It was Ugandan writer, Mary Serumaga who precisely described the recently concluded Africa-US summit as “the African Puppets Summit 2022.” The English language dictionary defines ‘puppet’ as “a movable model of a person or animal that is typically moved either by strings controlled from above or by a hand inside it.” In her puppet imagery, Serumaga was precise: These men—all the 49 who attended had one woman among them—presiding over perhaps the richest continent in the world have agreed to hand all their God-given bounties to the western world—and then turn themselves into smartly dressed beggars. Before, Washington, they had been pictured lined up in Moscow, Paris and Beijing, and had been ignominiously bussed around London during the burial of their deceased colonial monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Sitting over the envy of the world, and instead of sitting back and waiting for beggars from the western world (with neither minerals nor food) to come and beg from them, our men simply surrendered themselves and their countries’ wealth to the western world. I know, it is complicated, but their acquiescence, servility, indifference, and subservience to the methodical tyranny of the western world in bamboozling.
While all begging excursions need to be frowned upon, the Washington one stands out because all the other competing powers—specifically, China and Russia—are thriving, exploiting a world order that the United States and Europe created. But one would wonder, why would these powers call for meetings in their capitals like they were calling for an assembly of school children to communicate and negotiate things that they have often executed through emissaries and emails. The idea is to build a false sense of comradery with the African countries, but most importantly, to reflect and display power to competitors in China and Russia. But one wonders why to this day, African leaders still have the calmness to clown in the power games of the world powers sadly gambling with their resources. Surely, these summits are not about American, Russian or Chinese benevolence to the Africans, but a barely disguised scramble for power and resources—masquerading as friendship.
Like a father endearing himself to children in a difficult marriage, right in his remarks, the U.S. President Joseph Biden was speaking cash and more cash: for food, security, disease, politics—it was all money. In addition to promising to “commit $55 billion in Africa to advance the priorities we share,” in the next three years, he promised to ask “Congress for the authority to lend $21 billion to the International Monetary Fund to provide access to necessary financing for low-and middle-income countries.” He would then go ahead and promise to “invest $75 million to strengthen transparent, accountable governance; facilities — facilitate voter registration; support constitutional reform; and more.” On this one, he promised to throw some of these monies at Civil Society and regional institutions.
There was more money to be announced by President Biden: Talking about something they called Agenda 2063 (clearly a time where all those octogenarians and many of us will be gone—and may never see the results of our actions), Biden promised more money in the next three years: “100-billion-dollar — 100-million-dollar pilot program, the Department of Defense will work with our African partners to boost reforms that build their security capacity.” Yes, there has to be security as well, like something is eternally threatening the lives of Africans, and, rightly, more money needs to be thrown at this problem.
Very quickly, Serumaga’s puppets were agreeing to things, signing things, and issuing press statements. While clearly mortgaging their wealth to serve the beautiful lives in the western world, these things are often couched in the language of partnerships, investments, collaborations, shared interests, security, etcetera. Uganda was the first to issue its success in this begging encounter, that American group, Albertine Graben Energy Consortium (AGEC) agreed that the “Final Investment Decision for the estimated US$4.5billion East African Energy Security Transition Investment Project will be taken in 2023.” Pumping up the hysteria, the government newspaper, The New Vision ran with an exciting headline, “Oil Refinery: American Firm to Invest $4.5b.” this is a bit of a misleading headline, but exciting enough for the oil sector that was seeing environmental and political related opposition, especially from the EU.
What is so disturbing with all these seemingly benevolent cash handouts (in whatever name they come) is the sheer stereotyping of Africa’s economic problems. The western world seems to have a singular diagnosis for Africa’s problems—be they political or economic—and thus a singular recommendation, money. How could a discussion on low-and medium-income countries (say involving small and medium size enterprises) end without a discussion on the business environment, taxes and banking regimes in which the people in these countries try to build their businesses? How could President Biden seek to offer more funding, ironically to the IMF—so as to pass it to Africa—and no one reminded him that the IMF has been responsible for the ongoing ruin of African economies since 1980s and 1990, which sadly, unfairly, and violently benefits only European and American capitalists! How could one not seek to remind President Biden that it is their banks—with headquarters in Europe and North America—running extractivist interest rates on the African continent, which has made it difficult for start-ups to thrive! Why wouldn’t this be the opportunity to discuss IMF and World Bank ruinous structural adjustment policies on the continent, as opposed to receiving cash handouts? How does the continent grow its Elon Musks, Mark Zuckerberg, build their own Silicon Valleys, and New-Yorks, enjoying full protection from international capitalists? If the United States is still ruthlessly protecting Microsoft and Apple from Chinese Huawei, and Europe/France still subsidising its agriculture, why don’t Africans focus on growing their own capitalists (protecting and subsidising) who would invest in their minerals, and not the United States sending her capitalists? These things are worrisomely silent from this so-called leader’s summit.
Still, in the course of the summit, the cameras would quickly zoom in on Zambia and DRC, as these countries, with US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, signed “a memorandum of understanding in which the U.S. will support the DRC and Zambia in developing an electric vehicle value chain.” When these big countries declare support, they are actually taking over because they are convinced locally, there is no technical nor intellectual expertise in these things, and thus everything will be in their hands. Secretary Blinken made sure to mention the fact that “the DRC produces more than 70 percent of the world’s cobalt. Zambia is the world’s sixth-largest copper producer, second-largest cobalt producer in Africa. Global demand for critical minerals is going to skyrocket over the next decades.” To this end, the grand plan is “to develop an electric battery supply chain that opens the door for U.S. and like-minded investment to keep more value added in Africa.” The irony in this message is that if this were not simply being handed over to US firms and was open to “like-minded investment” from elsewhere, why then would there be a need for an MoU? As one activist K. Diallo interpreted this MoU on social media, this was “[surrendering] the supply chain and production of copper and cobalt to American control.”