Interactions with the French President, Emmanuel Macron, during his recent visit to Nigeria have helped to provide an insight into the mindset of the West generally towards the economic, socio-political and security challenges bedevilling Africa. Although France has proved to be a dependable ally to many African countries, actively participating in fighting Islamic fundamentalists in West Africa, for instance, Macron was spot-on when he said that finding lasting solutions to the continent’s problems rested squarely with Africans themselves, not with foreigners.
Macron, no doubt, sounded very friendly during his visit; yet he was very frank. After spending time with President Muhammadu Buhari and the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, he still found time to relax by visiting the Afrika Shrine, the legacy of the late Afrobeat music king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Yet, he did not mince words about the role of his country in the fight against terrorism in Africa. While promising to give a helping hand in keeping terrorists at bay, he also said, “I think the main plan is the African plan and France is not the one to solve or fix African situation.”
Although the French president was voicing his personal opinion, yet he might as well have been speaking for his Western colleagues in a world where nations are becoming increasingly nationalistic. All over the world, governments are becoming increasingly non-inclusive, or even xenophobic, erecting all manner of barriers against outsiders. In the pursuit of his “America first” policy, for instance, the United States President, Donald Trump, has been engaging China and Canada in trade war, not sparing some of his country’s closest allies.
Likewise, on matters of immigration, strict border control has limited access to foreigners coming to Europe and the US. Many Africans and Arabs fleeing violence at home have managed to cross the treacherous Mediterranean Sea into Europe, only to be turned back. Their makeshift boats float on the sea until they are either rescued or allowed to perish and become food for marine life.
Indeed, to keen observers of trends in the global war against terror, Macron’s statement has been obvious in the manner the US and other Western powers have been responding to terrorism in Africa. Compared to the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as well as their engagement with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan before the advent of ISIS, the Western powers have been rather passive in Africa.
Although the Americans claim that they function in advisory and training capacity in both places, however, equipment deployment in Africa is thin on the ground compared to the sophisticated weapons that are made available to fighters in Iraq and Syria. At a point during the Barack Obama administration, Nigeria’s request to purchase fighter jets to enable her to match the sophistication of Boko Haram’s weaponry was turned down by the US on the spurious grounds of the soldiers’ poor human rights record against Boko Haram. They seem to ignore the well-founded belief that the presence of terrorists anywhere is a threat to global security.
As a result of the absence of the same united and committed front in Africa, the continent is fast unravelling; it is becoming the breeding ground for Islamists chased away from Iraq and Syria. Aside from Boko Haram, which has been engaging Nigeria and her north-eastern neighbours such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger in a deadly war of attrition, jihadists almost overran Mali in 2012. They were only pushed back with the help of a combined team of West African forces under the leadership of France. But before then, they had swept through such historically important cities as Gao and Timbuktu, carting away and destroying invaluable and irreplaceable documents and artefacts. Aside from the more familiar places like Somalia, Kenya and Egypt, terrorist attacks have also been recorded in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast in West Africa.
Macron’s view is, therefore, a clear signal to African leaders, whose attitude has always been that of dependence on their former colonial masters and other Western powers for aid and solutions to all their problems, to come up with some home-grown solutions to their problems. Rather than build institutions and encourage transparency in governance, African countries have continued to experience bad fortunes as a result of inept and corrupt leadership.
The situation is even worse in countries that are resource-rich such as Nigeria, Congo and Gabon, where some individuals are almost richer than their countries. As a result of corruption and inability to adequately equip the military, Nigerian soldiers were, at a point, running away from battle when confronted by better-equipped and better-motivated Boko Haram fighters. Over four years ago, 276 girls who were preparing for their final examinations were forcibly taken away from their school premises and over a hundred of them have still not been rescued.
Rather than blame all their misfortunes on their colonial past, African countries have to stand up and face the realities of survival in a modern age. They should produce a blueprint for the development of the continent. Emphasis should be placed on education, which increases opportunities. Most of the conflicts on the continent are as a result of lack of inclusiveness. There has to be the human capital that will drive the continent to the next level.
There should also be a high level of intolerance for corruption in a continent where so much is taken away by public officials that very little is left for development. A panel on illicit capital flow in Africa led by the former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, and commissioned by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said in its 2015 report that Africa lost $60 billion annually through illicit transfers. It is about $80 billion now. The leakage has to stop. Instead of looking outwards, Africa should think of stronger internal cooperation. Africa must learn to stand up and fight for itself. In the end, there can be no better solution than the one suggested by Macron – there has to be an “African plan.”