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Challenging the global order: Africa’s role in crafting a new future

The world needs more voices advocating a new global order

During my teenage years in the 1970s, our primary sources of information and entertainment were the radio, cinema, and books. I had a particular fondness for going to the movies. Cowboy films portraying white settlers in conflict with the indigenous landowners (the “Red Indians”) were particularly popular in those days. In these narratives, the white settler, depicted as the hero, would often triumph over the so-called ‘savage’ indigenous people. That was a ‘happy’ ending for most of us. Our reactions were a clear manifestation of cultural indoctrination, subtly conditioning us to view white figures as heroic. It was a striking example of the West’s cultural dominance, influencing our perceptions and understandings from a young age.

Currently, we’re witnessing an 81-year-old US President, Biden, vying for a second term despite his health concerns. That Biden is still in office and is competing for a second term doesn’t seem to be a big concern for global media outlets and political establishments across the Western world. Yet an African leader about the same age is often deemed unacceptable. In other instances, we praise a Western leader running for office for several terms, like Germany’s Angela Merkel, but an African leader doing the same is a dictator. This double standard reflects broader biases ingrained within global narratives.

While acknowledging the West’s contributions to human development, it’s undeniable that their current dominance—economically, politically, technologically, and militarily—has often come at the expense of Africa’s and the Global South’s advancement. We buy into their versions of elections and perceptions of democracy and human rights, but nothing has exposed the current West’s hypocrisy, moral bankruptcy, and double standards than in its contradictory reactions to the Russia-Ukraine and the Israeli war on Gaza. The collapse of the current global order, which finds its legitimacy in supposedly superior Western values, has a silver lining. Africa has the opportunity to take its rightful place in redefining a rules-based international order to which all, without exception, must abide.

Africa’s early centres of civilisation

The marginalisation of Africa and the Global South in the establishment of the current global order is mainly due to the fact that most African countries were still under occupation and colonialism at the time the United Nations was established, giving overwhelming powers in the Security Council to the winners of World War II, particularly those who excelled in nuclear powers. The dominance of these powers was not only based on military power but also on cultural, political and economic dominance. At the time, Africa was described as a backwards, uncivilised land. But this distortion of Africa’s reality and the attendant denial of its contributions to human development could not be further from the truth.

Africa and the Global South have been pivotal in the development of human civilisations, with contributions that have shaped the world in significant ways. The Mesopotamian Civilization, although not in Africa, is renowned for its groundbreaking inventions, such as writing (cuneiform), the wheel, and the establishment of cities and laws, alongside advanced political systems. Focusing on Africa, it has been a cradle of various civilisations that have left indelible marks on global history and culture.

The Egyptian Civilisation, for instance, which existed from around 3100 BCE to 30 BCE, is celebrated for its pyramids, mummies, hieroglyphic writing, monumental architecture, and profound contributions to religion and art. The Kingdom of Kush, in modern-day Sudan, rivalled Egypt with its remarkable pyramids and formidable military prowess. Carthage, situated in present-day Tunisia, emerged as a dominant maritime and commercial power in the western Mediterranean before its eventual defeat by Rome. The Mali Empire, famed for the city of Timbuktu, became a hub of learning, trade, and Islam. Similarly, the Songhai Empire was distinguished by its wealth, especially in gold, and its role in spreading Islam throughout West Africa.

The Axumite Empire, located in what is now Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia, is notable for its monumental obelisks and early adoption of Christianity. The Benin Empire, in what is now Nigeria, was pre-eminent for its artistic achievements, particularly in bronze sculptures. These African civilisations have contributed significantly not only to the continent’s rich history but also to the broader global heritage, showcasing advanced societal, cultural, and technological advancements.

All these examples provide the cultural, historical and intellectual foundation for African countries to reclaim their place in the concert of nations. In other words, Africans had and still have a lot to offer this world in terms of the values that will undergird the rules-based international order in the emerging multipolar world. It should not come as a surprise if the African worldview will vigorously reject the current, dominant worldview, which lionises the white settler colonialist at the expense of indigenous “savages.”

African moral values

African societies historically displayed remarkable hospitality and openness towards outsiders, including European explorers, traders, and missionaries, often extending valuable gifts to them. However, these virtues were exploited by colonial powers, leading to the continent’s subjugation and exploitation under imperialistic agendas. Today, as the Western world becomes increasingly inhospitable to outsiders, Africa can again offer an alternative way of dealing with immigration by displaying the same hospitality and openness towards outsiders. Rwanda, with its visa-free policy for Africans and visa-on-arrival policy for other peoples of the world, and its welcoming posture towards asylum seekers from Libya, Afghanistan, and the UK, is a good example of what values African countries should espouse and practise.

Speaking of moral resilience, African nations and leaders have been at the forefront of liberation, decolonisation, and anti-apartheid movements despite many challenges. Today, they are still opposing oppression despite the effects of neo-colonialism and economic sabotage from world financial institutions. In recent times, African countries have been increasingly vocal in international forums, advocating for fairness, justice, and equity in global issues such as international relations, climate change, and economic development. Notable examples include South Africa’s stance against Israel and Gambia’s case against Myanmar, reflecting Africa’s growing assertiveness and leadership on the global stage. Clearly, the world needs more voices advocating a new global order.

Confronting the Western dominance

Overcoming the dominance of Western countries in global arenas such as economy, politics, military, technology, and IT requires a strategic, multi-pronged and sustained approach by countries in the Global South, including the African continent.  On the economic front, African nations ought to focus on diversifying their economies from raw material dependency to investment in high-value, knowledge-based industries. This includes the development of sustainable energy, investment in research and development (R&D), fostering innovation ecosystems, and promoting sectors like technology, renewable energy, and advanced manufacturing.

Also, forming stronger economic and political blocs can enhance the bargaining power of Global South countries. Regional organisations can help in negotiating trade agreements, facilitating joint infrastructure projects, and coordinating diplomatic efforts to strengthen Africa’s collective voice. In this regard, the potential success of BRICS could challenge the current global economic order led by Western nations.

Education is vital. Improving access to quality education, especially in STEM fields, and promoting vocational training are crucial for competitiveness. Leapfrogging traditional development models through digital technology adoption, expanding internet access, and supporting local tech startups can accelerate progress.

Strengthening military capabilities, investing in cybersecurity, and forming strategic military alliances can protect sovereignty and contribute to global security.

Developing local media and social media platforms that reflect regional cultures, perspectives and languages can diversify global narratives. Platforms like Al Jazeera and TikTok demonstrate the potential to challenge Western media dominance by offering alternative perspectives.

While striving for autonomy and diversified growth, it’s also important to acknowledge the contributions of Western technology and digital development, aiming for a balanced global exchange of ideas and innovations.

Similarly, confronting existential issues such as climate change and its devastating impacts on the Global South requires all regions of the world to complement each other for the sake of humanity. While referring to the West, we need to acknowledge that the West is diverse, and many voices within it stand against exploitation and injustice.

Clearly, there is a need for a global effort to promote equity and value all human lives, regardless of race, religion, or culture. But this cannot be achieved without Africa’s contributions.

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