Africa is weak and vulnerable — but not powerless



I am concerned with the evolving global trend which threatens to reverse much of the gains made in multilateralism that we have enjoyed in the past several decades. It also affects the way nations relate to one each other. I see the dangers of unilateralism and narrow minded nationalism taking centre stage in international relations, which will be bad for the world. It will put Africa in a very precarious situation. Certainly, Africa’s agency is needed to confront this evolving enigma, much as the consequences of the evolving order will affect the whole world, but African nations will be affected the most. This is because of our low levels of development. We are weak, vulnerable and less resistant. We don’t have the military, technological and economic muscles to match those of the powerful nations of the world. It is imperative for our countries to get our political act together, analyse global choices and decisions that are made by the mighty with no regard to the interests and concerns of our countries.

The problems we face in the world today are global in nature and so are their impacts. This seemingly new order is both treacherous and unsustainable. I strongly believe that only by coming together as humanity, rich and poor, big and small, developed and developing, east and west and north and south, that we can marshall the requisite strength to confront and surmount the problems and challenges we face, and build the required resilience to endure them.

This world is full of good examples of how and when we came together. We were able to overcome challenges which seem insurmountable. We faced and overcame overcame global terroism, piracy, and several others that way. I believe by using similar methods we can overcome the problems of poverty, climate change, migration and several others which lok intractable at the moment.

Africa should and must exercise agency in international relations. We cannot resign to our fate, nor can we stand by and watch problems that concern us not being resolved, or our rights being trampled upon by the powerful nations. We may be weak technologically, economically, and militarily, but we are not helpless, nor are we hopeless. Africa should stop being despondent, and get actively involved in finding solutions to the challenges facing the continent and the world.

The question is how to do that given the fact that the global political and economic trading and financial architecture puts Africa at a disadvantage. The current configuration is not fair and it is not just. So far our efforts for reforms of international institutions for global political and economic governance are yet to bear the desired results.

I’m an optimist. I believe sometime, someday we will succeed. In the meantime what we should do is continue trying. We should never give up. We should embrace the spirit of the little rabbit who was found carrying a bow and arrow. When asked where he was going and what was he up to, he said he was going to kill an elephant. When asked what his chances of success were, his reply was: I will try, try and try again.

This should be the spirit of conducting African agency in international relations. We should never tire, nor ever give up. All that is required of us is unity of purpose, clarity of vision, and perseverance.

We have learned a great deal about Africa’s past and present engagements with external actors where the continent as asserted agency. There are ample examples of where Africa boldly and consistently made its position known on various issues of global concern, such as: the difficult and highly-polarised climate change negotiations; the common continental position at the talks to formulate the Sustainable Development Goals; the concerted effort to push for a multilateral international trading system that promotes and defends Africa’s interests; the recent coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area; and promoting reform of the United Nations system.

To conclude, let me state that Africa cannot afford to take a backseat in the various global issues that have a direct effect on its interest. Given the size of the members at its disposal, Africa’s collective agency is very important in any negotiations around the global stage. There Is ample testimony that the continent is actively engaging global actors to address problematic issues in a constructive way.

Furthermore, African actors should continue to contribute to global to promote, restore and sustain peace in the various- conflict-ridden areas within outside the continent. The preoccupation with peace and security should not be allowed to diminish Africa’s assertive agency in the various encounters with actors in other parts of the world.

Jakaya Kikwete was president of Tanzania from 2005-2015. This is an edited extract from his keynote address at a conference on ‘Africa’s Future in a Changing Global Order: Agency in International Relations’, organised by Chatham House in Addis Ababa on 10-11 July 2019.

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