With China banging on Africa’s doors, the debate on whether Africa should lean towards the East or the West continues in many African nations. This long standing debate that is not new to the continent, but should be irrelevant. Africa has always been forced to decide between two seemingly opposing ideologies. Through historical events like colonialism, Cold War, and now, neo-colonialism, African countries have time and time again been faced with the dilemma of choosing allies. They do this in a world where those allies are first and foremost looking after their self interests. This means that Africa has been reactive rather then proactive in deciding its future and alliance. Being caught between a rock and a hard place has meant that Africa has not benefited significantly from making these alliances and should not expect to in the future unless Africa chooses to lean towards Africa. The great philosopher and Pan Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah summed up the direction for Africa in a single statement: “We face neither East nor West; we face Forward”. Through these words, Nkrumah verbalizes where Africa’s focus should be – in Africa. There is an urgent need for African countries to make pro-African South-South alliances that benefit Africa. In this new globalized world, it is ever more important that African countries look out for their own interest and that of their immediate neighbors.
Every nation in the world looks out for its own interests – so does every continent. Likewise, African countries should also be looking out for their own interests and that of their people. In the political economy, African nations have become perpetual pawns in foreign diplomacy. They have been forced to choose a side at times when they don’t want to and don’t need to. During the Cold War African nations were under pressure to lean towards Russia or the Global North. In contemporary times, Russia has been replaced with China. This has made it seem like there are only two choices. African countries should no longer have to make these tough decisions that don’t benefit them in the long run. They should band together so that they can speak with one united voice and so strengthen their bargaining power. There is always an alternative – a third choice when the options in laid out in front of us aren’t good enough. There is no reason why Africa has to choose a side. Therefore African countries should consider not choosing at all! They can take a similar position as Switzerland and remain “neutral” in the current global world order if they want to improve their situation – but they can only do this together. African nations should create alliances with both the global North and the Global South and take a position of neutrality. We should embrace the relationships with China and embrace the relationships with the West. The West keeps pointing fingers at China and warning African countries about China, however, there was no one there to warn us against the West when it was scrambling for Africa (and as it continues to do so). Essentially, we are swamping one sphere of influence for another. With regards to Africa, the decision to lean West or East does not make a significant difference if we are not looking out for Africa’s interest.
The continued castigation of China by the North is by all means not fair nor balanced. China has done a lot for the continent, and we should not be forced to abandon this relationship. However, every African nation should be diligent about negotiating contracts with China so that it is a win-win situation. Similarly, with our long standing allies in the West, African nations should likewise be diligent in the forms of contracts it negotiates with them as well. We would be naive to think that our interests are best served by leaving the terms of the relationship up to others.
This approach however means that African nations will need to take an introspective look at their own nations and decide where they want to be in the future. They can then decide what nature of relationship they want with the East and the West. Then they can work towards achieving their visions when they sit at the bargaining table. It is up to the leaders and people of Africa to decide who their allies will be and what type of alliances they want to create. This begins by first mending alliances with their immediate neighbors so that they can cooperate on matters of common interest. As all countries are forming regional blocs, we need to do the same. The idea of economic blocs are not new to the continent. They stem from the formation of the OAU (Organization of African Unity)/AU (African Union) that aimed at African social and economic harmonization as a way forward. The question on whether Africa should lean to the West or East should not be the only option. We need to ask ‘How can Africa lean Forward?’, the answer being that Africa needs lean towards Africa.