China and Global Development: Different Perspectives on Africa

On 29 February 2016, I participated in a panel discussion on the above subject, ‘China and Global Development: Different Perspectives on Africa’. This was at the School of Public Policy, Central European University, Budapest, alongside, Professor George Wu (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Professor Chris Alden (London School of Economics and Political Science). The discussion was convened and moderated by Dr Daniel Large, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and MPA Director.

You can watch the full video available below:

The SPP-CEU website has a summary of some highlights of the discussion, available HERE, which I am also reproducing below.

Read More »

Is the Idea of ‘African Solutions’ too limiting in a Globalised Economy?

Note: I paraphrased the title of this blog post from this tweet by Professor Calestous Juma. 

The question was prompted by a recent statement by Bob Collymore, the CEO of Safaricom, one of Africa’s pioneering mobile money platforms. Collymore suggests that the idea of ‘African Solutions’ (to African Problems) may be hindering the ability of African firms to have global impact.

Here is an excerpt from the Mail and Guardian:Read More »

“EITI was the Wrong Focus” and other Highlights of the Natural Resource Governance Conference

Last week, I was at a conference organised by the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), formerly Revenue Watch Institute, on the challenges and opportunities presented by falling commodity prices. It was attended by the best in the academia, in policy and in civil society in the field.

A breakdown of the panels and speakers is available on the NRGI website.

There were a couple of things which stood out that are worth highlighting and documenting.

First, at the opening plenary, was…Read More »

Obama’s Africa Summit: Too Little, Too Late?

This is an op-ed I wrote for Aljazeera English, on the recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

Photo credit: White House photo gallery

In 2013, I was in the audience at the Oxford Union for a taping of Al Jazeera’s Head to Head featuring Thomas Friedman and his thoughts on US Foreign Policy. The show’s focus was entirely focused on the Middle East, and the United States’ strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. During the Q&A session, I sought to highlight that Africa was not mentioned once over the course of the show. The fact that Africa was left out of the discussion is a clear illustration of the US’ tepid strategy towards the continent in recent times.Read More »

The BRICS Bank: an ‘Alternative’ to the Bretton-Woods Institutions?

Recently, the leaders of the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – made a bold step in setting up an international development bank. They have agreed to raise $100 billion to that effect, with plans for the headquarters of the financial institution to be based in Shanghai, China.

This decision came after years, of intense negotiations.

According to The Guardian:

The BRICS were prompted to seek coordinated action after an exodus of capital from emerging markets last year, triggered by the scaling back of US monetary stimulus. The new bank reflects the growing influence of the BRICS, which account for almost half the world’s population and about a fifth of global economic output.

The bank will begin with a subscribed capital of $50bn divided equally between its five founders, with an initial total of $10bn in cash put in over seven years and $40bn in guarantees. It is scheduled to start lending in 2016 and be open to membership by other countries, but the capital share of the BRICS cannot drop below 55%.

 

This significant development in international economic relations has been eclipsed from global headlines by the latest eruption of the tragic Israel-Palestinian conflict and the shooting down of yet another plane of the Malaysian Airlines fleet.

Discussing the new BRICS Bank with friends online and offline raised a number of pertinent issues:

First, can China’s dominance provide the decisive leadership needed to get the BRICS Bank up on its feet, as the US did for the IMF, the World Bank and the UN in the immediate post-War era in 1945? Or will its dominance be too overbearing, and actually derail the Bank even before it takes off fully?

Second, will the China-dominated BRICS bank vis-à-vis a US-dominated Bretton Woods system reincarnate another bipolar world order? Do we even want bipolarism dominated by two competing economic and political systems, the Washington Consensus and the Beijing Consensus?

Third, will the BRICS countries successfully manage their numerous differences (and there are many – language, size, spatial differences, financial clout and variations in political systems to mention a few).

Russian President, Vladmir Putin and a representative of the South African government right behind him at a BRICS summit in 2013. Photo credit: New York Times
Russian President, Vladmir Putin and a representative of the South African government right behind him at a BRICS summit in 2013. Photo credit: New York Times

Fourth, will the establishment of the BRICS Bank provide more diverse sources of development finance for the global South? Will it further enhance South-South cooperation? Is the new development bank capable of serving as an effective competition to the US-dominated Bretton Woods institutions, to at the very least, inspire needed reforms in these multilateral institutions to make them more inclusive (in voting rights, decision-making and staff composition)? Do we want competition, diversity, or both?

Fifth, where does (sub-Saharan) Africa fit into all this? What is the African Union’s position on this new institution?

And finally, why is Nigeria not included? Why isn’t it a BRINCS or an N-BRICS Bank? After all, with a GDP of $509 billion Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, and is over $100 billion richer than South Africa’s $372 billion economy. Although the BRICS acronym was coined years before Nigeria transitioned to Africa’s largest economy in May 2014. One still can’t help wondering whether this is the price Nigeria has to pay for its severe domestic political and security challenges.

What are your thoughts?

African Leaders and Free Lunches

 

The popular adage “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” kept crossing my mind in the run-up to the just concluded London Conference on Somalia. I wondered why a gathering focusing on a Sub Saharan African country was to be hosted by the UK government in London, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be precise. I thought of keeping my musings to myself until I found that a number of people shared the same sentiments, especially my Kenyan friend Kenneth Ochieng who summed up these sentiments on his blog page which I have copied at the end of this post.

Such a global gathering to discuss the way forward out of the litany of problems plaguing Somalia, referred to by policy makers and development experts as the archetypal “failed state” is certainly a commendable and progressive step. This is especially because Somalia’s problems of collapsed state institutions, Al-Shabab terrorism, piracy and humanitarian crisis affect not just Somalia but neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and successfully tackling these problems requires a concerted transnational effort with the relevant stakeholders.

However, my grouse here is why this gathering heavily attended by many African Heads of States, African multilateral organizations and other world leaders was hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron in London? Understandably, the safety of dignitaries couldn’t be compromised by holding it in Somalia, thus I wondered why the confab couldn’t be hosted neither by Jonathan in Abuja or Attah Mills in Accra; nor Kibaki in Nairobi in the Horn of Africa within the vicinity of Somalia itself, nor Zuma in Johannesburg. The conference couldn’t convene in the brand new glitzy African Union Headquarters literally built from scratch and furnished by Chinese funds and labour. One could perhaps assume that a conference on the Nigerian Boko Haram insurgency group (probably the next biggest security threat in the region), would be held in some swanky conference hall in Washington D.C., New York, Berlin or Paris.

The New AU Headquarters built by China, commissioned in January 2012

 

I simply wonder when African leaders would grow up, be more assertive in handling African affairs and wean themselves off international help over every thing (apparently including having our regional headquarters built for free or confabs on African security held in far away European capitals). Yet at the slightest opportunity, when it suits our African leaders, they utter populist “pan-African” rhetoric about being “dictated-to” and constrained by “imperialist” Western nations. I wonder when we are ever going to grasp the dynamics of international politics and realize that nations hardly do things for others involving massive funds on the basis of pure altruism but mainly based on what would benefit them. When would we start put our own national interests on the front burner before taking any step, in this case seizing the opportunity of such an international gathering to showcase our beautiful capital cities and improve outsiders’ perceptions of Africa for instance, and cut costs associated with funding such international travels?

With the conference over and a laudable communiqué released which inspires some hope on the future of security in Somalia, I hope our African leaders would subsequently consider being more assertive in holding such gatherings in an African country — even though the follow-up conference in June 2012 is billed to take place in Istanbul, Turkey. For one it would show our seriousness in taking charge of our destiny like other developing regions are doing and not painting the image of a helpless, dependent continent. For another it would boost the profile of the city holding such a gathering especially in the international media, and also bring in some foreign revenue to the local economy from hosting and accommodating delegates.

As I stated earlier, Kenneth Ochieng succinctly echoes my sentiments on this issue. Find below his write-up titled Listen Mr. African ‘STATESMAN’: Rants of a Troubled Pan-Africanist originally posted on his blog, Okwarohztake:

OK listen AU, IGAD, EAC, NEPAD and all other multilateral African institutions and ‘statesmen’ who’ve perfected the art of perennially ranting and whining about ‘Western Imperialism’. I am talking as a Pan-Africanist disturbed by the ingenuity, ineptitude and slack of many a folk in the exclusive club of African leadership.  Listen, an intergovernmental, inter-agency summit is underway in London, United Kingdom as I write. It’s the Somalia Conference convened by British Prime Minister David Cameron and his allies to address the troubles and restoration of Somalia. I know you are probably there already – INVITED, and must have carried elaborate delegations with you. Invited to participate? Invited to provide quorum? Or maybe just to be placated? Maybe to be arm twisted like you traditionally have been. Don’t you find it uneasy, disturbing or just funny that you are invited by a foreign entity, the same ‘Western Imperialists’ that you detest so much to deliberate on an endemic African predicament, a shameful scar on the Emblem of Africanism that is squarely on your mandate? Aren’t you a tad bit disturbed by your always sluggish, last-man response to matters of African welfare?

 I listened pensively to presidential speeches at the recently concluded AU summit in Addis Ababa: African leaders whining, distraught and disenfranchised, faulting the West, NATO for their role in the destabilization of an African flagship country – Libya. But come to think of it, beyond that barrage of rhetoric, emotions and the display of flaring tempers orchestrated by the likes of Zimbabwean ‘statesman’ Robert Mugabe, What did you do about Libya? How much seriousness did you commit to standing with an African state? How much resources or even time did you devote to rescuing Libya? After how long did you act? Anyway, I guess my questions could be indeed irrelevant for a people who can’t even agree on a stable AU leadership, a people clearly disillusioned and oblivious of their mandate.

 How shameful it is that you just get invited to an assembly of this calibre. How humbling it is that you will merely sign the resolutions but without the muscle and space to take centre stage in their execution. How I wish this would have been a partnership at the least, a joint caucus of an African multilateral institution with the western allies OR at best an African initiative strategized and executed by Africans drawing in international allies. As it is, I guess you haven’t mustered any serious leverage in these deliberations and you won’t be able to bargain and argue more aptly for Somalia, the Horn of Africa, and Africa. God forbid you might be participating effectively as rubberstamp ink, in a premeditated process of ratifying already engineered English/Western judgements on the prospects for Somalia.

 Isn’t it time you cut the rhetoric and got more proactive, more strategic and more creative in sorting out the challenges bedevilling our beautiful troubled continent? Isn’t it time such big African economies like Nigeria, South Africa as well as promising ones like Ghana, Botswana rolled up their sleeves and contributed more in terms of resources, time and delved into the murky waters of African Unity like their counterparts in Asia, Europe and South America do? 

For as long as you proceed with the prevailing ambivalence about these imperatives, you continue to sell out Africa – Cut the rhetoric folks; get down to work!