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The Vital Strategic Debate: Who - in the West - Lost Africa?

The debate in the West over “who lost China” resonated in 1949 as the Nationalist forces of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek began their withdrawal to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland, and Mao’s forces — who had allowed Chiang’s Kuomintang forces to bleed dry in the war against Japan — consolidated control of the bulk of the coun-try. Now, of equal importance, is the strategic debate which should be held: who, in the West, lost Africa?

Western media focuses on the drama of the Middle East, which, for the US, is becoming less significant as a source of oil and gas. In any event, the debate on “who lost the Middle East?” for the West also still has to be held, because a succession of failed US and NATO policies toward the region has meant that the Persian Gulf is no longer the preserve of Washington, DC, which had so confidently wrested it from Britain. Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now have a growing influence with Iran, while the West fumbles on its Iran policies, with the strong encouragement of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and — most importantly — Turkey.

To some degree, the declining Western influence over the Persian Gulf, and the attendant fragility of the Arabian Peninsula — may be less important than it was a decade ago. The US now derives some 25 per-cent of its imported oil and gas from the Gulf of Guinea, predominantly Nigeria. But the PRC, which is far more dependent on imported energy than the US — the PRC imports half of its raw energy materials — has been steadily building its relations with the African Continent for several decades, to the point where it has now secured a dominant position in terms of trade with many states. By 2009, the PRC was importing a third of its oil from Africa. But its imports were rising, and PRC investment into African oil infrastructure — such as taking control of all the oil refining in Nigeria — have been substantial and bold.

Conversely, the Western position in Africa — particularly sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn — has been eroding, in terms of relative trade numbers, and influence. Perhaps more significantly, the moves toward “African control of Africa’s destiny” are in some respects eroding following the period of post-colonial assertion by African states and by the Organization for African Unity (OAU) as a result of its pioneers in the 1960s, particularly Emperor Haile Selassie I, of Ethiopia.

Significantly, the competing ambitions of the late Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, of Libya, and of the African Na-tional Congress (ANC) of South Africa, led to the end of the OAU and its replacement — almost without debate — by the African Union (AU). Indeed, the move from OAU to AU was seen almost as a name change for the pan-African body. The AU has, in fact, begun some profound work to resolve some of the lingering border issues in Africa, but it has also created a bureaucratic framework which still outstrips the authority and performance of the Continental body. The creation in 2004 of the Pan-African Parliament, based in Midrand, South Africa, as — at this stage — a purely advisory body (it has no power) is enormously expensive, without any real purpose for the coming decade or so.

As part of the aggrandizement of the AU — in a Continent still beset with economic and other challenges — the old OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was replaced with a new and magnificent AU headquarters. But the new headquarters symbolized that the OAU baby was thrown out with the bathwa-ter, and, along with it, much of the pragmatism and honesty of the old body, which had caused Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi to move so strenuously — with his then friend, Nelson Mandela, of the ANC — to replace it.

True, the OAU had been subject to enormous distortions. The Algerians had manipulated it to ensure “recognition” by many African states of the fictitious SADR, the the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which no Arab state would recognize. This endeavor caused Morocco — one of the most stable and successful democracies on the Continent, and the historical sovereign entity into which the Western Sahara has traditionally belonged — to remain outside the OAU and the AU. Egypt manipu-lated the OAU, the AU, and the Arab League, to ensure that former British Somaliland — the Republic of Somaliland — would not be recognized as sovereign, even though it met all the OAU/AU conditionalities for recognition.

And it is equally true that the AU is undertaking many landmark endeavors which the OAU did not ad-dress, particularly in the area of border and territorial claim resolution, the most delicate minefield of post-colonial Africa. Significantly, South Africa, which sought — like Qadhafi — to control the AU, is attempting to dampen this move, given that its territory consists of substantial parts of what, legally, belongs to Swaziland.

But one of the measures of the changing of the guard in Africa was the reality that, without fanfare, the PRC funded and built the new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. This begs the question: why did the Afri-can Union allow itself to accept this gift? The cost — some US$300-million — was high, but not beyond the collective funding of the AU members, who have not hesitated to spend funds elsewhere. The beauti-ful new AU headquarters are indeed a gesture of the PRC’s commitment to Africa, but does it also beto-ken an African commitment to the PRC?

The new AU headquarters, however, has to an extent re-written history, in large part forgetting how Africa moved into its resumption of independent societies, massively through the endeavors and example of Emperor Haile Selassie I. The Emperor’s grandson, Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie Haile Selassie, is Pres-ident of the last remaining Imperial Ethiopian institution, the Crown Council. The Council is no longer a part of government, but undertakes an humanitarian, pan-African mission. But it also acts as an historical marker, reflecting as it does the three millennia of leadership continuity of the Solomonic dynasty.

Prince Ermias in February 2012 issued a Crown Council statement entitled “Let us be true to our history”, which raises questions about the new AU headquarters. That statement is as follows:

The recent inauguration of the new African Union building in Addis Ababa is one step forward in fulfilling the prophetic words of Emperor Haile-Selassie I, when he said that Africa was looking towards the future, confident in her destiny to achieve unity of purpose.

It was Emperor Haile-Selassie who stated in his address to the Conference of Independent Afri-can States in Ghana in 1958: “Ethiopia looks with pride to the role which she has played in the history of the development of Africa and looks forward with confidence to the future of this great continent.”

While it is befitting to honor Dr Kwame Nkrumah, a proponent of Pan-Africanism and Ghana’s first President, with a statue in the forecourt of the new African Union edifice, other African giants, such as Emperor Haile-Selassie and Nelson Mandela, will have to wait to have their legacies honored, through additional statues and monuments.

The Emperor’s contributions to the establishment of the forerunner of the African Union (AU), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), cannot be forgotten. History has rightfully recorded that it was Ethiopia’s and the Emperor’s tireless contributions which established the OAU with its head-quarters in Addis Ababa in 1963.

In 2002, when African leaders met in South Africa to charter the newborn AU out of the OAU, Ethiopia again had to defend its legacy of service to the Continent to maintain the Headquarters of the newly found Organization in Addis Ababa. The very fact that the African nations voted to keep the headquarters of the Organization in Addis Ababa is a testament to the accomplishment and vision of our Nation and that of the Emperor.

Emperor Haile-Selassie inspired African leaders of his generation to forge a common sense of unity. Today’s new buildings housing the AU, a generous gift by the Government and People of the People’s Republic of China, will hopefully translate the vision of the forefathers of the Organization into greater works of accomplishment by a new generation of leaders for the years ahead.

Let us look forward confidently that the Emperor’s contributions to the Continent will continue to be rightfully recognized and remembered by coming generations of Africans.

There is room at our beautiful new complex for more statues. Let us honor Emperor Haile-Selassie as the great champion of pan-Africanism and as the great inspiration behind the OAU, and let us remember Nelson Mandela as a great champion of the OAU’s transition to the African Union.

Who lost Africa? The West, certainly. But is Africa losing Africa?

Analysis by Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs

(c) 2011 International Strategic Studies Association, www.StrategicStudies.org

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Leave a comment
  • Fred Banks on February 24 2012 said:
    I don't like giving free advice, but I think that I will break that rule now.

    When I look at CNN I get the impression that what is going on at the present time is an attempt to loot Africa of its oil and non-fuel minerals. After that program is completed, that continent will be left to wither on the vine.

    I don't concern myself much with such carrying-on however. The war in Libya was about the oil in that country, although most of the righteous ignoramuses who promoted that war didn't get the message. As for an article praising Haile Selassie, I really and truly wonder what is the _______ point. As I told a debate audience last night, when or if the aggregate (WTI-Brent) price of oil reaches $130/b, we are going to be in too much trouble to worry about late politicians in any part of the world.

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