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U.S. Sub-Saharan Strategy

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DC Summit. Part III. AGOA and Africa


  1. Introduction
  2. The Sahara Desert: natural barrier, artificial frontier
  3. Maghreb: unity, infighting and panafricanism
  4. Porous Saharan borders
  5. The flip side: prejudice
  6. AGOA. Close-up and the fine print
  7. AGOA Covered Products
  8. Trade Capacity Building (TCB)
  9. Performance record


AGOA was a main item on the agenda of the USA-Africa Summit (Washington, DC August 4-6, 2014).

The AGOA acronym stands for African Growth and Opportunity Act. Even if the label is not a misnomer, the initials do not match the  definition of the program, which reads as follows:

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was signed into law by President Clinton in May 2000 with the objective of expanding U.S. trade and investment with sub-Saharan Africa, to stimulate economic growth, to encourage economic integration, and to facilitate Sub-Saharan Africa’s integration into the global economy. The Act establishes the annual U.S.-sub-Saharan Africa Economic Cooperation Forum (known as the AGOA Forum) to promote a high-level dialogue on trade and investment-related issues. At the center of AGOA are substantial trade preferences that, along with those under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), allow virtually all marketable goods produced in AGOA-eligible countries to enter the U.S. market duty-free.

Based on this statement, it would be more adequate to call the program SS-AGOA, instead of AGOA.

Still, the north-south divide of the Sahara Desert is as much a geographical reality and a political creation.
It stems from the European Rush to Africa, the map-making schemes of the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, and subsequent ideological rivalries and economic strategies.
Nevertheless, historically and culturally, the Sahara has not been — and is not — a barren region or a no-man’s land.

The Sahara Desert: natural barrier, artificial frontier

Although it current name comes from Arabic, the Sahara’s geological and prehistoric records indicate that it did not always stand as “the largest subtropical hot desert and third largest desert after Antarctica and the Arctic.” (Wikipedia). On the contrary, back then it was a fertile land, filled with rivers, lush vegetation and wildlife. It was home to some of the most ancient peoples on earth.

Peoples from the north and south of the Sahara have shared history trough prehistory, antiquity, the Middle Age, slavery, Islam, colonization, and post-colonization. And in today’s global warming climate and globalization changes, they ever more partake a common destiny.

In what follows, I look as far back as possible, before touching on more recent data and current events.

Let’s begin with the Fulɓe “Archipelago” or “Planet.”
Before the Berbers, Fulɓe  practiced nomadic  civilization of the the region. Titled “Au Sahara il y a 5000 ans … une civilization de pasteurs de boeufs,” Henri Lhote’s article summarized his and other archeologists’  fieldwork in the Sahara. The paper exposed vestiges of prehistoric cattle herders, hunters, agriculturalists . Actually, sociocultural life in the region dates more than 10000 years B.C., i.e. when  proto-Fulɓe and contemporary groups domesticated the bovine.
Written in “Les fresques d’époque bovidienne du Tassili n’Ajjer et les traditions des Peul: hypotheses,” (The Geographical Review. 435, page 6.) Dieterlen’s analysis concurred with Lhote’s approach.
The work of Lhote,  Dieterlen and others  resulted in a Rock art exhibit at Musée de l’Homme in Paris in the 19601. A mentor of Professor Djibril Tamsir Niane, Dieterlen went on to co-edit Kumen with Amadou Hampâté Bâ. The text of Kumen had been transmitted orally to Hampâté by Fulbe pastoralists from Senegal’s Ferlo region . Critics welcomed Kumen. Among them H. Deschamp compared its hybrid style of prose and poetry as well as its content to salient literary passages of the Bible. Indeed, Kumen is filled with esoteric and beautiful metaphors.
Dieterlen and Lhote invited Amadou Hampâté to see the rock art specimen found in the mountain caves Tassili n’Ajjer (Algeria). When he saw artifacts, Hampâté simply declared: “My ancestors have been here.”
As the Sahara dried up, cattle herders and agriculturalists moved out. And camel-riding Nomads settled in around oases and water holes. Using their keen knowledge of the harsh environment, the Berbers, precisely the Imuhagh (Tuareg, “People of the Veil”, “Blue People”) developed a well-adapted and dynamic culture in the Desert. From those ancient times to today, they link routinely the northern Maghreb to the Sahel southern limits.

I remember visiting Niamey as Guinea’s delegate to an OAU-sponsored seminar on livestock-rearing communities (Fulɓe, Tuareg, Koyam, etc.) in Niger’s capital city, back in 1979. Touring the town, I was awestruck at the sight of freshly arrived —or Sahara-bound— caravans of camels. The scene was a striking reminder of age-old economic and cultural contacts.

The lanes crisscrossing the Sahara date before the 7th century. It was then that Islam landed in North Africa. Combining the word with the sword Arab priest-warriors connected with indigenous peoples (Berbers, Fulɓe, Tubu, etc.) to consolidate their power.

Historian Djibril Tamsir Niane writes: « In the eleventh century the Almoravids, setting out from the Senegal estuary with armies which included large forces of Negroes from Takruur, conquered parts of the Maghrib and of the Iberian peninsula and restored sunna, a strict Muslim orthodoxy, throughout western Islam. » (General History of Africa. Volume II. Ancient civilizations of Africa. “Introduction.” UNESCO. 1984.)

Intellectual, spiritual and cultural ties continue to develop between the north and the south sides of the Sahara. That explains the presence of the same tarikh (ways) and/or suufi brotherhoods (Qadriya, Shazzaliyya, Tijaniyya) in North and West Africa.
Already in 1790, Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya from Fuuta-Jalon introduced his milestone poem Oogirde Malal (The Lode of Eternal Bliss) as follows:

Ndee ɠasidaare ajamiyaa ko Muhammadu mo Saiidu Seeleyanke
Wallifanii yimɓe Maqribi
(Translation: This work in ajamiyya  is dedicated to People of the Maghreb
by Muhammadu son of Sa’idu of the Seele lineage).
Historically, the Arabic word maghreb designates the countries west of Misra (Egypt), not simply North Africa. Mashriq, east, is the opposite noun.

Decades later, in the mid-1800, pioneer colonialist Louis-Léon Faidherbe  drew from his previous Maghreb experience in building the French West Africa Empire.

Maghreb: unity, infighting and panafricanism

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Maghreb leaders and movements supported each other politically and militarily. That solidarity held on in the first decades of independence.

Furthermore, in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the newly independent states ignored the North-South Sahara line. Consequently, the Casablanca Group integrated countries from North (Algeria, Morocco), East (Egypt), and West (Ghana, Guinea, Mali) Africa.

First Conference African Casablanca Group, Rabat, Jan. 1961. From left to right: Prince Moulay Hassan (the late Hassan II, (Morocco), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Ferhat Abbas (Algeria), Sékou Touré (Guinea),  Modibo Keita (Mali), Mohamed V (Morocco)
First Conference African Casablanca Group, Rabat, Jan. 1961. From left to right:
Prince Moulay Hassan (futur Hassan II, (Morocco), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana, head only, behind Nasser), Ferhat Abbas (Algeria, next to Nkrumah), Sékou Touré (Guinea), Modibo Keita (Mali), King Mohamed V (Morocco)

Algeria is the only African country to host two continental —and Diaspora— cultural events. Thirty-years apart, the Festival panafricain d’Alger of 1969 and 2009 are superseded only by the memorable Festac 77 (Lagos-Kaduna, 1977)

Under Sékou Touré‘s dictatorship, Algeria’s ambassador to Conakry, Messaoudi Zitouni, was routinely asked to attend the government’s sessions, as full member.

Telli Diallo and Zitouni were diplomatic colleagues — and allegedly longtime “friends”. However, neither him, nor the Algerian government sought apparently to prevent or reacted Telli’s arbitrary arrest, torture and murder by starvation and thirst at Camp Boiro in 1976, on Sékou Touré’s order.

However, in recent decades, North Africa has nearly splintered about  the Western Sahara issue. Hostility and isolationism now prevail. Thus, for the past twenty years, the Morocco/Algerian border has remained closed.
The current issue of Jeune Afrique tells about two villages distant by less than two miles apart on opposite sides of the Algeria/Morocco frontier. But relatives and neighbors can visit each other only if they go through Spain!

Jeune Afrique, Special Algerie-Maroc. La déchirure
Jeune Afrique, Special Algerie-Maroc. La déchirure

Morocco left the defunct Organization of African Unity in 1984 to protest the institution’s support for the Polisario movement of Western Sahara. Today, it is still a non-member of the African Union.
Yet, in recent years, however, Morocco has conducted diplomatic charm offensive and business contacts, from Senegal all the way down to Gabon and South Africa.

Porous Saharan borders

The borders inherited from the Berlin Conference are so porous in the Sahara as to be non-existent in the field. Following the millennia-old trade routes, modern transport vehicles facilitate contacts in the region, for all sakes. Hence, in September 2011, in the aftermath of his father’s downfall, flamboyant playboy Al-Saadi Gaddafi drove straight to Niamey with his entourage. There he lived in asylum until his extradition to Tripoli by the government of Niger, last March.

Al-Saadi Gaddafi
Al-Saadi Gaddafi

In 2013, the Malian state faced obliteration from groups heavily armed with the Gaddafi’s looted weapons and ammunition depots.
Last, but not the least, Boko Haram gets its supply of arms, ammunitions, and logistics from two sources:

  • Equipment (armored vehicles, trucks, even tanks) from ransacked Nigerian military barracks
  • Contraband stockpiles from Libya through the Sahara.

The flip side: prejudice

From the above, we know that the Sahara’s environment does not prevent or deter deep ties between the North and the South. Yet, misconceptions, prejudice, and conflicting interests persist. Examples:

  1. Black communities have lived in North Africa for centuries. Nevertheless, they —and recently arrived migrants— face deep-seated racial prejudices that sometimes lead to violence. Read the article “Racisme : au Maghreb les Noirs sont-ils des citoyens comme les autres ?” in Jeune Afrique.
  2. Racism is entrenched in the Maghreb, Mauritania and Sudan, where Arab domination persists. Since independence in 1960, Mauritania has faced the legacy of slavery and discrimination. There is ample evidence of deep-seated racial polarization. And conflicts between Arabs and non-Arabs are recurrent.
    Farther east, following decades of civil war, Sudan was forced to recognize an independent South Sudan in 2011.
  3. Oriental hegemony was violently overthrown in 1964 in Zanzibar, a former slave colony of the Sultanate of Oman in the Arabian Peninsula. Soon after the Black majority in the Atlantic Ocean island chose to form with the mainland Tanganyika the United Republic of Tanzania.
  4. Gaddafi often criticized and distanced himself from other Arab countries. He frequently claimed a pro-Sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, in Libya non-Arab minorities, in general, and Black Africans suffered discrimination under Gaddafi. The plight of the Tubu of southern Libya became a notorious case of collective human rights violations.

Conversely, some Sub-Saharan tend to exclude the Maghreb.
For instance, in the early preparatory phase of FESTAC’77 a dispute broke out between Nigeria and Senegal around whether Maghreb countries should participate in the Symposium —they were part of the planned shows. Senegal argued that only Black countries should be members. Nigeria disagreed and declared that all African countries were entitled to full participation in FESTAC’77.Festac' 77 emblem
Being the host and the main bankroller of the event, the Nigerian Federal government revoked the credentials of the director of the Symposium (Sénégal’s Alioune Diop or Pathé Diagne, I’m not sure). Next, playing on the Sékou Touré vs. Senghor rivalry regarding négritude, Lagos (at that time the capital-city) asked Guinea to head the Symposium in lieu of Senegal. Conakry appointed a colleague of mine, the late Madigbè Kourouma,  —philosophy professor and dean of the Department of Social Sciences of Conakry— as its representative. He was granted a leave of absence and he headed for Lagos, where I and other faculty joined him months later as Guinea delegates to the Symposium. In my case, I attended as individual member and as vice-president of the commission on language and literature. My boss was cabinet minister Sikhé Camara. He oversaw my efforts  to prepare Guinea’s immaterial cultural items to be presented at Festac. Sending diligent missions throughout the country, we were able to gather specimen of Pular Ajamiyaa, Kpèlèwö (Guerzé) and Lomaghöy (Toma) indigenous alphabets, etc.

Yet, despite the above reminders, the Sahara is perceived as a strict limit. That view is reflected at the U.S. State Department or in academia.
Hence, the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau  groups together the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya) with countries on the Asian continent (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Bahrain, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen).
And Middle-East research and studies departments reflect this model at American academic institutions.
USAID’s programs covers 42 African countries. The Maghreb is not included.
The Obama Administration upheld that tradition in a document named the U.S. Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that the AGOA sessions at the USA-Africa Summit didn’t include the Maghreb.  It was diplomatically excused —actually it was barred legally — from the talks.  What a paradox for an event meant to bring the U.S and Africa closer together?

Bucking that approach, and contrary to civilian agencies, the Pentagon goes for a continental approach. Its United States Africa Command (Africom) plan encompasses all five African regions: northern, southern, eastern, western and central.

Summing it up, like any other place on earth, Africa swings between push and pull, attraction and rejection, fission and fusion, cooperation and conflict, centrifugal and centripetal forces. …
In the memorable words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The world is all messed up.” (I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech, Memphis, TN, 3 April 1968 speech). In these trying times —as in past ones, including slavery and colonization— Africa holds the perennial standing as the world’s economic and technological laggard. In today’s globalization, the ranking wreaks havoc in the Cradle of humankind in the form of alienation, marginalization, brain drain, … Arbitrary bureaucratic boundaries, mindless political dissensions and external compartmentalization compound the continent’s challenges. They hurt its struggle for revival, re-affirmation, relevancy, growth and development. The road to freedom and self-reliance is blocked by greed-dominated  and technology-driven forces —internal and external—, amidst relentless inequities, oppression, corruption, impunity, poverty and terrorism. In that regard, the Machiavellian “Divide and rule” precept may benefit the so-called “elites” of failed and non-viable African states.  But it is utterly detrimental to the peoples and the land…
The North-South Saharan line  is drawn in the sand (no pun intended!). It is more artificial than real. It seems to overlook deep historical and political bonds as well as current economic and cultural inter-dependencies.
Worse, Sub-Saharan Africa is a euphemism for previous derogatory names: Black Africa, Dark Continent, land of savages, etc.
I just wish that the makers of AGOA had, without ambiguity, called it  SS-AGOA. Because the program actually deals only with one part —not the whole— of Africa.
And how does it do it? What mechanisms drive AGOA? How does it work?

AGOA. Close-up and the fine print

Last July, on the eve of the USA-Africa Summit, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a report entitled “African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA): Background and Reauthorization”. The paper compiles AGOA’s results and ponders over its future.
Drawing from reliable data, authoritative sources, the document offers an assessment of the program. It sheds light on AGOA’s objectives, complexity and contradictions.

Created 14 years ago, AGOA is a “nonreciprocal and unilateral” trade preference initiative. It targets Sub-Saharan African countries and covers U.S. imports at the exclusion of exports, “so reauthorization only requires action by the U.S. government.”
AGOA is a “one-way” preference accorded to those countries “with the goal of enhancing export-led economic growth.”
Above all, it excludes “items that may be considered import sensitive.”
It should not be confused with “other U.S. trade liberalization efforts such as free trade agreements (FTAs) or multilateral agreements through the World Trade Organization (WTO), which reduce and/or eliminate tariffs for both U.S. imports and exports.”
Although it involves more than 50 countries, the program was domestically conceived, unilaterally designed and Congress-authorized.
I previously suggested that the USA-Africa Summit is a lopsided partnership of the richest and the poorest of the face of the planet Earth.
Obviously, the designers of AGOA factored in the structural (economic) imbalance between the two parties. But, what is the proportion between altruism and self-serving objectives?
The CRS paper highlights some restrictive measures that, in essence, grant advantage to the USA. That’s hardly surprising, given that AGOA is neither a charitable endeavor nor an aid program. It’s a business and trade pact.
So, what mechanisms actually drive AGOA? How does it work? My own take on the CRS report is twofold:

AGOA Covered Products

The program covers 5,200 tariff lines for duty-free access on U.S. imports. None of those include “politically sensitive” products: dairy, beef, fish, cereals, etc. Also, most AGOA members can’t meet the tough “U.S. food safety standards”. Does the US do something to bring its partners up to modern quality production levels?

Trade Capacity Building (TCB)

The CRS report notes that AGOA member countries face “poor infrastructure, inadequate access to electricity, and skilled labor shortages.”
That’s not new. Therefor, AGOA should have integrated a germane approach and adequate resources to help address such predicaments, which are characteristic of under-development, in general.
As the report indicates, the US has spent $4 billion since 2001 to enhance AGOA countries trading capabilities. “Administered through different agencies, particularly USAID”, those funds are far from matching the daunting of AGOA partners. It’s the sign of a troubled relationship.

Capacity building is one way of designating the process of training the productive forces or creating skilled human resources, which constitute the prime capital and the engine driving projects and policies, particularly in business. Perhaps, the planners of AGOA overlook this key aspect of the project. And now it’s coming home to roost.
Also, it validates  the viewpoint I outlined in the blog Democracy and literacy. Building a trained workforce is the responsibility of African governments. Foreign partners ought to be able to hire qualified or easily trainable workers.
At the onset of the country’s industrial awakening, the late Den Xiaoping did not focus on the size of China’s domestic market to attract foreign investors. Instead, he drew their attention to the availability of huge and cheap pools of literate workers. It was an appealing invitation that prompted capitalists to invest. At the same time, China was investing heavily in higher education and in research lab. In so doing, the Communist leadership accelerated China’s rise as an economic super-power.
Likewise, African states must give priority to literacy and education. Otherwise, the continent’s role in the world economy will lack incentive for outside financing. It will stagnate and shrink in the globalization era.
For instance, the CRS report indicates that in 2012 “TCB funding in AGOA countries dropped to $95 million from an average of $629 million over the previous five years.”

TCB funding in AGOA countries (in millions US$)
during the period 2006-2011 and in 2012 respectively

TCB funding in AGOA countries, 2006-2012

Should this declining trend continue, the partnership risks to gradually weaken and loose support and/or purpose.

Performance record

Clearly, the CRS report indicates that AGOA is an under-performer. So much so that its re-authorization is subject to debate. Had it been a success story, its renewal would have been almost automatic.
Alas, some countries do not participate at all. They probably fail to meet AGOA’s basic economic criteria. Among such states gigantic is the vast and potentially rich D.R. Congo.

Imports for consumption basis. Energy products defined as HTS chapter 27. Stars represent preferential treatment on over 75% of total exports to the United States, including energy products. Map only includes countries eligible for AGOA benefits in 2013. Source: Analysis by CRS. Data from U.S. ITC.
Imports for consumption basis. Energy products defined as HTS chapter 27. Stars represent preferential treatment on over 75% of total exports to the United States, including energy products. Map only includes countries eligible for AGOA benefits in 2013.
Source: Analysis by CRS. Data from U.S. ITC.

Also, the Nigerian giant ranks below Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Why? Is it because of the oil mirage that has so profoundly undermined the Federation’s social fabric and economy? It was at the roots of the Biafra secession in 1966, and the following civil war that claimed millions of lives and caused inhuman suffering. The successive military regimes failed the country. They generated violent insurgencies: first the MENDE in the Niger Delta (Southeast). Boko Haram took the bloody relay around 2000, in the Northeast. Long time in denial, Federal Government must at present look itself in the mirror. The picture is ugly: incompetence, corruption and gross violations everywhere. Desperate, Abuja is now dialing SOS worldwide.  Is it too late for a failed nation-state to repair decades of misrule?
African countries perform poorly in AGOA, compared to Asia. Even the top-five countries trailed badly the results achieved between the U.S. and its Asian trade partners.

 U.S. Imports of Apparel Products by Country
(millions of U.S. dollars, 2013)

AGOA and Non-AGOA US imports
AGOA and Non-AGOA US imports (Chart – Tierno S. Bah)

I would be remiss if I don’t mention the Guinean. Although smaller, Guinea had the potential to achieve food security and good earnings from staple crops exports. Amazed that the major rivers spring out of the mountain region of Fuuta-Jalon, geographers gave nicknamed it “Waterhouse” or “Switzerland” of West Africa. Unfortunately, since independence in 1958, the country has known only dictatorships, civilian and military. The cycle was supposed to end in 2010. Unfortunately, the presidential election was rigged and violent. And its unexpected outcome has further dimmed Guinea’s prospects for democracy and development. Despite its mineral resources; rather, because of them!

In the end, AGOA may have come too late, too little. The program started in 2000, i.e. more than thirty years after natural disasters and political calamities seriously altered the physical environment and the social climate in most African countries.
Will new strategies emerge to stop the decline and usher in peace, stability, and prosperity?
Can trickle-down theory be part of the solution? Let’s see.

Next, Trickle-down economics and philanthropy

Tierno S. Bah

Summit and show. Promises and pitfalls. Part I

Earlier this month Washington, D.C. hosted the US-Africa Summit convened by President Barack Obama and the first lady, Michelle: respectively a direct and distant son and daughter of Africa.
Here are, summarily, my takes on the event.

Lionel Richie performs at the White House State dinner
Lionel Richie performs at the White House State dinner

Actually, the full schedule took five days: from August 1st to 6th. First, the White House organized the Washington Fellowship For Young African Leaders. President Obama quickly changed the name of the first class to the Mandela Washington Fellowship. Then, speaking to the young audience, Michelle Obama declared: “Believe me, the blood of Africa runs through my veins” to thundering applause.

Summit  and “summitis”

From time immemorial, state ceremonies have lavished in heraldry and protocol, titles and insignia, pageantry and pomp, etiquette and decorum. The Washington meetings complied with that tradition.
And, given the top-level functions of the participants from both sides —hosts and guests— the event logically bore the name of summit. However, on the flip side, summits have generated a neologism: summititis.  The word was coined to question the high frequency and low-output of such meetings. Its form includes the use of a suffix found in the name of such diseases and illnesses: encephalitis, meningitis, hepatitis, etc.

Presidents Obama, Kagame with daugher, Michelle Obama
Presidents Obama, Kagame, with daughter Ange Ingabire Kagame, Michelle Obama

On one hand, summits have become budget-intensive and a costly habit. On the other hand, they tend to yield little or nothing. And their aftermath stands way below the expectations expected from them. Hence the summititis nickname with its implicit criticism and open skepticism.

“Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Ritchie.

Does the Washington Summit belong in that category? The answer is, most likely, yes. And, as far as I’m concerned, here is why.

What the show didn’t tell

The Washington Summit was almost fully attended, with the exception, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Western Sahara.
It displayed a great show of state protocol and diplomatic tradition: honor guards, flags, motorcades, music, food, security services, etc. For the Washington Post, U.S.-African Leaders Summit noted that it was “not exactly a state dinner but lots of pomp and circumstance.”
In theory and de jure, the Washington Summit —like the United Nations meetings— brought together leaders who are equal de jure. Contrary to the G8 or G10, however, it was de facto a lopsided gathering between uneven stakeholders, i.e. between representatives of the richest country and those of the poorest continent on earth. No need for a reminder, though, that’s a known fact.

President Macky and first layde Marietou Sall
President Macky and first lady Marietou Sall

Senior cabinet ministers represented the presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone; they stayed home to monitor the Ebola virus crisis. However, their neighbor, the president of Guinea, chose to minimize the threat. Accompanied by a strong delegation, he participated in the Summit.
Likewise, President Goodluck Jonathan attended in spite of hundreds of high-schools girls still captives following their abduction in the violent campaign waged by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

Soul singer Lionel Richie entertained the official dinner at the White House. Too bad that he was not peered with an African group or artist to underscore the Africa-USA cooperation mood of the Summit.
He could have jammed with a group from the continent. After all many jazz celebrities have done just that. In each of Africa’s five regions one finds court/royal musical traditions rooted in the pre-colonial kingdoms and empires. A a member of the Guinean delegation to the Symposium of the memorable FESTAC ‘77 (Festival of Arts and African Culture, Lagos-Kaduna, 1977), I recall that on opening day, the Nigerian Federal Government hosted a dinner for attending Heads of State and chiefs of delegations. Performed by Sory Kandia Kouyate, live Kora music and medieval Mande songs enlivened the ceremony. This Jeli genius grew up as a court poet in the Fuuta-Jalon (Guinea). He rose to international fame as a mezzo-soprano in the Ballets Africains of Fodeba Keita, himself a descendant of the illustrious Morifidian Diabaté, Samori Toure‘s ultimate companion, in glory and in exile.… Again, bards and praise-singers like Kandia Kouyate are found in Mande society and elsewhere in Africa. Kandia died, unfortunately, in December 1977, while performing. Just like Miriam Makeba in 2008.

Kouyate Sori Kandia, 1935-1977
Kouyate Sori Kandia, 1935-1977

Miram Makeba (1932-2008)
Miram Makeba (1932-2008)

(“Keddo” from Epopée du Manding by Kouyate Sory Kandia. 1968)

“The Click Song”  by Miriam Makeba, 1964

Arguably, the Washington DC Summit was predicated on two claims :

  • Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies
  • Democracy is gaining ground on the continent


Evidently, such assumptions brim with confidence and optimism. But their advocates are only entitled to their opinions, not to the facts. And, in this case, both proclamations fail Africa’s reality test. They are either thoroughly challenged or simply negated.

Obviously, the first assertion links the mining sector’s activity to economic growth, and possibly to development. Actually, mining is a primary sector investment that is is disjointed from the whole economy. Worse, the words mining and development are contradictory and antithetical.

The second contention may be less tangible, but it’s no less real and onerous. It reminds us democracy’s known prerequisites, among which literacy ranks high.  Let’s review the above pair of presumptions.

Extractive industry and African development: oxymoron and hype

For nearly a decade now, it’s been often said that Africa is the new, or next promise land for investment, growth, and, eventually, development.

For example, in 2012, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof asserted that “Africa is becoming more democratic, more technocratic and more market-friendly.” Read his “Africa on the Rise” paper.

Such claims are based on the propects for increased exports of raw materials: minerals, lumber, industrial crops. They have little to do with such strategic and vital matters as energy output, water management, food production, health care and education investments, research and development, environmental preservation, etc.

The much-vaunted pace of growth of some African economies is exaggerated. It is tied to a sector of the economy that has failed African peoples time and again. For one thing, it perpetuates the 1998 Colonial Pact, which assigned Africa the role of supplier of raw material and the passive market for cheap and overpriced manufactured goods. Colonial powers strictly enforced that rule. And post-colonial African rulers have followed suite. As a result, the continent’s economy has weakened further. Mining fuels corruption and poverty. It increases dependency on foreign aid. It ruins the environment. And, adding to a longstanding “brain drain”,  it pushes out a ceaseless flux of unskilled laborers toward the borders of “Fortress Europe” and America.
Paradoxically, it’s no secret that extractive industries repatriate more profit money than they invest on the continent. Year in, year out!

In essence, the terms African development and extractive industry are antithetical. They may sound somewhat attractive to foreign investors.  But for the majority of Africans, i.e., the rural dwellers, the pair is just a hyped and dubious oxymoron.

Blood DiamondA saying in Nigeria sums it about oil production and export, which led the giant Federation from boom to gloom. That assessment applies to other African countries and the exploitation of their natural resources.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Beninese American Djimon Hounsou, the movie Blood diamond (2006) depicts the ravages and the cruelty of African mining.

In 2012, South Africa police gunned down 34 striking platinum miners in Marikana, near Johannesburg. They had grievances against the low wages paid by the mining conglomerate Lonmin. The tragic shootout was reminiscent of the Sharpeville massacre under the Apartheid regime in 1960.

South Africa. Miners police shootings
South Africa. Marikhana Platinum Mine police shootings. 2012

The Second Congo War (also known as the Great War of Africa) began in 1998. It is still going on at a lower intensity level. Wikipedia calls it “the deadliest war in modern African history, it has directly involved nine African nations, as well as about 20 armed groups. By 2008, the war and its aftermath had killed allegedly 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation, making the Second Congo War the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II. The war and the conflicts afterwards, including the Kivu conflict and Ituri conflict, were driven by, among other things, the trade in conflict minerals”:  diamonds, cobalt, coltan, gold and other lucrative resources.

Last but not the least, surveying the post-colonial history of my home country, Guinea, aka Africa’s “geological scandal”, observers acknowledge that mining and dictatorship have combined to keep a once-promising land among the 10 poorest countries of the world, since it gained independence from France in 1958. Last year saw worldwide press coverage of the licensing scandal of the Simandou’s rich iron ore deposits. The revelations prompted an FBI investigation, under the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. So far, it has led to the arrest, prosecution, trial, conviction and prison sentencing of Frederic Cilins, a French citizen with ties to diamond billionaire Beny Steinmetz.…

Next, “Democracy and literacy. Dictatorship and illiteracy

Tierno S. Bah

Sommet US-Afrique. Absence du Privé guinéen

Parallèlement aux contacts inter-gouvernmentaux, les milieux d’affaires privés africain et américain exploreront divers projets de business et opportunités d’affaires.

L’évènement a été précédé par un colloque consacré à l’entreprenariat des jeunes Africains formés dans les universités américaines.

Le mois dernier déjà, la Guinée figurait parmi les quatre derniers  Etats au classement 2014 des pays africains par l’ONU, sur la base du critère d’implantation du e-Gouvernement.

Côté du secteur privé, la Guinée récidive pour le Sommet Afrique-USA, qui s’ouvre aujourd’hui  4 août à Washington, DC, et qui prendra fin le 6 août, à l’initiative du président Barack Obama.

On le sait, la coopération et l’échange mutuellement bénéfiques sont préférables à l’aide passive et à l’assistance conditionnelle.

Mais, depuis des décennies, la Guinée sombre dans un sous-développment galopant. Les causes et les conséquences du déclin du pays sont connus:

  • dictatures (civile et militaire)
  • corruption
  • impunité
  • répression
  • crimes contre l’humanité
  • violations de la Constitution et des droits du citoyen
  • zone monétaire isolée, monnaie non-convertible
  • secteur bancaire usurier, campé dans l’économie tertiaire tertiaire, et hostile aux projets de développement
  • gabégie financière et terrorisme contre l’intégrité professionnelle (assassinat impuni d’Aissatou Boiro)
  • abandon du monde rural (agriculture, élevage, pêche, cueillette)
  • obsession minière gouvernementale
  • marginalisation des femmes
  • chômage de la jeunesse
  • médiocrité du système d’éducation
  • avilissement de l’université
  • précarité du système de santé
  • inexistence ou faiblesse de réseau numérique de communication
  • inadéquation ou absence des services de transports (routier, ferroviaire, maritime, fluvial, aérien)
  • culte de la personnalité — nauséabond et écoeurant — du chef de l’Exécutif, pratiqué depuis Sékou Touré jusqu’aujourd’hui, au mépris de la parité constitutionnelle des deux autres branches de l’Etat, que sont le Législatif et le Judiciaire
  • incapacité notoire dans la production et la distribution des services stratégiques : énergie, eau, alimentation, santé, habitat
  • petites et moyennes industries embryonnaires et/ou anémiques
  • etc.

En conséquence, la Guinée ne peut même pas participer à l’African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) : un programme visant à stimuler la production domestique africaine et à accroître la capacité d’exportation du continent en contrepartie de précieuses devises étrangères (dollar, euro, etc). L’AGOA repose sur des strictes normes professionnelles, sectorielles et techniques de production industrielle, agricole et même artisanale.

Mais le secteur privé guinéen ne remplit pas le critères qualitatifs et quantitatifs du système d’échanges de l’AGOA, qui figure en évidence au menu des rencontres de Washington. Cela explique, entre autres —et sur la base de la liste ci-jointe — qu’aucune entreprise guinéenne n’ait été conviée aux négociations du Business Forum conjointement organisé par le ministère fédéral du Commerce et Bloomblerg Philanthropies.

Sur les 105 entreprises africaines sur la liste, la Guinée affiche 0 (zéro). Par contre, la Côte d’Ivoire, le Mali et le Sénégal comptent chacun deux sociétés invitées :

  • Côte d’Ivoire
    • PKL S.A.
    • African Development Bank
  • Mali
    • Chamber of Commerce and Industry
    • African Trans Services (A.T.S.)
  • Senegal
    • Compagnie Sahelienne d’Entreprises
    • Fares Group

Le Nigeria est représenté par 10 entreprises, l’Afrique du Sud par 11, l’Egypte par 5.

Tierno S. Bah