African Leaders and Free Lunches


The popular adage “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” kept crossing my mind in the run-up to the just concluded London Conference on Somalia. I wondered why a gathering focusing on a Sub Saharan African country was to be hosted by the UK government in London, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be precise. I thought of keeping my musings to myself until I found that a number of people shared the same sentiments, especially my Kenyan friend Kenneth Ochieng who summed up these sentiments on his blog page which I have copied at the end of this post.

Such a global gathering to discuss the way forward out of the litany of problems plaguing Somalia, referred to by policy makers and development experts as the archetypal “failed state” is certainly a commendable and progressive step. This is especially because Somalia’s problems of collapsed state institutions, Al-Shabab terrorism, piracy and humanitarian crisis affect not just Somalia but neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and successfully tackling these problems requires a concerted transnational effort with the relevant stakeholders.

However, my grouse here is why this gathering heavily attended by many African Heads of States, African multilateral organizations and other world leaders was hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron in London? Understandably, the safety of dignitaries couldn’t be compromised by holding it in Somalia, thus I wondered why the confab couldn’t be hosted neither by Jonathan in Abuja or Attah Mills in Accra; nor Kibaki in Nairobi in the Horn of Africa within the vicinity of Somalia itself, nor Zuma in Johannesburg. The conference couldn’t convene in the brand new glitzy African Union Headquarters literally built from scratch and furnished by Chinese funds and labour. One could perhaps assume that a conference on the Nigerian Boko Haram insurgency group (probably the next biggest security threat in the region), would be held in some swanky conference hall in Washington D.C., New York, Berlin or Paris.

The New AU Headquarters built by China, commissioned in January 2012


I simply wonder when African leaders would grow up, be more assertive in handling African affairs and wean themselves off international help over every thing (apparently including having our regional headquarters built for free or confabs on African security held in far away European capitals). Yet at the slightest opportunity, when it suits our African leaders, they utter populist “pan-African” rhetoric about being “dictated-to” and constrained by “imperialist” Western nations. I wonder when we are ever going to grasp the dynamics of international politics and realize that nations hardly do things for others involving massive funds on the basis of pure altruism but mainly based on what would benefit them. When would we start put our own national interests on the front burner before taking any step, in this case seizing the opportunity of such an international gathering to showcase our beautiful capital cities and improve outsiders’ perceptions of Africa for instance, and cut costs associated with funding such international travels?

With the conference over and a laudable communiqué released which inspires some hope on the future of security in Somalia, I hope our African leaders would subsequently consider being more assertive in holding such gatherings in an African country — even though the follow-up conference in June 2012 is billed to take place in Istanbul, Turkey. For one it would show our seriousness in taking charge of our destiny like other developing regions are doing and not painting the image of a helpless, dependent continent. For another it would boost the profile of the city holding such a gathering especially in the international media, and also bring in some foreign revenue to the local economy from hosting and accommodating delegates.

As I stated earlier, Kenneth Ochieng succinctly echoes my sentiments on this issue. Find below his write-up titled Listen Mr. African ‘STATESMAN’: Rants of a Troubled Pan-Africanist originally posted on his blog, Okwarohztake:

OK listen AU, IGAD, EAC, NEPAD and all other multilateral African institutions and ‘statesmen’ who’ve perfected the art of perennially ranting and whining about ‘Western Imperialism’. I am talking as a Pan-Africanist disturbed by the ingenuity, ineptitude and slack of many a folk in the exclusive club of African leadership.  Listen, an intergovernmental, inter-agency summit is underway in London, United Kingdom as I write. It’s the Somalia Conference convened by British Prime Minister David Cameron and his allies to address the troubles and restoration of Somalia. I know you are probably there already – INVITED, and must have carried elaborate delegations with you. Invited to participate? Invited to provide quorum? Or maybe just to be placated? Maybe to be arm twisted like you traditionally have been. Don’t you find it uneasy, disturbing or just funny that you are invited by a foreign entity, the same ‘Western Imperialists’ that you detest so much to deliberate on an endemic African predicament, a shameful scar on the Emblem of Africanism that is squarely on your mandate? Aren’t you a tad bit disturbed by your always sluggish, last-man response to matters of African welfare?

 I listened pensively to presidential speeches at the recently concluded AU summit in Addis Ababa: African leaders whining, distraught and disenfranchised, faulting the West, NATO for their role in the destabilization of an African flagship country – Libya. But come to think of it, beyond that barrage of rhetoric, emotions and the display of flaring tempers orchestrated by the likes of Zimbabwean ‘statesman’ Robert Mugabe, What did you do about Libya? How much seriousness did you commit to standing with an African state? How much resources or even time did you devote to rescuing Libya? After how long did you act? Anyway, I guess my questions could be indeed irrelevant for a people who can’t even agree on a stable AU leadership, a people clearly disillusioned and oblivious of their mandate.

 How shameful it is that you just get invited to an assembly of this calibre. How humbling it is that you will merely sign the resolutions but without the muscle and space to take centre stage in their execution. How I wish this would have been a partnership at the least, a joint caucus of an African multilateral institution with the western allies OR at best an African initiative strategized and executed by Africans drawing in international allies. As it is, I guess you haven’t mustered any serious leverage in these deliberations and you won’t be able to bargain and argue more aptly for Somalia, the Horn of Africa, and Africa. God forbid you might be participating effectively as rubberstamp ink, in a premeditated process of ratifying already engineered English/Western judgements on the prospects for Somalia.

 Isn’t it time you cut the rhetoric and got more proactive, more strategic and more creative in sorting out the challenges bedevilling our beautiful troubled continent? Isn’t it time such big African economies like Nigeria, South Africa as well as promising ones like Ghana, Botswana rolled up their sleeves and contributed more in terms of resources, time and delved into the murky waters of African Unity like their counterparts in Asia, Europe and South America do? 

For as long as you proceed with the prevailing ambivalence about these imperatives, you continue to sell out Africa – Cut the rhetoric folks; get down to work!  

10 thoughts on “African Leaders and Free Lunches

  1. This is pure demonstration of wearing the thinking cap when looking at an issue but at the same time it is talking to the dead who will neither hear you nor respond….

    There is no indication in Africa which supposes that the leaders or rulers will change….today it is Somalia after about 20 years as a people with same odentity,almost same religion…WOW….and again while they were busy in London,I thought they will also be discussing abdullahi Wade who has just received or is about to receive and who also if care is not taken prompt.a call by the chinese to discuss ways forward too on somalia in the near future with his bid for a third term…

    Why are we the way we are???

  2. This is very nice and interesting. Thank you Zainab for sharing this with usmi download it and have to share it with all my friends.


  3. A rich write up u got there,which I strongly believe that our African leaders can achieve positive change if they will come acros pieces like this.But the big problem here is ‘they don’t read articles’

  4. I will play the devil’s advocate here – I get the point you were trying to make about being more “assertive” BUT lets face it; the (African) leaders were not in a position to dictate the terms, nor the venue – quiet simply put, when a far away “foreign” government decides to “host” something (with that, all the financial responsibility),no third party (all invited guests) will be able to dictate the terms 🙂 – Yes, the FCO could have made the funds available for it to be hosted elsewhere, but the cost of doing so would have been more prohibitive even from a security perspective, never mind that when you are trying to attract international donors (or investors), the location (and host) has to be someone/somewhere favorable to them – in this case it safe to say Mr Cameron has more clout than any other African leader – That’s even besides the point – The conference was not about building Somalia per se, or security or stability (They were means(themes) to an end and not the end in themselves) – It was more about protecting European shipping interest which has been badly affected by piracy. Somalia has been a failed state for 2 decades, and until recently it did not really affect the balance of anything in the region (There is a reason it was ignored for this long – Yes, I am aware of the history of American intervention and the infamous Black Hawk incident etc ) – It is no coincidence that Kenya and Ethiopia have only recently engaged Al-Shaab in the region, when they have been operating in the region for a long time under different guises – They (Al-Shaab/Thugs) are not and have never been an existential threat to the two countries hence why the two countries ignored them – but the game changed when shipping routes became disrupted (forget about the high profile kidnap of westerners – that’s just a distraction) – THAT fact alone, is the main driver for the conference and nothing else. (So in a way you are right, it is not about altruism of any kind)

    Picking up on your point about when you think African leaders will be able to put their national (more like individual) interest on the “front burner” – May be that has always been the problem i.e nations taking unilateral decisions in isolation without regard for the other’s interest(s)? – The history of cooperation(or lack thereof) on the continent is self evident – with the exception of the interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone (which to be fair was mainly a Nigerian intervention), all other economic and military cooperation have been abysmal failures that have worked only in the interest of a few and detriment of many – e.g ECOWAS terms are dictated by Nigeria and SADC terms dictated by SA – you could argue that is the general nature of economic cooperation, but even more so in Africa; no external competitive advantage has been generated as a result of these economic alliances – similar story goes for military interventions.

    Finally, I think you (and Kenneth Ochieng) are falling into the same seemingly African penchant for focusing on the insignificant arguments and ignoring the finer points/bigger picture – Reading Kenneth’s tirade (although written with a hint of irony and sarcasm), I couldn’t help but remember a Pan Africanist that “lectures/screams” once in a while at Regent Park’s Speaker’s Corner who was advocating for a more united Africa without consideration for the realities on the ground or the practicality of his argument – who subsequently labelled me as “One of those that sold out Africa” because he was unable to adequately articulate or defend his position beyond sound bites (And miss world style “I want world peace” speech) , and after listening to him for a couple of weeks, I decided I was better off listening to Heiko Khoo’s lectures on Marxism.

  5. A very critical review from Mouky. However, he failed to connect the motivating factor behind UK’s intervention to selfish interest and not any form of polycentrism or altruism as Zainab has said. The world politics has always been characterised by western imperialists playing the Big brother’s role when the context benefits them. Having said that, Our concern should be what should we be doing as africans to confront the challenges bedeviling the country. What does it take to have a re-birth of pan-africanism? Mouky’s arguments are based on dire-straits the continent has found itself and as such are not unfounded. Havind said that, a fact which I know he accedes to is, these interventions from western powers are anything but polycentric.

  6. There are a number of reasons regarding your grouse… In a word, gullibility and patronage of the African leaders beclouds there thinking along the line of reasoning you suggested. Gullibility because like you mentioned the issue of altruism, piracy is the real issue for the confab for that’s what economically affects the Camerons directly. Otherwise, why leave out Al Shabab, a key actor, when they hold greater part of the country more than the Government which holds only Magadishu & Baidowa…. As for patronage, rearly would you find an African leader with a clean sheet of how he got to power/cling to it. So they have this penchant of being at the beck and call of the Camerons so as for them to turn a blind eyes at the banditry comitted against there peoples; for they know that there peoples are also waiting for the Camerons to help them kick them (the African leadrs) out… And all these can be attributed to one fact basically: the personalization of governance in most African countries.

  7. I honestly do not think they believe its free and if they believe it is then its unfortunate for Africa. On the other hand, you cant blame our so-called leaders.Apart from standing their ground and building Africa without considering foreign influence and interest(not in this life time) , what is the alternative? Run back to the west ? Both the west and China do not have Africa’s interest at heart. Running from pillar to post wouldn’t solve the problem.Let us design a political and economic system that works for us as a country. We cant continue to depend on the IMF and world bank. Learn from china !!!!!

  8. Zee!d so-called pan-africanism of 2dy is notin bt d idea of globlazation “rule by d white house”as said early dat African lack capital & managers! Therefore wen ahead in search of it & brought neo-colonial capitalist stooges!dat is y i dnt wonda y i take cnfrece to british

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