955 Bandung Conference and its prophets – Nehru, Nasser, and Nkrumah – African states must pursue “positive neutrality”, abstaining from collective defence arrangements with great powers. The foreign military bases of the US, France, and China – and the Russian military presence – must therefore be dismantled. Africa should, of course, still support the rules-based international order, condemning wars of aggression in Ukraine as it does in Iraq.

The final strategy Africa must promote is economic decolonization. It must work with its global South allies to reverse international trade inequalities, and gain greater leverage in the Western-dominated World Bank, IMF, and the World Trade Organisation. Africans should also push for the building of infrastructure, and the transfer of technology. With intra-African trade a paltry 16%, the continent must embrace Nigerian scholar-technocrat Adebayo Adedeji’s vision of five effective subregional pillars, before it can build a genuine African Common Market. The heavily-polluting rich world should fulfill its annual $100 million pledge to tackle climate change in Africa.

The same solidarity that helped the global South achieve political liberation through the UN has failed to reverse the economic inequalities built into the continuing system of “global apartheid.” Africa must therefore work with powerful countries like China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia to establish a more equitable global economic system. Beijing’s economy of $18 trillion is now larger than that of all 27 European Union countries combined of $15.7 trillion, while China’s economy is due to overtake America’s in the next decade. Africa should thus leverage its relations with Beijing – as its largest trading partner at $254 billion and builder of a third of its infrastructure – to craft better deals with Western governments and investors. EU countries may also be forced to look to African countries to replace Russia’s 40% contribution of their gas supplies.

Professor Adebajo is a senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship in South Africa.