This year’s Camden Conference topic, The New Africa, addressed a timely subject that has come up frequently in our media. National sources assign various titles that objectify Africa, and lack a critical element: the viewpoint of the African people. They are often skewed in their representation of the scenarios within African countries, as well as in our involvement on the continent.
We have seen titles such as “The Hopeless Continent”-The Economist, 2000; “Africa: The Last Investment Frontier” –Forbes, 2012; and “Africa Rising” –New York Times, 2012. What can happen as a result of presenting Africa as an issue or area to spread our influence, is that we lose sight of the African people, and begin to see only potential consumers, exploitable land, and potential return on investments.
Kah Walla, a fearless, female presidential candidate in the last three elections in Cameroon, shared her thoughts on how America and the rest of the world should change our policies toward Africa; “stop perpetuating a double standard for Africa, stop implementing short-term, self-serving foreign policies, and stop compromising basic human rights for economic gain.” Pointing out that, although the United States has made incredible strides toward equality and promoting human rights world-wide, this comes after a long period of turning a blind eye in many regions, and continuing to implement flawed policies in many developing countries.
Instead of policies with “room for interpretation”, to the advantage of business and profit, as well as those that address only the symptoms of underlying problems, we must start educating about the interdependence of the world; “No peace for you if there is no peace for me. The issues that our countries struggle with will eventually come knocking at your door unless Africans can implement our own policies and procedures, and begin advocating for our people.”
Ali Mufuruki, a Tanzania native and founder of The Africa Leadership Institute, emphasized that Africa needs to unite and act on its own interests, as the rest of the world continues to do. Development of its own foreign policy toward countries like the United States, China, and the United Kingdom is key to controlling foreign investment that can sometimes disrupt the African economy, as well as to monitor questionable activities within their own countries.
Many issues within African countries must be addressed before long-term, sustainable economic growth can be seen. Controlling corruption, establishing basic principles of democracy, and electing solid leadership in African countries are the first important steps forward. Addressing poverty and malnutrition, education, building infrastructure, and job creation will be actions that individual African countries will have to take to improve their own conditions. Ghanaian business leader and activist, Sangu Delle, emphasized, “You cannot innovate past bad governance.”
The speakers agreed that the West has done enough, it is time that Africans take control of Africa’s future and establish themselves as actors in the international community. It is not our place, as an outside country, to create strategic policies for “Africa”, swaying their politics, or playing on ethnic tensions to our advantage. Instead, we should focus on individual trade partnerships within African countries, investing in the arts and business endeavors of the African people, and ensuring that the African people reap the benefit of our investments. Until African countries can establish non-corrupt government structures, the aspiring people of Africa are its representatives. Seeking them out to discover what their needs are and their vision for their countries is necessary to allowing Africa to rise above poverty, war, and over-population.
“The New Africa” was written by Lacey Cargnino, undergraduate student in International Relations at the University of Maine, youth organizer for the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine and staff member at the Wilson Center.