4th August, 2010
The recent mid-year summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) saw the regional body establishing a new mutually beneficial relationship with Brazil, an emerging economy in the southern hemisphere. These leaders had risen from yet another of their mid-year summit in Sal Island, Cape Verde, a country which won greatness in the fight for freedom through the thoughts and actions of its illustrious leader, Amilcar Cabral.
They reached a consensus on new initiatives that should boost their economic and political cooperation as they focus on addressing the issues of poverty, food security, environment, renewable energy, capacity building and political dialogue. It is the legendary Brazilian writer and diplomat, Alberto Da Costa e Silva who once mused that the vast ocean that separates the African continent from South America is actually a river â€“ The Atlantic River.
Indonesia, Malaysia and now Brazil represent the countries that leapt from the third world into the first world almost without transition. Brazil with a population of 188 million plus is the emerging economy at the moment, joining a league that includes Indonesia and Malaysia. The North American giants, USA and Canada are getting wary of another economic powerhouse which Brazil represents.
The country has diverse industrial range from automobiles, steel, petrochemicals to computers, aircraft, consumer goods which amount to one-third of their GDP. With increased economic stability provided by the Plano Real, Brazil and trans-national businesses have invested heavily in new equipment and technology, a large proportion of which has been purchased from North American enterprises. It has today a diverse sophisticated services industry and Brazilian financial services industry provides local business with a wide range of products that are attracting numerous new entrants, including U.S financial firms, while the Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro stock exchanges are undergoing consolidation.
The rise of China that is now making tremendous in-roads in Africa, has provided a new impetus for a swift engagement with Brazil by the developing economies in the southern hemisphere to make for a mutually defined investment format unlike the current gale from the Asian giant. ECOWAS has been reaching out to Brazil for economic cooperation since 2006 when heads of state and government of member countries in their first ever Africa – South America summit in Abuja took bold steps in building that long expected bridge which would unite one shore of that â€œriver Atlanticâ€ with the other and accepted to be guided by the Brazilian experience in that regard.
Now, according to the communique, which from this yearâ€™s summit, by focusing on these priorities, both regions are expected to expand, upgrade and strengthen their strategic partnership for â€œour mutual benefitâ€.
The leaders said: â€œWe express our common desire that by forging deeper ties between Brazil and ECOWAS, we would improve our capacities to cope with the development challenges, as well as to strengthen the political, social, and economic institutions and the process of peace and stability â€“ building, particularly in post conflict countries.â€ It was on the strength of the food security agenda in Sal that the ECOWAS Chairman and Nigeriaâ€™s president, Goodluck Jonathan, said at the summit: â€œWith regard to potential food crisis in the sub-region, ECOWAS had enunciated the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy, which was adopted by the summit of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government on January 19, 2005. The policy is expected to implement the comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme in West Africa. As you are all aware, the ultimate goal is to ensure that agriculture is productive and competitive not only within the community markets but also internationally. It is expected to guarantee food security as well as serve as a source of decent income for its operators. This is a highly commendable step in addressing food crisis within the sub-region.â€
Jonathan also spoke of other challenges: â€œIn addition to the challenge of conflicts and instability in our sub-region, and instability which I have devoted so much time to address, we are faced with other challenges which, if not confronted frontally may yet erode the successes we may have achieved in other fronts and indeed jeopardise our march towards integration.â€
One of those challenges is the challenge of resisting and saying no! To the United States proposals on African Command (AFRICOM). Even if they are made through new and at a first glance attractive initiatives, it will have negative impact on social and political stability in the country and will provoke unnecessary reaction from Nigerians, especially in the Muslim North and could affect the political career of many political leaders and policy makers.
As experts note, military issues in which Pentagon tries to interfere through Africom in West Africa are supposed to be covered by the West African Standby Force, the ECOMOG, which in the future could be part of African Union Standby Force, and not by any foreign power. This issue must be put on the agenda of ECOWAS and African Union summits. This time our leaders seem determined to improve on our capacities to cope with developmental challenges. We donâ€™tneed their military presence here, let them do it in Afghanistan and Iraq but not in Africa. No matter what Americans say, their ultimate goal is to control African natural resources. The US simply tries to gain sustainable access to our oil and minerals by military means as they do it in the Middle East. But we are responsible for our stability and our wealth not them.
Even high-ranking US military officials are becoming more sceptical and even vexed about the Washington politics and actions in various parts of the world. A vivid example is the recent scandal caused by US top commander in Afghanistan, General Mac Chrystalâ€™s criticism of the Obama administration. Who knows, may be one day a top commander of AFRICOM will become disappointed with the White House politics in Africa as well? In that case governments of Liberia and Djibouti (or any other regime expressing readiness to give soil to AFRICOM) would turn out to be in a very awkward position. As all reasonable heads of African states understand, to open door to AFRICOM would literally mean to formally recognise that they cannot provide sufficient level of stability and security in their countries.
At a recent testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee by General William (â€œKipâ€) Ward, Commander of United States AFRICOM, Senator Carl Levin in his introductory remarks, reinforced recent American attempts to expand the scope of the deepening Afghanistan – Pakistan war, the deadliest and lengthiest in the world, to the West and South in stating that â€œAl-Qaeda and violent extremists who share their ideology are not just located in the Afghanistan – Pakistan region but in places like Somalia, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.â€
Many Nigerians, especially Muslims, are very much afraid of American military presence in the country and any enlargement of military and security ties between Abuja and Washington. Experts predict that it may result in new violence, even more severe and awful than what was seen in Jos recently. MEND militants will not be happy about American bases either. In case we donâ€™t want to see a new wave of violence and explosions, our authorities should think twice before taking risky decisions.
We canâ€™t be itching for a new mutually beneficial relationship with Brazil to build an economic bridge that would take us into a first world nation given our abundant resources and still encourage conflict through acceding to AFRICOM. The temptation to enter into such secret deals with the United States by our political leaders is there in their selfish bid to win next yearâ€™s presidential election at all costs as they have been assured that they would be supported by the US no matter how we might cry over a flawed electoral process.
â€¢Joseph Haruna is a public affairs observer.