Wickham: Africa needs to pave its own road
Despite U.S. and China pressure, continent must decide what is in its best interests.
If you haven’t noticed, Africa — once the playground of colonial powers — is at the center of another geopolitical tug of war. With its abundance of natural resources, African nations are being courted by the world’s superpowers.
This struggle largely pits the interests of the U.S., the world’s leading democracy, against those of China, heir to what remains of the Marxist philosophy.
The battle was front and center on the world stage last week when President Obama met with the leaders of four African nations. As his visitors were making their way home, Obama’s trade representative announced that the U.S. is considering a new commerce deal with Africa.
At the same time, Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up a week-long visit to Africa. Xi signed a series of agreements with several nations. “We expect to work together with our African friends to seize upon historic opportunities and deepen cooperation,” Xi said after signing a trade deal with the Republic of Congo.
Of his meeting with the African leaders, Obama said, “Although Africa has actually been growing faster than almost every other region of the world … it still has a lot of work to do. And that means building human capacity and improving education and job skills. … It means improving access to energy and transportation sectors. And so we discussed how the United States can continue to partner effectively with” Africa.
Despite such offerings of aid, African nations would be wise to not let others have a heavy hand in defining what is in their best interest.
Message of documentary
That’s the point of African Independence, a documentary by Tukufu Zuberi, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist, that just won the best documentary award at the 2013 San Diego Black Film Festival.
“What I deal with in this film is the nature of Africa’s relationship with the rest of the world, and what has happened in terms of Africa’s development,” Zuberi told me. “Every country on the African continent has been struggling with how do we find freedom, with how do we find justice, how do we find equality, and how do we get this for our people.”
Zuberi says Africa’s quest for self-determination must be viewed in the context of its colonization, which it didn’t begin to escape in earnest until 1960, the year 17 African colonies gained their independence.
In 53 years since, these independent nations have come a long way. Though they have experienced many problems in their transition to independence, their struggles with self-government are not unlike those this country experienced. By the time the U.S. hit the half-century mark, human slavery was the engine of its economy and the right to vote was narrowly limited to white men.
Against that background, Africa’s nations have made some commendable progress. But the key to their continued growth will depend more on their ability to plot their own course toward the just societies they must become, rather than by the economic and political alliances they build with the U.S. and China.
That’s the overriding message of Zuberi’s documentary — a screening of which Obama should have in the White House.
DeWayne Wickham for USA TODAY.