The China-Africa summit of 2006 marked a watershed for Africa’s economic relations.
The summit re-awakened the world’s major powers not only to China’s growing strategic influence in Africa but also highlighted Africa’s increasing importance as an energy source.
Continental summit diplomacy has now become the standard diplomatic model for countries engaging Africa.
Later this month African Heads of State will converge in Tokyo for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad IV).
What are the implications of collective summits on Africa’s economic relations? Will they enhance convergence on foreign policy or economic strategy?
Here I posit that while summits present exigent necessity for convergence of African external policy, the rise of energy diplomacy among major world powers will in fact complicate the continent’s policy on development, financing, investment and external trade.
As oil-producing African countries enjoy greater international leverage and fiscal independence they will pull back on collective bargaining.
The EU’s Lisbon ‘Summit of Equals’ of December 2007 was attended by at least 80 heads of state from the EU and Africa and announced a new strategic partnership between the EU and Africa. Never mind that there was nothing ‘new’ in the grinding Africa-EU relations.
The Lisbon summit, however, sparked a real possibility of a shift in the structure of EU-Africa relations from the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP-guided) approach to an AU-centric agenda.
The European Union has traditionally dealt with Africa within the colonially hatched group of ACP countries.
Other major recent summits have been the inaugural Korea-Africa summit of 2006 and the inaugural India-Africa summit of 2008.
In May 2008, Japan is set to hold its fourth round of Ticad — a Japan-led summit that takes place every five years.
South Korea will have its second Korea-Africa summit in October this year.
Commercial ties and development policy for most donor countries with Africa is slowly shifting from strictly bilateral to generally continental.
This is further cemented by the fray of major multilateral donors into coalescing developed states’ bilateral development assistance into single Joint Assistance Strategies (JAS) that are aimed at aligning donor programmes with recipient governments’ economic and development priorities.
Here is the crux of the matter.
While continental summits are solidifying the idea of ‘one Africa’ externally, it’s not patent that Africa itself is coalescing to build a stronger unified bloc in its external relations.
Most people outside of Africa perceive Africa as ‘one’ in its basic problems and aspirations. This ‘one Africa’ view is the basic foundation of Africa-donor summits by big economies.
However, African states remain inimically divergent in their external policy and economic strategies. While continental summits are good in raising Africa’s visibility, they also highlight Africa’s disjointed approach to foreign relations.
Whether on trade and Economic Partnership Agreements in Lisbon, anti-dumping proposals in Beijing or millennium development goals strategy in Tokyo, African institutions hardly ever present a steadfast joint proposal and strategy on African concerns.
The AU and Nepad – Africa’s presumptive supranational institutions — are reduced to observers at such summits as each State jostles for its share of bilateral deals.
For instance, there is no suggestion of any unified African position to be presented at the forthcoming TICAD IV summit in Tokyo. Non-oil-producing countries should be particularly wary about sustained summit diplomacy and the notion of ‘one Africa.’
If Africa does not move to solidify its collective bargaining then summit diplomacy will adversely affect individual nation’s international leverage as ‘new oil powers’ emerge to hog international interest.
Major powers’ strategic objective in Africa right now is mainly gaining access to oil. The result of this strategic interest in economic relations for some African countries is that development assistance to and interest in non-oil and non-strategic countries is likely to diminish.
Similarly, as oil-producing countries experience greater leverage in external relations they are more likely to pull back from collective bargaining within African regional bodies.
Libya, Angola, and countries along the Gulf of Guinea are presently enjoying a lot of leverage in energy diplomacy.
Regional relations within the Southern African Development Community, the West African Economic and Monetary Union and the Economic Community of West African States) are thus likely to get slower as regional States adjust to the new oil powers.
A period of re-adjustment to new oil powers in Africa’s regional bodies will thus complicate continental convergence for a while.
While summit diplomacy has real opportunities for Africa to forge united positions in global transactional diplomacy, the usefulness of continental summits to Africa can only be measured by how well they contribute to the formation of such a thing as an African foreign policy or economic strategy.
Daily Nation (Kenya)