At the fifth week of my African history course (outlined below), 80 students heard Amb Chihombori-Quao discuss the effects of the Berlin Conference on the people of Africa today. This provocative presentation lead to many questions.
“Africa: The Sleeping Giant” 6 week-12 hour course syllabus by Lawrence Freeman
The instructor’s intention is to provide the class with broad overview of the development of the African continent over millennia and centuries, coupled with insights to understand the present. The instructor believes that it is impossible to know current events in Africa today, beyond the misleading media headlines, without a full knowledge of Africa’s unique and at times tragic history.
Week 1–“Introduction”: In this class we discuss the great diversity of the continent. This includes its size, climates, geographical characteristics, deserts, rivers, lakes, and historical facts regarding Africa’s many nations, its economic condition.
Week 2–“Man Is Not a Monkey”: This class traces mankind’s emergence to what we call modern man-homo sapien sapien-over millions of years by examining the effects of man’s powers of reason, that did not evolve from the apes, and mankind’s exodus from the African continent. We will then discuss a few of the early civilizations in East and West Africa, concluding with the great Bantu internal migration that transformed the continent.
Week 3–“Early African Civilizations-Slavery”: In this we class we continue examining early civilizations in Africa, iron making, and population growth. We will then leap ahead to the “discovery” of Africa by Europe and roots of slavery.
Week 4–“Slavery to Colonialism”: In this class we examine the seamless transition from slavery to colonialism, which in total encompasses 500 years, leading to destruction of the cultural and physical evolution of the African people.
Week 5–“European Empires Carve Up Africa”: This class focuses on the hideous Berlin Conference that divided up Africa in accord with Europe’s geopolitical Imperialist view of Africa and its people.
Week 6–“Africa’s Post Independence”: We leap ahead to the liberation of Africa from colonialism circa 1960. We discuss current and changing conditions in African nations, especially as the West abandons the continent and China supports Africa’s economic growth by building and funding infrastructure projects across Africa.
China Global Television Network, or CGTN published my article on the African Union’s creation of the Africa Continental Freed Trade Area-AfCFTA
Six decades after African nations began liberating their people from the yoke of European colonialists, the African Union has launched the “operational phase” of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), taking a giant step toward uniting the 54 African nations and fostering economic progress.
The landmark move was made at the 12th Extraordinary African Union Summit in Niamey, the capital of Niger, on July 7. Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, referred to it as a “historic moment.”
Many prominent African leaders view this new free trade agreement as a “game changer” with the potential to catapult the continent into a foremost position in global trade and development, especially with Africa’s population projected to double in the next 30 years to 2.4 billion.
On June 2, 2019, I interviewed African Union Ambassador to the United States, Arikana Chihombori-Quao at her home, on the significance of the new agreement on an Africa Continental Free Trade Area-AfCFTA, initiated on May 30. The AfCFTA is intended to reduce tariffs and barriers between African nations to promote trade, and spur economic development throughout the continent.
In the interview above, Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao, provides a provocative and optimistic analysis of what the newly enacted agreement for an Africa Continental Free Trade Area-AfCFTA will mean for continent over the coming years and decades.
Amb Chihombori emphasizes huge potential for the AfCFTA to double, triple and even quadruple intra-African trade, which today is a mere 16%-18% of total continental trade. According to the UN Commission on Africa, AfCFTA could increase intra-trade by 15% to 25%, that equals $50-$70 billion in the next 20 years. The concept of AfCFTA is to enable each African with the opportunity to potentially access the continent’s multi-trillion dollar market and 1.2 billion buyers and sellers. Landry Signe of the US based Brookings Institute estimates that by 2030 AfCFTA could boost consumer and business spending to $6.7 trillion.
Historically, Amb Chihombori views the AfCFTA as a continuation of the struggle by African nations to liberate themselves from intended under-development imposed on Africa by the infamous Berlin Conference (1884-1885). She stresses that 56 years (and five days) after the founding of the Organization of Africa Unity-OAU (May 25, 1963), Africa will now be functioning as one trading bloc of nations, which is intended to equalize the international playing field. As the implementation of AfCFTA proceeds, Amb Chihombori believes that Africa will acquire the stature of a “heavy-weight” in global trade and commerce. She is also hoping that by the end of this year Africa will ratify the “Free Movement Protocol” that would allow Africans to live, travel, and work anywhere on the continent, thus complementing the AfCFTA
Amb Chihombori accentuates in this interview, that infrastructure is a level one priority for Africa in the AfCFTA. “Investment in infrastructure is an absolutely essential step for us to take as we move into the implementation of AfCFTA,” she says. The denial of basic infrastructure, power, access to water, education and healthcare, by the colonial powers following the Berlin Conference, kept African nations from developing; by design. “Leaders in Africa are now discussing the building highways and high-speed rail from Cape Town to Cairo and Djibouti to Dakar.”
Challenging those who advocate reducing Africa’s population and falsely claiming that Africa’s growing population is a major contributor to Africa’s economic problems, Amb Chihombori asserts that: “Our youth is the biggest advantage we have over the rest of the world…Youth is our biggest asset.”
Amb Chihombori wants to make the US the number one trading partner with Africa, telling Americans; “that the African sleeping giant is rising-it is a new game.”
***The AfCFTA had already come under attack, even before its birth, by the International Monetary Fund-IMF. According to the People’s News Africa, the IMF warned African nations they could lose revenue, if the AfCFTA is enacted.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame quickly responded: “It is important that Africa gives the necessary considerations to the views and opinions by external entities and ‘development partners,’ it is more important at the same time that Africa becomes aware of what we want for ourselves, pursue what is good for the continent, and defend what is necessary for our collective development.”
This article was published in the March 2017 Newsletter of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC. If you read the headlines of the European press following Italy’s defeat in 1896, you will see that this battle shook the foundations of European Imperialism to its core.
Victory at Adwa- A Victory for Africa
March 1, 2017
The battle of Adwa is probably the most renowned and historic battle in Ethiopian history. This celebrated victory by the Ethiopian army helped define the future of their nation, as one of only two non-colonized countries in Africa. The defeat of a European colonial empire by an African country, following the “Scramble for Africa” after the 1884-1885 Berlin conference a decade earlier, is not only a source of enduring pride and nationalism for Ethiopians, but also an inspiration to other Africans, who took up the fight for independence six decades later. Some historians suggest that this victory also led to the idea for the Pan-African movement. As a result, it is no surprise that on May 25 1963, Ethiopia under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie was a founding member of the Organization of African States-OAS.
Adwa, also known as Adowa, and in Italian Adua, was the capital of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. A late comer to grabbing territory in Africa, Italy began colonizing Somaliland and Eritrea in the 1880s. It was from the vantage point of Eritrea from where Italy launched its campaign against Ethiopia. The immediate pretext of the invasion was a dispute of Article 17 of the 1889 Treaty of Wuchale. Italy insisted that the treaty stated that Ethiopia had to submit to its imperial authority, thus effectively making Ethiopia a colony of the Kingdom of Italy. The Ethiopians resisted Italy’s military enforcement of its version of the treaty, leading to the outbreak of war in December 1894, with the Italian imperialists occupying Adwa and moving further south into Ethiopian territory. On March 1, 1896, King Menelik II, who, commanded a force of over 70,000, defeated the Italian army, killing 7,000 of their soldiers, wounding 1,500, and capturing 3,000 prisoners, routing their enemy, and forcing them to retreat back to their colony of Eritrea. It has been speculated that, if Menelik had pursued the retreating Italian troops, and driven them off of the continent, it might have prevented a second Italian invasion. On October 3, 1935, Italy led by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, launched its second military incursion into sovereign Ethiopia territory. Five years later in 1941, Ethiopia once again drove the Italian invaders out of their country. The 1896 defeat of a European nation, considered an advanced country, by Ethiopia, viewed as a backward Africa country, led to riots on the streets of Italy and well deserved consternation in the capitals of European powers.
Without taking the time now to review the ninety years of Ethiopian history following this famous battle, the military defeat of Ethiopia’s dictatorial Derg Regime in 1991 brings us to the beginning of contemporary Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front-EPRDF assumed control of the government in 1991, it was led by the now deceased, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who initiated the economic policies that have guided Ethiopia for over 25 years. It was Meles Zenawi’s intellectual leadership, in particular his understanding of the indispensable role of the state in fostering economic development that distinguishes Ethiopia today from all other sub-Saharan African nations. For him the state was not “a night watchman,” but rather an active participant promoting economic growth for the benefit of its people. Ethiopia is a poor country. with a population approaching one hundred million, not endowed with rich mineral or hydrocarbon resources, and repeatedly struck by drought. Yet it has emerged in recent years with a rapidly growing economy. This is the result of Zenawi’s legacy that created a leadership with a self-conscious commitment to use the powers of the state to build an integrated infrastructure platform, which has served to drive the economy forward. This is clearly evident in Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plans I and II, which set ambitious economic goals five years into the future, along with its proposed thirty year road construction plan. Since the EPRDF took over the responsibility of governing the nation, more than thirty new universities have been created, graduating more students that can be easily employed.
In collaboration with China, Ethiopia operates the first electrified train in sub-Saharan Africa, traveling 750 kilometers in seven hours from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, establishing a port to export Ethiopia’s products. Their highway system consisting of toll roads, highways, and all weather roads will connect their light manufacturing industries to the port in Djibouti via their new rail line. As a result of coherent policy planning in energy infrastructure, the Gibe III hydroelectric power plant has now added 1,872 of megawatts to the country’s electricity grid, and over the next two years, the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) will add an additional 6,000 megawatts, making Ethiopia the second largest producer of power in sub-Saharan Africa, behind South Africa. The next step to develop the Horn of Africa is for Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya to extend their rail lines to become the eastern leg of an East-West railroad. Thus would transform Africa by connecting the Gulf of Eden/Indian Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean , creating an economic corridor that would literally revolutionize the economic power of the continent; contributing to the ending of poverty, hunger, and war.
One cannot deny the success of Ethiopia’s unique path of development, nor can one omit the important role contributed to this process by Ethiopia’s successful resistance to foreign occupation; thus never having to suffer the dehumanizing effects of colonialism.