In the first visit by a senior official of the Biden administration to Africa, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is conducting a three-country tour. His first stop was Kenya, where he held closed-door talks with the president, an open conversation with members of civil society, and a press conference with his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo.
In Nigeria, his second stop, he will make a major statement on his country’s policy regarding Africa. Ahead of him, he sent a conciliatory gesture in the form of removing Nigeria from an American blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom, to which it had been added by the Trump admin (it’s virtue-signalling, but that’s the name of the game these days).
His last stop will be Senegal, on the west coast, which is the lowest-stakes part of the trip. The State Department said that he’ll be there to reaffirm “the close partnership” of Senegal and the US.
So far, he has conducted the trip as a gentleman, shying away from inflammatory topics like his government’s earlier insistence that its foreign policy (especially regarding parts of the world like ours) be hitched to the LGBTQI+ agenda. Instead, he has focused on public health, regional security, economic development, human rights, and support for democracy.
His trip is being read by those who are paying attention – there aren’t many of them – as a sign of the Biden Administration’s positioning to compete with China for Africa’s attention. China has been wooing African nations with loans and aid for quite some time and the standing of the US has suffered by comparison.
Whatever the case, welcome, Mr Blinken! We appreciate America’s contribution to the development of Africa.
After all, Africa is the poorest continent on the planet. Though many parts are already reasonably well off, and the continent as a whole is improving rapidly enough to forecast the eradication of most forms of destitution within the next decade or two, Africa remains the continent which is lowest in the league tables.
By all the fancy metrics, we’re running last. The estimated 2021 GDP of the whole continent (1.4 billion people) is about the same as that of France (67 million people). Our road networks are sparse. Our education levels are the lowest. And we still lose the largest number of women and children at childbirth.
Understandably, in Blinken’s eyes, as in many parts of the developed world, this is considered an unmitigated evil, hence the offers of help. Everyone wants Africa to look more like Europe, North America and the Far East. Abundant goods. Skyscraper cities. Air-conditioned homes. Gleaming hospitals. Quality education for everyone. Sprawling infrastructure tying it all together.
This is all admirable, and we should pursue it assiduously, with all the help we can get.
But this reading leaves out a crucial part of the story. Don’t forget that a future that looks like Europe, North America and the Far East also means a population implosion and a frayed social fabric.
It means old people wiling away their last years sequestered from their loved ones in nursing homes. It means terminally ill-patients put down like a horse with a broken leg. It means babies murdered in their mothers’ wombs. It means self-centred and confused young people, whose main care each morning is which gender to put on for the day.
It also means the authoritarianism of Twittermobs and state surveillance with security cameras covering every square yard. It means useless regulation (who is the government to tell me I can’t slaughter my own goat for Christmas?).
In short, Western progress is a double-edged sword.
I don’t often appeal to African values because I consider all the noble values of humanity mine. But Africa preserves values which the West has discarded in its pell-mell scramble for a higher standard of living. In few sane African minds are a collapsing population, weak families, aborted babies, warehoused or euthanised elders, or a government that stands between a goat and its owner’s knife, markers of progress.
Of course, Africa is not a paradise of family values. There have been atrocities here, and wanton disregard for human life in all the wars that have been waged on our lands. Our societies are cursed with corruption and political intrigue.
However, we are still rich in the glue that binds people together, as in the spirit that closes ranks around the dignity of human life. We won’t surrender these values without a fight.
Thanks to being last, we are in the right position to clearly see where the developed world lost the plot. We can see the mistakes it made on the quest for material and political comfort, and we can skirt them. We can take all the good stuff and leave out the poison.
It would be the height of folly for African nations to stumble into the same holes the developed world did. The lessons have already been learnt; we don’t need to re-learn them. Being last isn’t an unmitigated evil. It is also a blessing. And it’s one we shouldn’t stupidly pass up.