by Jean-Paul Pougala, translated from French by Therese Boua
The past 12 months were very intense on the African continent. Some important elections stirred up a whole lot of interests. Those interests reached far outside African borders for the simple fact that the outcome of each one of these elections defines the new frontiers of the shared zones of influence that are being renegotiated between the old powers of the world, the Western powers, and the new power, China. In quoting the ranking seen in Ukraine, one can freely state that in Côte d’Ivoire, in Zambia and in Liberia, the pro-Westerner won. In Cameroon and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is the pro-China candidate who won.
Since African nations won independence about 50 years ago, in the logic of the cold war, African countries were all under one of two banners, pro-Western or pro-Soviet Union. With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the consequent end of the Cold War era, all Africa became, either willingly or by force, pro-Western.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in tandem took power in Africa, deciding entirely or partially the economic, financial, social and even the judicial politics of most African countries. As a result of 20-30 years of that kind of power in Africa, there is not in existence a single country that succeeded, thanks to their revenues coming straight from Washington, D.C. This brought about dissidence and rebellion from some countries against the neoliberal IMF-World Bank, with one commonality: When it fails, only African leaders take the blame. They are re-baptized for the circumstance “African dictators” in order to divert attention from the real authorship of the failure: Western neoliberalism. This tragicomedy continues to this day, since the same recipes are being prescribed to Greece, Portugal and Italy, recipes that failed in Africa 20 years ago.
When IMF-World Bank policies fail, only African leaders take the blame. They are re-baptized for the circumstance “African dictators” in order to divert attention from the real authorship of the failure: Western neoliberalism.
These African dissidents looked elsewhere, eastward toward China. There are not many, because they have to have courage to brave tremendous Western pressure, which pressure may well end up in coup-d’états maneuvered through rebels who never explain how and by whom they are financed. This is the context in which electoral rendezvous are held on the African continent, where the only true social project is to find out if countries will be content with the status quo, with the same old known misery of 50 years in the hands of the West, or will they take a leap into the unknown by choosing China, in the hope of emerging with her, not really knowing where we are all going to land?
Today, I will examine two African countries that made opposite choices: first, the Ivory Coast, which decided to stay as before under Western control and, second, the Cameroon, which chose to leap into the unknown with China.
Which one of these two countries made the right choice? To answer this question, I am restraining myself from passing judgment on the value of either of their elections. I’m not about to recreate history here. I will only review the events from a purely geostrategic angle.
Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire are two African countries in which elections took place recently. The common point of these two elections is that the two world giants, China and the West, threw their full support behind their selective choice. In Côte d’Ivoire, we may or may not agree on the methods used, but every modern citizen was able to watch, live, the induction of an African administration by both France and the United States of America. It is not wrong to assert that the power in place was pro-Western.
In Cameroon, President Paul Biya has been the “darling” of Beijing. The city has become the only official destination for Biya and his ministers outside of Cameroon’s geographical borders for these past couple of years. At the last congress of the RDPC (Rassemblement démocratique du Peuple Camerounais or, in English, Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM), Biya’s political party, French President Sarkozy’s UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire or, in English, Union for a Popular Movement, UPM) was not invited as usual.
In his place instead, China’s Communist Party was invited and was designated as “the best friend” of Cameroon.
In addition, the results of the presidential election in Cameroon were announced by Beijing and not Yaoundé (the capital of Cameroon) four hours before the results were proclaimed by Cameroon’s Supreme Court. This brings us to say, without fear of being wrong, that Cameroon’s position is pro-China. This is the reason why President Obama’s America could only throw in the towel as a sign of giving up in front of the displayed support of China in what had been timorously called the “post-election crisis of Cameroon.” American Ambassador Jackson’s accusations against the electoral process only had the effect of “a barking dog while the caravan continues its merry way.”
With these maneuvers, Beijing had already made it clear that Cameroon was not Côte d’Ivoire. This was not a random decision in Beijing to choose the date of Oct. 8, 2011, one day before the election, for the joint ceremony between President Biya and the Chinese representative to place the foundation stone of Kribi’s deep water construction site and make an initial payment of $1 billion as a real challenge to Westerners who themselves are in deep financial crisis. Cameroon’s electoral authorities approved of this act by sanctifying the next day the election of President Biya with 78 percent. This is far different from the mismanagement of the situation in Côte d’Ivoire by the West a few months earlier.
Who, Cameroon or Côte D’Ivoire, made the right choice?
While it is still too early to speak on Cameroon, we can already draw the first conclusions in the case of Côte d’Ivoire, realizing that the situation today is far worse than what prevailed during the crisis under President Laurent Gbagbo. The IMF has put forward a figure of negative 7.5 percent growth in the country for 2011, making the Ivory Coast the only country in recession in the entire African continent, that is to say, worse than Somalia, where even without a stable government, there will be 1 percent growth for 2011, which means somewhat positive growth. The same sources inform us of underperformance by the Ivorian economy; the state owes the tidy sum of nearly 1,000 billion CFA francs (currency guaranteed by the French treasury) to companies. And the entire 2012 budget that just passed will be financed from abroad.
Let us take randomly a common date in the two countries, Nov. 23, 2011. What is the main news in Côte d’Ivoire? The spokesman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barrosoo announces that President Alassane Ouattara Dramane is in Brussels where he will be meeting throughout the day. European Trade and Export Commissioner Karel de Gucht is to speak on Ivorian cocoa exports to European Union nations.
In the meantime, in Cameroon, Martin Yankwa, general inspector of the Cameroon’s Ministry of Industry, Mines and Technological Development, is announcing the signing of an agreement with the Chinese government to set up a factory, the Sitraco, worth 1.6 billion FCFA in Douala (Cameroon’s largest city, with a population of 3 million) for the processing of 40 percent of all the cotton from Cameroon to supply the many hospitals that China is also building across Cameroon with medical supplies such as pads and rolls of cotton gauze.
In the first case, this is yet another visit to the West since taking power last May 2011. The first visit was at the G8 summit, in Deauville, France, where his friend Sarkozy had a great desire to celebrate the military victory of his presidency but had forgotten to inform his protégé, President Ouattara, that he was in a financial storm himself, with three major banks that had just lost at the stock market nearly 40 percent of their value, plummeting further the following day to 65 percent for the biggest one.
There was the July 27, 2011, visit to Washington to ask for money. Unfortunately again, no one remembered to tell Ouattara that President Obama was in a quarrel with the new Republican majority in Congress that would not grant him (Obama) an extension for new debt, and suddenly, several African presidents, who seemed in the White House like schoolboys in the principal’s office, in the pictures published by the White House of the meeting, have the bitter looks on their faces, as if they were attending a funeral.
How to read these two events?
In Côte d’Ivoire
The Ivorian approach is wrong, in my opinion, because cocoa and coffee should simply be eradicated in the African continent. This is the only certain way to end the dark days of colonial submission and humiliation, with Africa’s economy so dependent on the cultivation of certain plants that even major financial newspapers in the West continue at the end of 2011 to rank them as “colonial products. More than 50 years after independence, an African leader is still going to Europe to negotiate trade in a colonial product; that is to say to voluntarily continue to grow this product, which corresponds to the vision and interests of European colonial Africa. It’s a political mistake, and even more an historical and economic one, because no country on the face of the earth has ever been enriched by continuing the production of a colonial product. Even Brazil was forced to renounce its position as the world’s leading coffee producer to produce meat and is now exporting to Europe because it is 100 times more profitable, and the production is weekly, not annual.”
In my opinion, cocoa and coffee should simply be eradicated in the African continent. This is the only certain way to end the dark days of colonial submission and humiliation, with Africa’s economy so dependent on the cultivation of certain plants that even major financial newspapers in the West continue at the end of 2011 to rank them as colonial products.
Former President Laurent Gbagbo had a choice: to turn to Africa in order for his country to move from a colonial economy to something else, the repositioning of Côte d’Ivoire to abandon the colonial products such as coffee and cocoa for strategic profitable sectors such as petrochemicals, which is 100 percent African. To achieve this, it is Ivorian experts who advise and develop infrastructure for this migration concept, including Equatorial Guinea, Angola etc.
The approach in Cameroon should be encouraged, because the decision to establish a cotton processing plant in Cameroon has two advantages: First, because the real added value of an agricultural product resides in its transformation into a finished product and, second, because production to satisfy a national need helps to boost local demand and establish a virtuous circle of wealth creation. It is expected that within the next 10 years, Cameroon will move from being a cotton importer country to a cotton exporting one, satisfying the country’s cotton demand in hospitals and also being able to satisfy the African market.
It is expected that within the next 10 years, Cameroon will move from being a cotton importer country to a cotton exporting one, satisfying the country’s cotton demand in hospitals and also being able to satisfy the African market.
What the leaders of Cameroon understood is Laurent Gbagbo’ vision, which is that from now on, it is in Africa that we must seek wealth. Sitraco is the tree hiding the forest’s vast health development project’s business in Cameroon, which will attract patients not only from neighboring countries but from much further. Through its hospitals, Cameroon wants to retrieve the lucrative medical evacuation bonanza to France from French-speaking African countries, in particular for very specific specialties: cardiovascular, trauma, neurosurgical, ontological and ophthalmological.
From now on, it is in Africa that we must seek wealth.
According to incredible figures provided by Burkina Faso Minister of Health Bedouma Alain Yoda, the government of a small and poor country like Burkina Faso pays to France to evacuate about 50 patients a year a whopping 900 million FCFA (1,372,000 euros) annually. This information was made public by the Burkina Faso daily newspaper, The Country, in its edition of Sept. 19, 2007. In Yaoundé, we want some of that cake. History does not tell us yet if Paris is very happy with the activism of this new unexpected competitor.
Another area in which the leaders of Yaoundé are looking for trouble with President Sarkozy of France is in training and education. One can easily imagine the scene inside the Etoudi Palace, home of the president of Cameroon, where the host takes a pen and calculator to see how much cash is generated each year from African students who flock to Europe. A real jackpot! And all productive reflections had to be on catching some of that! Once again, thanks to the Chinese partnership, public and private universities are now coming out of the ground like mushrooms.
Cameroon, enjoying the privileged position of being the only bilingual (French and English) country on the African continent, is not only trying to prevent Cameroonians from leaving their country but is also trying to attract other African students. While the host of the Elysee (home of the French president) counts on the stigmatization of African students to boost his poll numbers, one can bet that removing such an excuse will be seen as a crime. Since the month of May 2011, a decree has surfaced to summon African students to leave France the day after their graduation.
What to do once one realizes the mistake in choosing alliances?
Today, the development of Africa is a matter of decisive choice in the geostrategic position of each country. The alliance with the West, on the verge of bankruptcy, seems suicidal to me as a choice, because the result is known in advance: misery guaranteed as the main course and debts for dessert. The Libyan leader Qaddafi is an example of the suicidal choice. He chose the alliance with the West, snubbing China or Russia. He let his Secret Service be controlled by the CIA, which later would be fatal to him. His Secret Service, by becoming American, ensured he would no longer be safe anywhere on Libyan soil.
In the wild, mammals look for powerful and strong males to mate and provide offspring in order to guarantee the future, because the weak are often bitter and generate other weaknesses that leave little to no chance for the race to survive for a long time and do not portend any future. Right now, the West is this weakened animal and for that reason is more dangerous to itself and to its allies. Its weakness makes it bitter. A day will come when the West will understand that it will no longer be saved from its deep financial and social crisis by Côte d’Ivoire and only then will they realize that they do not need President Ouattara.
When that day comes, coinciding with the awareness of putting the best interests of Ivoirians first, it will whistle the end of the cultivation of colonial cocoa. On that day, Ouattara will be renamed “African dictator” and there is no need to be a magician in order to predict that on that day all NGOs will come out, rising up from everywhere to explain how he is wicked and how he enriched himself on the backs of his own people. Another African will be found quickly to replace Ouattara that day and we, the African people, will be there to support him with all our strength, exactly as we did for the Libyan leader, because the African tradition requires us never to abandon one of our own, no matter what.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) – did he not say: “To predict the future, we must know the past, for the events of this world at all times have links to the times that preceded them. Created by men animated by the same passions, these events must necessarily have the same results?”
How many of us will respond “present” in support of President Ouattara when his hour of disgrace arrives? What history will remember him beyond the inglorious page he wrote with his famous “international community”? Only Ouattara and his team will be able to answer these questions, through the actions and decisions they will make using their brains to avoid insisting on recipes that have already shown their limits.
The worst is not to make mistakes, but to persist in making them. And the wisest move for him, in my opinion, will be to have the courage and strength to go against those who put him in power and to free his brother Laurent Gbagbo. He then will have left the treacherous Africa and the “governors’” club to enter into the courageous Africa in defense of African human dignity.
We are different from Europeans. The builders of the European Union resorted to a catalog of conditions to be met before entering the EU, and countries like Turkey, since 1962, have continuously failed to satisfy these conditions. In Africa we have privileged other values than money. That is why there has never been any catalog of conditions for accession to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) yesterday and to the African Union (AU) today and tomorrow in the United States of Africa, under construction.
What unites us is primarily the fight against the humiliation that the West has wanted to impose on us since the dawn of time. The International Criminal Tribunal is not clear evidence of the animosity against human dignity in Africa? How to explain that with the 3 million deaths in Cambodia, a genocide perpetrated by the “Khmer Rouge,” the special court is deliberating on Cambodian soil? The common denominator of the African people is anti-colonialism. It even was the basis for the foundation of the OAU.
What unites us is primarily the fight against the humiliation that the West has wanted to impose on us since the dawn of time.
And we will not build the United States of Africa without involving everyone, without realizing the harmful ability of those who want to arm us, those who want to divide us in order to drive our heads of state from power, and kill them. We are extremely outraged by these acts of barbarism, and if those who have power are not aware of this, we must be outraged twice as much.
The decline of the West is paradoxically an opportunity for Africa, provided that we are aware of the importance of the place we can occupy in this new era with the redistribution of seats. The West cannot help us because it cannot help itself. President Obama visited Ghana and presented that country as a successful Western ally, but the truth is bitter. Ghana, for its growth, turned to China and received 10 billion American dollars, provided by China alone, an amount that no Western country is capable of offering.
The West cannot help us because it cannot help itself.
As of Nov. 23, 2011, for the first time, even Germany, Europe’s most virtuous and richest country, could not borrow money on the markets. Their operators are the first to bet on their inexorable downward spiral.
In the 21st century, this is the end of the United Nations and the triumph of continent-states. I do not look forward to the beginning of prosperity in my country, Cameroon, as long as the economy of another African country, such as Côte d’Ivoire, is lowered, because we need to be together, all of us, to have the necessary strength to resist aggressors in order to build the basis for a stable continental economy.
To do so, we need alliances; we need to count our friends, our true friends. For now, the best friend of Africa is China and we should all be outraged when Europe goes to Beijing to talk about Africa, about us, without us. Have we not sufficiently outgrown adolescence in the eyes of the West?
I do not look forward to the beginning of prosperity in my country, Cameroon, as long as the economy of another African country, such as Côte d’Ivoire, is lowered, because we need to be together, all of us, to have the necessary strength to resist aggressors in order to build the basis for a stable continental economy.
Other African heads of state, such as Laurent Gbagbo, will be further humiliated by them, and some others, such as Qaddafi, will be killed. But the worst thing that an African can do is to be a participant in any way in these acts, to be an accomplice, directly or indirectly, in these acts against his own, against all of us. Because when any African is demeaned, it is all of us who are demeaned. When any African is humiliated, it is all of us who are humiliated. And when any African is insulted as “scum,” it is all of us who are insulted as “scum.” When any African is killed, it is us all who are killed. Defending one another is to defend oneself today, is to defend our children tomorrow. And to choose our alliances, we must first identify against whom we have to defend ourselves.
Jean-Paul Pougala is a Cameroonian author and director of the Institute of Geo-Strategic Studies and professor of sociology and geo-politics at the Geneva School of Diplomacy, Switzerland. He describes his most successful book, “In fuga dalle tenebre” (“Escaping from Darkness”), which is used by about 300 secondary schools in Italy, as “an autobiography of the life of an African on four continents, starting from my childhood in very deep poverty in Africa then breaking the invisible chains of modern slavery through knowledge hunting.” His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and website is www.pougala.org. Translator Therese Boua is based in North Carolina.