Yinchuan — Prof. Alpha Condé, President of Guinea Conakry and Chair of the African Union, was recently in China where he represented the continent at the Ninth BRICS summit and also took part in the China-Arab States Trade Fair. In the following exclusive interview with Cameroon Tribune, President Condé talks about China-Africa cooperation, relations with BRICS, reforming the AU, terrorism, illegal migration and a host other burning subjects.
Your Excellency, as Chairman of the African Union, you represented the continent at the ninth BRICS summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen from September 3-5, 2017. What did Africa get from this gathering?
In order to assess what benefits Africa drew from the BRICS summit, it is important to first find out what has been done since the African Union summit last year in Kigali, Rwanda. The summit took very important decisions concerning the future of the AU. The first major decision had to do with running the African Union Commission.
Currently, most of its funding comes from external sources like the European Union. In order to be independent, you need to be financially autonomous. It was decided that each country should levy a 0.2 per cent tax on all imports from outside the continent to cover all the financial needs of the AU Commission. However, the problem with us is that many decisions are taken, but no action is taken after.
What then was done to correct this situation?
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda who is charge reforming the AU even made a comment that over the years, the organization took 1,500 decisions, but nothing concrete was done! It was therefore agreed that henceforth, not more than three decisions will be taken at a summit. In this light, next July's AU summit will be to assess how far we have gone in implementing decisions of the last meeting such as investing in youth.
Most often, Foreign Ministers are sent to represent their countries at AU summits. It was therefore agreed that if a Head of State does not attend, they can only be represented by the Vice President or Prime Minister. It is only in very exceptional cases that a Foreign Minister will henceforth be allowed to represent their country.
The other resolution was that African problems be resolved by Africans, given that most of our conflicts are the result of foreign interference. For example, the problem of terrorism on the continent originates mostly from Libya where foreign intervention left the country in tatters. The African Union in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, designated President Jacob Zuma of South Africa to lead a mediation delegation to Libya.
But those who were bent on removing President Muammar Ghaddafi from power still went to war. As a powerful military nation, Ghaddafi's weapons fell into the hands of terrorists after his overthrow. Cameroon is one of the nations still suffering the effects of terrorism. It is the same with Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, etc. In fact, no African country is spared from terrorist attacks.
The problem with Africa is that there seems to be no common stand amongst the leaders...
We are also decided at last year's summit to speak with one voice. This was seen during the recent election of the Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia. All African countries voted for him as the continent's candidate and he won. Concerning the recent crisis in the Persian Gulf where some Arab States broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar over allegations of sponsoring terrorism, certain African countries took a different stand. However, most nations adhered to the African Union's position.
I was given the responsibility to coordinate discussions on energy. From this experience, we agreed on a pilot programme where a Head of State is given a specific subject to handle on behalf of the continent. King Mohammed VI of Morocco is in charge of migration and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria is handling the fight against terrorism.
The putting in place of a free trade zone as a step towards creating a common market is led by President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger. All these leaders are taking their tasks seriously. Thus, for each subject, only the Head of State concerned will speak for the whole continent. By speaking with one voice with our partners, we will be stronger.
What are some of the continent's most pressing needs today?
Our major concern today is energy because 7 out of 10 Africans do not have access to electricity. There are also issues of mining and agricultural development; and youth employment so that our children do not continue to die in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to migrate to Europe.
The other challenge is infrastructure. Without infrastructure, you cannot envisage a free trade zone. If neighbouring countries like Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville are not connected by roads or rail lines, how can we talk of a free trade zone? Energy, industrialization, education, new technologies and healthcare, are some of the issues we are trying to address.
With all this in place, we can draw many benefits from our cooperation with China. During the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, FOCAC summit in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised 60 billion US dollars for Africa's development over three years. Our major challenge is using all that is offered and ensuring that promises are fulfilled. Fortunately, China always keeps its promises. The West has over the years made some progress concerning pledges to help Africa tackle energy problems. We have been able to carry out some major infrastructure projects with their support.
What is the African Union doing to make the best out of its cooperation with China?
The problem with the African Union is that many people on the continent do not identify with it. Of what use is an institution in which people have no sense of belonging? We want our people to identify with the AU, especially youth and women. We also want to be frank with our partners. Africa missed the first three Industrial Revolutions because of slavery. We need to mobilize our people not to miss the fourth revolution, which concerns Information Technology and e-commerce. We need to manage our countries in such a manner that the needs of young people and women are taken into account.
It is in this light that we want to learn from China that was a semi-feudal, half-colonised nation before, but is the second largest economy in the world today. It is only by working together and speaking with one voice that Africa can draw the greatest benefits from its cooperation with China.
You attended the China-Arab States Expo in Yinchuan, China. What did Africa take from this event in terms of benefits?
It is a little too early to talk about the dividends of the trade fair. Egypt was the guest of honour at the fair. We can draw benefits through African Arab nations like Sudan, Algeria, Mauritania, Egypt, Morocco, etc. China is gradually relocating its industries abroad by setting up industrial parks where its companies produce on the spot like in Oman and two other places. I believe this an example for other African nations to emulate so as to quickly create jobs for youth and enable small and medium-size enterprises to set up.
You mentioned the case of Libya that is in tatters today. The situation has facilitated illegal migration by Africans to Europe, thereby turning the Mediterranean Sea into a cemetery. What is the African Union doing about this?
It is shameful for us Heads of State to watch our children perish in the Mediterranean Sea because they are trying to seek better lives in Europe. Young people do not migrate for migration sake. Climatic conditions also account for this situation. How do you promote fishing and agriculture in a place like Lake Chad where over 90 per cent of the water has receded? This situation is also promoting terrorism.
Our task is to prevent illegal migration by developing Africa, giving hope to the young so that they do not embark on these perilous journeys, and negotiating with Europe to take our interests into account. It is not a question of asking people to return home. We need to speak with one voice to defend the interests of Africa and draw the greatest benefits for ourselves. We should ask ourselves why these people embark on illegal migration. Europe needs to assist us tackle the root causes of illegal migration.
Your Excellency, were you able to meet Chinese business people interested in investing in your country during your stay in China, beginning from the BRICS summit to the China-Arab States Expo?
I met many Chinese investors. I visited a rice production company and another that grows flowers in Yinchuan. During the BRICS summit in Xiamen, we held discussions with the Chinese government on investing in our country and China-Africa cooperation in general.
What was the outcome of all these discussions?
My country signed a strategic agreement with China under which they will invest 20 million US dollars over 20 years in infrastructure, energy, etc. We agreed to pay back by supplying China with raw material, using royalties from mining as surety for repaying the debt. Concerning Africa, China promised that the economic Silk Road will run across the continent.
Recently, the Kenyan Supreme Court annulled the presidential election and ordered a rerun, which is unprecedented in Africa. What is your reaction to this development?
I issued a statement praising Kenya's Supreme Court, noting that Africa has made a major democratic leap forward by this ruling. Before the polls, I called on candidates to ensure that everything passed off peacefully, transparently and in tranquility, given what happened in 2007. However, the Kenyan election is not the only challenge on our hands. We also have a problem in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.
About the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the impasse seems to be dragging on for too long.
The DRC is the heartbeat of Africa as it shares borders with 9 countries. The impact of any internal conflict on the continent can be great. We are therefore very concerned about the situation in the DRC. I am in contact with the Chairman of the African Union Commission, the DRC President Joseph Kabila and the opposition, to assist this great nation to smoothly continue on a democratic path. We are doing everything to help the DRC to arrive at a happy resolution of its problem in the interest of its people. There is a similar situation in neighbouring Central African Republic where State authority does not extend to most of the country.
Concerning the fight against terrorism, some of our countries are affected, but every nation is indeed under threat. Borders are porous and you find the same people on each side of the frontier. You cannot prevent a Malenke from Burkina Faso from crossing over into Guinea Conakry, or stop a Chadian Peul from entering a neighbouring country.
For long, the policy of the defunct Organisation of African Unity was non-interference in the internal affairs of member States. What is the African Union's position on this?
We support good governance, respect human rights, but we do not want people to impose their own form of democracy or way of life on us. Montesquieu once said truth has expiry period. So, we do not want to copy the French or English form of democracy. Rather, we want to apply universal democratic rules ourselves so that there is no more foreign interference in our affairs. That was why I told Abidjan to cut off the umbilical cord. This does not mean breaking off ties with the former colonial master, France. We must learn to conduct relations with other nations as sovereign States.
This is the new Africa we want to be at the service of our people. We do not want any more conflicts between African countries. Our borders should serve as objects of development instead of sources of obstacle. We should help each other to ensure stability all over Africa for our countries to advance.