It’s time for Western countries to redefine their relations with Africa and its diaspora

Graffiti Art by Bogotá Colors in Ciudad Bolívar. Photograph taken on January 28, 2023 by Catherina Wilson

This blog was first published as an Op-Ed in Amsterdam News – The New Black View on April 27, 2023 in English and previously in Razón Pública on April 23, 2023. The author has kindly granted us permission to republish it in Voice4Thought. Pastor Elías Murillo Martínez is a Colombian lawyer who lives in Bogotá. He is an inaugural member of the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on People of African Descent. The views of this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Voice4Thought. However, within VozPa’Colombia we deem it important to reflect as many views as possible on different topics that are linked to our project, such is the case of this bridging nature of this Op-Ed, that invites for a dialogue between Colombia and Africa.

Activists from the United Nations’ 2009 Durban World Conference Against Racism have often asserted that Africa and its diaspora are undercounted—particularly in Latin America. They believe Black people make up the largest ethnic group in the world: around 1.6 billion people. And Black people live in regions blessed with great natural wealth and they are geographically favorably positioned for trade.
Until now, the West and much of the global South seemed to ignore this reality––except for Cuba, which has even fought for the decolonization of Africa and has Africa as the main point of reference for its health diplomacy. More recently, Brazil has also begun to re-establish relations with Africa. Europe and the United States are taking initial steps.

At the international level, several U.N. actions show a greater interest in connecting Africa and its diaspora, such as the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, which fights against systemic racism. This will help with creating a new paradigm in international relations that overcomes the disdain for the African continent and its diaspora, based on the remnants of colonialism and its heir, racism, through the adoption of historical reparation measures.

A global power in the making
With Agenda 2063, which has been promoted by the African Union since 2013, Africa is projecting itself into the future. The continent is seeking to overcome the remnants of colonialism, enhance cooperation for sustainable development, assert its sovereignty, and promote international cooperation.

Africa has what it takes. To begin with, it has the third largest population after India and China and is the only region that still has a demographic advantage, as it has the youngest population in the world, which places the continent in a favorable position for production and consumption. A population of 2.5 billion people is projected for 2050.

Between 2009 and 2019, before the pandemic, Africa’s GDP grew by an average of 4% per year. By 2020, six African countries were on the list of the worlds ten fastest-growing economies–– with an emphasis on Ethiopia and Rwanda.

The African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), effective from Jan. 2021, is the largest in the world. It has a GDP of $3.4 trillion. Long-term trends show that African countries are increasingly attractive investment destinations, especially in telecommunications, information technology, agribusiness, renewable energy, health, education, infrastructure, and microcredit.

In terms of geopolitics, it is sufficient to highlight the gravity of its 54 countries in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations which count African countries as members. In the Americas, Brazil and CARICOM have taken advantage of this asset.

A new relationship
Traditionally, the West’s view of Africa has been reduced to colonialism and extractivism. Indeed, several European countries have acknowledged their historical responsibility for the deconstructing of the continent because of colonialism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The reality check of the migratory crisis affecting Europe, with migrants coming from several sub-Saharan African countries, has become the main fuel for the resurgence of ethno-nationalism and fascism.

Now, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union is puzzled because it is not finding the solidarity it expects from some African governments. Realizing that Russia and China have taken the upper hand in Africa, Europe is reacting by announcing an investment of around 150 billion euros in the coming years and is showing signs of wanting to redefine its relationship with Africa. The European Union’s desire to build a new paradigm, including its willingness to make amends for the past, is also evident.

For its part, the United States––home to some 50 million people of African descent––held a summit in Washington during the Obama administration with African heads of state and government but reneged on its commitments after the election of Donald Trump. The Biden administration has gotten back on track with a summit held in December 2022 that featured 49 African leaders. The Biden-Harris administration pledged to invest at least $55 billion in Africa over the next three years, underscoring this administration’s understanding of the importance of the relationship with Africa and its intermeshing.

Brazil, an emblematic case
In contrast to the experiences described above, Brazil, which has more than 110 million people of African descent (about 55% of its total population) represents an emblematic case in its foreign policy towards Africa, particularly in Lula’s vision.
Suffice it to say that, between 2003 and 2009, Lula visited 29 African countries––some more than once––and he was always accompanied by an entourage of businessmen and entrepreneurs who had an ethnic-racial perspective, which has given him great economic, geopolitical, and cultural advantages.

According to the Foreign Trade Secretariat of the Ministry of Economy, Brazil’s exports to the African continent increased from 10% in 2004 to 30% in 2014. By 2001, Brazil’s investments in Africa totaled US$69 billion. By 2009, this figure had reached $214 billion.

Lula promoted the South America-Africa Summit (ASA), the installation of an office for the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) in Ghana, the antiretroviral factory in Mozambique, a model farm for cotton production in Mali and the University of International Integration of Afro-Brazilian Lusophonia (UNILAB), with half of the quotas for African students. Such actions are eloquent signs of an assertive foreign policy.

In 2021, Brazil and the African continent had a total trade of US$ 15.911 billion. In 2022, bilateral exchanges totaled 17.254 billion, an increase of 36.9% over 2021.

Brazilian exports to Africa increased by 42.3 %, for a total of $10. 446 billion and Brazil’s imports increased by 27.1 %, worth $6.808 billion. However, this growth is far from the historical record registered in 2013, when the flow of exports-imports totaled US$28.465 billion.

Colombia towards a new relationship with Africa
After Brazil and the United States, Colombia is the largest non-African country with the highest community of African descendants, more than ten million people, 4.7 million of whom are recognized as such.

With an explicit policy in the draft National Development Plan, the appointment of several Afro-descendant ambassadors, and a tour by Vice President Francia Marquez to South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia, in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a delegation including Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva, Colombia wants to improve its relations with Africa. Except for when President Samper visited South Africa and Senegal in 1997, Colombian governments have not tended to look toward Africa.

From Africa to Colombia, it is worth mentioning two facts: in mid-2001, South Africa’s Deputy President Jacob Zuma––who would later govern his country between 2009 and 2014––visited Colombia with a large delegation that included 19 officials with ministerial rank. At that time, the main product imported by Colombia from South Africa was ammunition, around 60% of the national consumption came from that country. Deputy President Zuma had in his portfolio his government’s concerns about the penetration of drug trafficking from Colombia and South Africa’s interest in forging ties with the African descendant community.

The other important development was the very representative participation of African leaders in the Third World Summit of African and Afro-descendant Mayors and Leaders in 2013 promoted by the Association of Mayors of Municipalities with Afro-descendant Population (AMUNAFRO). This Summit produced the “Cali and Cartagena Declaration and Plan of Action on Africans and Afro-descendants,” which includes actions and strategies to improve relations between the parties.

The summit was attended by more than 20 African mayors, including Alfred Vanderpuije, mayor of Ghana’s capital, Accra, who in 2015 was elected president of the Global Alliance of African and Afro-descendant Mayors and Leaders. Vanderpuije, who returned to Colombia on two other occasions, was determined to connect us with the African continent.

It is worth noting that Colombia’s exports to Africa currently account for less than 1% of the country’s total sales to the world.

Pan-Africanism for Dignity, Justice and Peace
Pan-Africanism is one of the central themes to be discussed at the second session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent to be held in New York from May 30 to June 2 this year.

This forum will be another way to advance in the reconstruction of the bridge between Africans and Afro-descendants, through a sui generis free trade agreement that redefines triangular trade and connects Africa and the African diaspora for prosperity and the adoption of a “UN Declaration on the Promotion, Protection and Full Respect for the Human Rights of People of African Descent,” including reparations.

The possibility of a World Summit on People of African Descent, at the behest of the U.N., and AfroExpo 2024, could be ideal scenarios to advance such a consensus.

Translated by Karen Juanita Carrillo

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