REMARKS OF H.E. RAILA ODINGA TO OXFORD UNION;
MAY 17, 2018.
WHY EUROPE AND AFRICA REMAIN PROBLEMS TO EACH OTHER:
I am greatly honored to be at Oxford University as a guest of the Oxford Union, one of the oldest debating societies in the world.
I come here a few days after speaking at Cambridge University as a guest of the Cambridge Union. Together, you make for two of the greatest institutions whose footprints are found everywhere on every subject, across the globe.
Oxford and Cambridge universities have been part and parcel of Africa’s vision of education as an indispensable ingredient to the achievement of a vibrant democracy; sustained and equitable economic growth, good governance and eradication of poverty.
I must therefore recognize and applaud this university for the continued commitment to providing sound education to Africa’s youth through scholarships like that administered jointly by Oxford and Cambridge Society of Kenya to undergraduate and graduate students.
I also recognize your joint research projects with Kenyan universities. Research is the weakest link in Africa’s universities largely due to funding challenges.
With ties that bind like the colonial heritage, education and cultural links that broke language barriers, Europe and Africa should be enjoying greater and more mutually beneficial relations.
The reality however is that Europe has a problem in Africa. It is what I wish to speak to you about.
As signature institutions like this great university have strived to maintain the ties with Africa, their efforts have been undermined by European politics and attitudes.
Africa is feeling the impact of the inward-looking, populist regimes emerging across Europe that are also steeped in old images of European grandeur towards a supposedly dark African continent of wars, poverty and pestilence.
The ties between Europe and Africa have failed to change with the times, making our two continents miss the opportunities that have emerged over time.
There is minimal language and transport barrier between Europe and Africa. All the major European languages -English, French and Spanish- are spoken in Africa. Geographically, Africa is closer to Europe than to Asia and North America.
Because of geography and history, Europe remains Africa’s leading trade partner.
But Africa and Europe have not leveraged these very clear advantages.
Europe has taken either these ties or Africa for granted. At some stage, Europe appeared to embrace the idea of Africa being a “Hopeless Continent” as Economist magazine once referred to it. Europe got content with occasional and predictable reports about corruption, civil wars, stolen elections, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Female Genital Mutilation and starvation because these are in line with the thinking in European capitals about what Africa is.
In the process, Europe failed to see the emergence of this long suffering but immensely resilient and endowed Continent.
Yes, Africa continues to experience fundamental socio-economic and political challenges.
The Continent continues to be plagued by poverty and political crises that make it to media headlines and shape the general perception even among policy makers here.
Unfortunately, this has kept Europe stuck on sending troops and occasional aid to struggling countries. In the process, they made Europe fail to be a genuine partner with an emerging and booming Africa that has experienced sustained high economic growth of around five per cent, over the past decade.
Africa is today looking for partners in Europe who can combine better the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity that fueled the French Revolution and which must now be realized in the context of modern day regime of human rights, the rule of law, economic prosperity and democracy. Unfortunately, these now appear to be getting sacrificed at the altar of European political, economic and strategic considerations that work against Africa.
Africa is looking for partners who believe in win-win relationships. We are keen on greater practical, politically backed engagement with the private sector and civil-society actors, on both continents to fuel democratization and economic prosperity.
One area in which Africa feels most cheated by Europe is trade. Africa is feeling the pressure by Europe on African governments to sign trade deals that would work against Africans. To date, Economic Partnership Agreements remain points of great disagreement and suspicion between Africa and Europe. These agreements need to be concluded once and for all in a way that is fair and beneficial to both parties.
Africans are equally getting increasingly apprehensive over Europe’s immigration policies. Africa is outraged over the number of its citizens who die while trying to reach Europe. Young Africans resort to boats and other unorthodox means to access Europe because legal avenues have become too complex or simply unavailable. Europe has failed to enact EU-wide common asylum and immigration law that offers safe transit routes and is fair and efficient for asylum seekers.
Instead, immigration and fear of immigrants is being used as means to rise to power in Europe. These developments are quietly entrenching the feeling in Africa that racism remains real in Europe. Suspicions over trade and immigration make our citizens and leaders view Europe as an unreliable partner for Africa.
Even more disturbing is Europe’s ambivalence on democracy today.
As we meet here, many pro-democracy activists in Africa are no longer sure they have the support of Europe. It is not clear if it is still Europe’s policy to stand only with regimes that promote open, free and fair elections and respect human rights. That ambivalence is itself a source of conflict in Africa.
We see democratization as key to the economic and political empowerment of Africa. On paper, the EU development aid includes an important component supporting democracy, good governance and rule of law. The EU has also become an important partner in election observation and democracy assistance, on paper. In practice, the EU has become part of the growing trend in the west where elections in Africa are judged only by how peaceful they are and whether they create room for trade and war on terror.
We see this this attitude in your diplomats and election observers across Africa and it is not helpful even to your desired goal of stability.
While Europe and its diplomats are interested merely in stability and trade, we in Africa know that only a full embrace of democracy will give us the momentum we need to take off and provide for our young generation who are currently forced to cross into Europe because of lack of opportunities in Africa.
The wind of change that blew across Africa in the 1990s proved that only democracy ensures that public goods and resources are put too much better use by the government. It is the wind of change that resulted in six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries being in Africa.
This was a monumental leap considering that from 1974 through the mid-1990s, Africa’s growth was negative, reaching negative 1.5 percent in the 1990-94 period.
With the wind of change, life expectancy in Africa increased by about 10 per cent and child mortality rates started falling in most African countries. Real income per person increased by more than 30 per cent. In the previous 20 years, it shrank by nearly 10 per cent.
Where Europe has dithered, emerging economies have moved in and seized the new opportunities.
The western world is lamenting about China’s deep roots in Africa today. But China is not alone. India, Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Japan and South Korea are equally developing deep roots in Africa, taking advantage of the doubts Europe seems to have about the Continent.
As new players move in, Africa is also moving away from just lamenting about diminishing donor funding and trade opportunities. We are coming up with ambitious strategies to mobilize own domestic resources. We are determined to harness high potentials from natural resources and to invest in industrialization, security, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure and institutional reforms.
The ‘hopeful continent’ will continue to be frustrated and disillusioned by missed development goals.
But we are no longer waiting for the reluctant world to help us out of our political and economic challenges. Because we have a better understanding of our problems and their dynamics, we are turning to ourselves to resolve the problems.
That is why in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta and I shocked the world by closing ranks after a bitter election contest that left the nation torn down the middle.
As leaders, we came to the acceptance that solutions to our problems must result from an honest assessment of objective realities prevailing in the nation and the best interests of our people.
We are determined to address ages-old problems of ethnic antagonism, lack of national ethos, marginalization, strengthening devolution, divisive elections, safety and security and corruption. We will need partners, not patrons on this journey.
We very much appreciate the speed with which the EU and the rest of the western world have embraced the handshake and offered support. But I must emphasize that Kenyans are prepared to walk it alone if it comes to that.
It is our hope that the Handshake between the President and I can inspire other African nations struggling problems similar to Kenya’s and make them seek home-grown solutions based on mutual understanding.
The indifference of the external world has also inspired the creation of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
We are determined to encourage intra-Africa trade that stood at a mere 16 per cent of Africa’s total trade in 2016. We are determined to move Africa away from simply being a place where the powerhouse economies of the West and East come for raw materials. Africa has triumphed against monumental odds before. Africa will triumph again.