Africa, Systemic Turbulence and a Future Entrapped in the Past

Africa, Systemic Turbulence and a Future Entrapped in the Past

Monday, February 19, 2024 6:32 pm

Ademola Araoye

The 37th Ordinary Summit of the African Union that ended in Addis Ababa last week impels an observation of the antiquated character of the divisive Union and the lack of its salience in the context of the challenges in the global order. The contemporaneous volatility of the global order presents opportunities of epochal historical implications to Africa that, unfortunately, the African Union is not configured to exploit. The turbulence in the global order is integral to historic cycles of realignments of major powers. Revolutionary forces in Africa responding to the turmoil in the international order to advance the African Renaissance agenda were barred from the retrogressive continental gathering in Addis Ababa. Paradoxes thus abound, even as the crisis of the legitimacy of the African Union is exacerbated. The multitude paradox is that the barred revolutionary forces themselves squirm at the idea of a presence in a club of mainly self-serving despots and pretend pan-Africans. Secondly, the barred revolutionary forces display a better appreciation of how Africa can begin to navigate the evolved complexity of the global order for the benefit of its people and the global black humanity. Thirdly, they are more mentally fortified for the challenges ahead of Africa in renegotiating its place and role in the global firmament. Lastly, they reflect the zeitgeist of the restiveness of the youthful continent.

The obvious defects at birth of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU) and the tenuous legitimacy of a successor body structured to circumvent the actualization of the pan-African roadmap to black holistic emancipation has persisted since 1963. As it has turned out, the OAU that emerged in 1963 was merely to buy time for the strong pan-African currents in the immediate post-independence era to wane. Black Africa thus happened to a pan-African vision that was enunciated by high-minded black humanity in the diaspora. Following the acquisition of flag independence, the concretization of the vision of a true African Union in a continental republic threatened the personal ambitions of individuals, who had opportunistically emerged as leaders of tiny little territorial silos. Some of these exhibited barely average intelligence and lacked the vision that comes with the advancement of altruistic goals.

This has proven to be a gargantuan moral deficiency. These often lionized wounding fathers of the continent, except a few, preserved the inherited colonial enclaves. They intended to appropriate the political spaces and the terrorized human contents of the territorial silos as a family heritage to be passed on to their scions. As the Mwalimu, Julius Nyerere, one of the very few revered of the true founding fathers, admitted after the 1963 conference, many of his colleagues confessed that they were relieved to be returning to their capitals still as heads of state. That was all that mattered. Since then, the unspoken mantra has been everything else but political union. A political union would liquidate the business of the many political entrepreneurs who form the local anchor of the international loot machinery that has been at work in Africa. The status quo and the dominant mindset of Africa’s political class have served well the strategic interests of the hegemonic creators of the post-colonial state. The normative underpinnings, structures, protocols, and workings of the African Union are designed to perpetuate its birth deficits. The birth deficits have critical implications for the future of Africa more than ever before.

The cosmetic rebranding of the Organization of African Unity into the African Union did not cure the African Union of its birth defects. The familiar rhetoric spewed at the African Union is notorious for its wide gap from the existential challenges of black humanity. This is tragic as the continent remains fixated on orientations detrimental to the cause of the advancement of peoples in the face of the historic opportunity offered by the active eruptions in an international order. Turpitude characterizes the international system during epochal transitions of the global order or in the process of the evolution of the structure of the international system. The system is permanently fragile in a universe principally defined by a lack of a monistic center of order and, positively, by the permanent existence of a multiplicity of power poles contending for dominance of the system. Peace and stability as naively advanced through a balance of power is desirable. However, in real time elite protagonists seek hegemonic dominance. The system is fragile and stabilized by the impositions of the mightiest or coalitions and alliances of the mighty to advance their strategic objectives. The weak may however institute feeble attempts, humanism, ideologically, morally, and or ethically premised, to constrain and or mitigate the impact of the unilateral deployment of the power of the mighty. Accordingly, the structure of the system refers to the distribution of power among the constituent state actors within the system and the international order reflects the diktats of the most powerful states.

The economic dimension of the volatility in the global order is the evolving tectonic shift in the management of the global economy implied by the rise of BRICS. The advancement of economic interests has been the bedrock of strategic policy across time. The institutionalization of BRICS was motorized by imperatives of economic partnership among states dissatisfied with the structure of the global order and management of global economic relations. BRICS was thus conceived as a diplomatic forum and development financing, outside of the Western mainstream. The movement outside the mainstream of global institutional financial arrangement almost immediately was perceived as undermining the character of a subsisting pattern of global economic relations, and specifically a threat to the preeminence of the United States dollar as the main currency of international trade. The emergence of the BRICS, revolving around China and Russia, became an element in the overall restructuring of the strategic planetary order. BRICS was almost immediately dubbed the global South alternative. Meanwhile, to underline its major focus on economic development, in 2015 Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) established the New Development Bank (NDB). Based at its headquarters in Shangai, the New Development Bank is a multilateral development bank to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in emerging markets and develop countries (EMDCs). With $50 billion (around €46 billion) in seed money, the New Development Bank presents an alternative to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In addition, a liquidity mechanism called the Contingent Reserve Arrangement to support members struggling with payments was created. The BRICS bank is open to members outside the original 5 BRICS states and its additional members approved.

The birth of BRICS and the widespread enthusiastic reception it received in some major world economies and in the Global South coincided with the historic failures of the dominant leaders of neo-liberal institutions to manage efficiently the global economy for the benefit of all. The vast majority of the global population was schemed out of prosperity that was limited to only less than 20 percent of the human population. This gross imbalance in human prosperity is illustrated by the United States of America. Constituting less than 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans generate and earn more than 20 percent of the world’s total income. Yet, the 2023 Global Prosperity Index revealed that the U.S. ranked 19th out of 167 nations, identifying a world-leading economy but also several challenges. It has thus not been surprising that by January 2023 the world was not on track to meet its goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. In fact, global progress to reduce extreme poverty had ground to a halt over the past few years. The world was in the middle of the largest increase in global inequality since World War I.

Accordingly, of critical salience for the future of Africa, in terms of development and the overall location of its humanity,  at this time is the recognition that embedded in this messy dynamic of the global order are opportunities for all to protect their respective interests through a constant cost-benefit calculus of their interaction and relationships within the treacherous global universe. In the analysis and planning of these strategic interactions, rigor and discipline, in particular, at the intellectual level, are required in undertaking critical interrogations and evaluations necessary to underpin policy course corrections and realignments of relationships to alter trajectories for a new future. Africa’s fixations on proven deleterious ideas and dubious relations imposed by its unfortunate mode of entry into the global system at this opportune epoch can only spell doom for the future. For Africa, the rumpus in the current fluidity in the systemic configuration of the global order presents a historic opportunity to recalibrate its standing in the international system. The turpitude in the global strategic ferment is the first epoch with clear transformational potential since the continent of Africa was violently integrated into a global system as neo-colonial appendages to their hegemonic metropolitan controllers.  At this unique time in the reordering of the global order, Africa is failing woefully in the enterprise of course correction for a future of greater relevance in the affairs of humanity. The future of Africa is trapped in the fixations to its past and unable to rouse itself to seize the opportunity presented by the epochal rumblings on the future of humanity and the birth of a new global order.

The envisaged turnaround in the principles undergirding Africa’s future place and role in world affairs must begin at the level of critical idea modulations across the continent. This predictably must elicit the stout resistance of the well-endowed beneficiaries and barons of the retrogressive continental status quo. The basic logic of action shaping the behavior of leaders is therefore crucial. This refers specifically to the extent that the sovereigns are risk-acceptant or risk-averse. Risk aversion means the inclination to resist taking opportunities for perceived gains that may be uncertain at unpredictable costs. The implications are that the risk of losses is minimized even if the status quo presents sub-optimal outcomes. Risk-acceptant leaders embrace risks attached to uncertain gains while risk-averse leadership would seem to be more prone to reject to protect their minuscule gains. The risk aversion of most of conservative Africa’s leaders makes sense since the relatively paltry dividends of discounting the value of national assets and wealth are distributed within only a limited contractual circle of family and a cohort of sycophantic grovelers. Nigeria is a prime example of this.

Meanwhile, the trepidations around the very idea of holistic change in the status of black humanity emanate from the fixation on implanted hegemonic falsehoods around the superiority of the external order. It has also bred a risk-averse orientation, even among a few well-meaning leaders in Africa. The good news is that the evidence of a necessary first step in the process of continental reconstruction that is associated with the holistic emancipation of black humanity is the demystification of the entrenched notion of the superiority of the “external other” and its hegemonic order in Africa is visible on the horizon. The resultant reinfusion of the confidence of black humanity across the globe as a legitimate stakeholder in the affairs of humanity at par with “the Other” that has resulted from the risk-acceptant orientation is manifest very close to home. Developments in the Sahel are proving to be iconic and visionary. Meanwhile, the expansion of the activist orbit and universe of revolutionaries in the black world in time to begin the challenge of recalibrating the position of black humanity in the placement of the global hierarchy may be imperative. Despite the constructive activism of a few states, there seemingly is no room for such radical realignments in the African Union. It is hoped that the African Union will not eventually go the way of ECOWAS.


-Professor Ademola Araoye is a retired official of the United Nations and former Director of Abuja Leadership Center, a TETFUND Center of Excellence in Public Governance and Leadership at the University of Abuja. He is author of Sources of Conflict in the Post- Colonial African State (AWP, 2012).



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