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Shifting perspectives: Recognizing Africa beyond conflict and embracing shared histories

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In a world where headlines often highlight conflicts, coups, poverty, and challenges in Africa, it’s crucial to delve deeper into the narratives that shape our perceptions of the continent. The media frequently emphasizes the struggles faced by Africans both within and outside their countries, but it’s important to contextualize these challenges within a broader historical framework. By examining the shared histories of different countries, we can foster a more nuanced understanding of the complexities that have shaped our world.

A continent defined by resilience

Africans matter to themselves and others, and the stories that make up the fabric of this diverse continent are not solely defined by conflicts. The struggles faced by Africans in their own countries and beyond are echoes of historical injustices, colonial legacies, and complex power dynamics. This perspective challenges us to explore the untold stories of Africans who have shown remarkable resilience, creativity, and strength in the face of adversity.

Africa celebrates iconic political leaders such as Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkruma, Nasser, Sékou Touré, Thomas Sankara and Nelson Mandela and others. It also celebrates innovation figures in renewable energy such as Malawian William Kamkwamba, and figures in music and cultural resistance, such as Miriam Makeba, Mohamed Wardi, Mohamed Alamin, Al kably, Umm Kulthum,  Angelique Kidjo,  Kenyan environmentalist, and political activist Wangari Maathai, sports figures in East Africa and many others, such as Abebe Bakila. These stories highlight the resilience, determination, and creativity of individuals across Africa who have overcome challenges and made significant contributions to their fields and communities.

Unravelling the threads of history

The prevailing narrative of conflict and struggle in Africa often overshadows the shared histories that have shaped both the continent and other regions. For instance, the history of human migration is rich and varied, from Irish and Scandinavian migrants seeking opportunities in the US in the mid of the 1800s to the inhuman experiences of first German and Italian immigrants in America. These stories remind us that the quest for a better life transcends continents and eras. They also remind us that most Africans, who seek a better future in Europe and America, leave countries rich in resources to escape abject poverty that is largely due to foreign exploitative policies introduced with the collaboration of corrupt African elites.

The old and new scramble for Africa

Colonialism and partitioning of Africa intensified in the late 19th century, particularly in the 1880s and early 1900s. European powers relied on superior military and technological capabilities to exploit Africa’s vast natural resources and the exploitation continues unabated. Africa was seen as a potential source of raw materials during the Industrial Revolution. Some of them justified their colonial activities as spreading Christianity, “civilization.” Borders were drawn arbitrarily without considering preexisting state and community organizations, resulting in tensions and conflicts still today. Africa’s socio-economic and political landscape is still impacted by colonialism. But not everything can be blamed on colonialism.

According to UNEP, Africa is home to some 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves, eight per cent of the world’s natural Gas and 12 per cent of the world’s oil reserves.  The continent has 40 percent of the world’s gold and up to 90 percent of its chromium and platinum. The largest reserves of cobalt, diamonds, platinum and uranium in the world are in Africa. It holds 65 per cent of the world’s arable land and ten percent of the planet’s internal renewable fresh water source. Yet its people die from food insecurity and preventable diseases.

According to Africa Energy Outlook 2022 universal access to affordable electricity, achieved by 2030 in the Sustainable Africa Scenario (SAS), requires bringing connections to 90 million people a year, triple the rate of recent years. At present, 600 million people, or 43% of the total population, lack access to electricity, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Obviously, while the new scramble targets Africa’s resources, African leaders share a huge responsibility for the failure to leverage these resources to improve people’s lives. Countries such as Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda, which are on track for full access to electricity by 2030, offer success stories that other countries can draw inspiration from.

Pursuit of interests and shared responsibility

It’s important to recognize that every country, including the US, EU countries, Russia, and China, pursues its interests. However, the impact of these pursuits is not isolated; it reverberates globally. For instance, liberal policies, promoted by institutions like the Bretton Woods organizations, undermine local economies and producers and create unfair competition. Our interconnectedness and shared struggles encourage us to adopt collective actions and policies to resist these policies. Hence, African countries need to promote trade among their countries and form a solid bloc to challenge and oppose exploitative policies that threaten to drown their markets with cheap products and want them to export raw materials before adding value to their products.

The future is Africa: Towards a holistic perspective

More than half of Africa’s countries will double their populations by 2050, thanks to high fertility and improved mortality rates. Within a generation, the continent will be home to at least 25% of the world’s population, up from less than 10% in 1950. Africa’s population will have increased tenfold during this timeframe, whereas Asia’s will have multiplied by four.

As we navigate the complexities of global relationships, we must remember that the stories of Africa extend beyond conflict. The stories of resilience, cultural richness, and shared histories shape a more complete picture of the continent. The narrative of Africa must evolve beyond a focus on conflict and suffering. By understanding the interconnected histories that have shaped different regions, we can foster empathy, cooperation, and a more equitable world. It is important for Africa to establish partnerships that are mutually beneficial, to restructure relations with international financial institutions and to develop its own governance and economic models that address its specific challenges. These policies need to aim to improve the livelihood of the individual African.

It’s time to embrace the full tapestry of Africa’s stories and recognize that Africans matter not just to themselves but to the shared human experience.

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