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Tuesday 22 January 2019
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The need for more inter-Africa bilateral ties

Among some of the things that continue to leave me perturbed is the idea of Africa Day; particularly when the day is commemorated on the African continent.  It is strange to commemorate the Africa Day on the African soil. Why should there still the need to remind ourselves that the African agenda has to be at the forefront of what we do as Africans. Judging by the manner in which African countries continue to relate to each other amidst an increasingly hostile global environment where national interests triumph international solidarity, perhaps African countries need to be reminded about what ought to be their immediate preoccupation: consolidating the African agenda.
Some of the developments that have been seen on the global arena in recent times show that there is a need for African countries to put more efforts in consolidating the African agenda through which to negotiate their interests at a global stage. On their own as individual players, African countries are weaker and stand no chance of confronting unilateralism that has engulfed western countries recently.  In the era of ‘me-first’ diplomacy taking place in the west, African countries need to work harder to consolidate direct relationships among themselves, instead of prioritising bilateral relations with other countries outside the continent.
This is not to suggest that African countries should become insular from their international counterparts; that would not enhance the African agenda. The reality however is that African countries tend to be involved in more bilateral relations with their non-African counterparts than they do among themselves. In some cases, African countries tend to defer to those bilateral relations with their non-African counterparts than they do to their continental structures such as the African Union (AU).
Of course, foreign relations would be largely—and at times, totally—determined by a country ‘s self-interests, upon which bilateral relations and agreements evolve. It is however of great concern when African countries fails to take a common position on an issue such as the recent clash that took place in Palestine. Some African countries are worried about how taking a certain position on this matter could result in acrimony from powerful countries, which could result in punishment in the form of withdrawal of foreign aid, upon which some countries on the content still relies. When South Africa, for example, takes a strong position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, one has to ask if South Africa could take a similar position if the country relied on foreign aid for its budget.
President Donald Trump is not diplomatic about the repercussions that would be coming the way of countries that have developed the habit of standing against the United States on matters such as the Israeli –Palestine conflict. In an environment such as this, African countries cannot count on Russia or China to ward off pressure from western countries. Russia has its problems with the west and the country has no significant interests on the African continent to warrant that it takes up a fight on behalf of African countries.  China ‘s interests on the African continent is also one sided; seeing Africa as a consumer of manufactured goods, source of raw materials and a consumer of expensive infrastructure finance. China is also preoccupied with Mr. Trump ‘s administration, including a potentially catastrophic trade war.
In all this, African countries need to build stronger bilateral relationships with each other, based on trade, research and development. For a long time, Africa has been the centre stage for competition between world powers. More often, this competition leaves behind very miniscule residues that could be said to benefit the continent.
It is therefore important for African countries to forge ahead with consolidation of the African agenda, which start with building more bilateral trade relations among each other. It is for this dire state that the idea of Africa Day still matters.

Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of ‘When Zuma Goes’.




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