OPINION by Prof. Robert DUSSEY
July 27, 2022
The former colonists still have the weakness of not associating the continent with major global issues, says Robert Dussey, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Togo and one of the most influential African diplomats.
The role assigned to Africa since the beginning of the war in Ukraine is evocative of the image that the great powers of our continent still have: their zone of influence. Africa has practically no impact on the current world order while it is suffering very drastically the consequences of this crisis which affects its food security in particular. It is only of interest to the great powers when they find themselves in difficulty. Before worrying about the position of Africa in the Ukrainian conflict, we must first worry about the place – or rather the folding seat – that Africa occupies on the world stage. As proof, in all discussions relating to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Africa has been sidelined.
For many great powers, the African continent simply has no role to play as a “major” actor in the Kantian sense of the term. Indifferent to changes, they think they live in the same world as before. When the United Nations was created in 1945, apart from Liberia and Ethiopia, the countries of Africa were not yet independent. After 77 years, it is the same international system that continues because of the will of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
Africa, a purely instrumental entity
The African integration project is certainly still under construction. However, a consensus has emerged within the African Union on the need for the continent to obtain two seats of permanent representatives on the Security Council, in addition to the two seats of non-permanent members reserved for African States. However, despite this consensus of 55 Member States, the reluctance of the five permanent members to see Africa occupy this place is beyond doubt. The voice of Africa is not heard, as some simply do not want Africa to be a strong continent.
The great powers want to reduce Africa to a purely instrumental entity in the service of their causes. They most often strive to get Africans to adhere to their “narrative” and, ultimately, to support one camp against another, according to a utilitarian diplomatic logic. When it comes to voting on a resolution in the Security Council, we are actively solicited from one side and the other. Africa is then very courted, even put under pressure by some of its partners.
A multitude of partners
These states of mind and actions that belong to another era are expressed in a historical context where Africa has become aware of its own responsibility. She speaks more and more with one and the same voice. The fractures of the colonial era between one so-called Francophone Africa and the other Anglophone have faded, as have the “post-Cold War” ideologies that dominated the entire second half of the 20th century.
Today’s Africa is no longer that of the 1945s, let alone that of the 1960s. Today in Africa we have a multitude of new partners such as China and Turkey who are an integral part of the new global geopolitics, far of the two antagonistic blocks which structured the post-war period. The world has decentered to become multipolar. To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, the world has become a whole whose center is both everywhere and nowhere. And Africa can no longer and no longer wants to be the wagons of one and the same locomotive.
Many African countries today no longer feel bound – in the sense of regimentation – by colonial history and are enthusiastic about working with new partners. This should cause the great powers to change their software. In any case, if they want to continue working with Africans. There is a challenge of changing mentality and behavior among our partners who all come to Africa, without exception, with agendas above all dictated by their own interests. For the West as for the East, I do not believe that the words “partnership” or “alliance” are always well understood when it comes to our continent.
Listen to Africa
For having taken part in several meetings organized by Africa and its external partners in recent years and having been the chief negotiator of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States in the framework of the post-Cotonou negotiations with the European Union in 2020, I think there is consistency. And all those who are interested in Africa must not lose sight of it: Africa expects more equality, respect, equity and justice in its relations and partnerships with the rest of the world, with great powers, whatever they may be. Today Africans want to be true partners with the rest of the world.
In the concert of nations, Africa must be listened to for dialogue to have meaning. The lack of listening perverts the meaning of the dialogue, which turns into a juxtaposition of monologues and biased reasons, sometimes under the cover of a pseudo-multilateralism whose danger lies in the distortion of the relationship. However, in the world that is ours, it is only by putting our minds together that we can agree on the objectives to be achieved.
Not the same megaphones
Although the essential issues of our time remain the same, the apprehension of the same issues diverges depending on whether we are talking about the north or the south. Listening to African voices cannot be a simple adjustment variable. The continent certainly does not have the same megaphones as the great powers of this world. But its voice counts and must count if we want to have Africa as a partner on major international issues.
Rather than expecting unconditional support from the continent every time, our allies must make the effort to accept the spirit of a true partnership. Africa wants to cooperate with its allies on the basis of its well-understood interests. To do this, our partners must get rid of the imaginations that were largely forged in the 19th and 20th centuries. They are in clear dissonance with our century marked by national and regional challenges that have global implications. While global challenges have regional, national and even local variations and ramifications. The current international economic repercussions and disruptions, a direct result of the return of war to Europe, are a good illustration of this.
Robert Dussey has been Togo’s foreign minister since 2013. He is one of the few diplomats to maintain dialogue with both Paris and the military putschists in Bamako, who are challenging France with the help of Russia.