Interview “Africa’s resilience calls for a reconfiguration of the philosophy of international economic and trade relations in the next world”
The young Senegalese political scientist, Hamidou Anne, delivers an exclusive analysis for ANA on Africa confronted with the Covid 19 crisis… and the Africa of tomorrow in this post-Covid 19 world.
Interview by Dounia Ben Mohamed
In general, how do you see this crisis that has shaken the world?
This is an exceptional crisis, probably the most serious since the Second World War. The difficult situation of countries such as the United States and Brazil, the drama experienced by the Italians and the Spanish, the French procrastination about what to do, the ubuesque memories of rich countries tearing off masks on airport tarmacs are reminders of the unprecedented and dramatic nature of what we are going through.
The crisis is affecting health, the economy, but also our societies, particularly with this injunction to distance as a means of prevention. This is the most serious crisis of globalization. It even touches its very core, namely mobility, free trade and the interconnection of economies.
Finally, Covid-19 is a crisis which, because of its probable origin in this market in Wuhan, is the result of our way of life, which narrows the evolutionary space of other living species and therefore makes us vulnerable to virological dangers of this kind.
A virus is forcing us to take a great global pause that summons our intelligences to reconfigure our institutional and social models in order to give substance to the old slogan “another world is possible”.
With regard to Africa, after an initial phase of suspicion that there were no cases in Africa, the major international organizations announced the chaos in Africa. How do you interpret this?
There is a natural propensity to exaggerate the danger concerning Africa and to place the focus on the old Western paternalism, which feeds on the right to think in the place of “poor Africans”.
It is true that Africa faces many different kinds of crises that often make life there more difficult than elsewhere. It seems interesting to me that we should take into account the weakness of our resources in order to be able to respond to this health challenge. On this subject, we must also have a lucid reading of certain catastrophic predictions..
The continent accounts for only 1% of global health spending. This, provoking an under-equipment in sanitary matters, can accentuate the difficulty of the management of the Covid-19 pathology, especially since we have been fighting for decades against tuberculosis, malaria, etc.
But in view of the facts, the virus has so far spared the continent more. The reasons will be given more precisely by experts in the coming years, but the fact is undeniable.
Indeed, Africa has, once again, shown resilience and solidarity. The capacity to mobilize has once again been revealed by this crisis?
African countries have been able to observe the spread of the virus from its Chinese epicenter to other parts of Asia and Europe and thus measure its lethality. The quota measures relating to the proclamation of a state of emergency, the establishment of curfews and the isolation of certain cities massively affected are to be welcomed because they were dictated by wisdom and swiftness with regard to a sudden danger.
Public leaders, particularly in Senegal, were able to mobilize all segments of society to put a stop to the rumors of plots and raise awareness of the danger of the virus and the need to bring together all public actors, businesses and civil society around the imperative to respond.
The mobilization of intellectuals who have helped to guide public decision-making, business and civil society is also to be acknowledged. The sovereignty proclaimed urbi et orbionly makes sense if, in the face of civilizational challenges of this scale, we prove an ability to rely on our own forces first before invoking any external support.
This being said, while we have, at least in part, avoided a health crisis, our economies have been weakened. What lessons can we learn from this umpteenth crisis?
Africa’s resilience calls for a reconfiguration of the philosophy of international economic and trade relations in this world everyone talks about. We must take this opportunity to rethink our economic models in the light of the priorities highlighted by the crisis and refocus public investment on sectors with a high social impact.
I quite agree with Kako Nubukpo when he suggests that Covid-19 should encourage African states to direct their investments massively towards basic social sectors, such as schools and health.
The coronavirus also reminds us of the need for an industrial policy capable of processing our products locally, offering essential goods and services, creating real national champions, particularly in the green economy.
For countries like Senegal, whose emerging trajectory will be affected by this crisis, we must change course and once again prioritize sectors that will have a real impact on people’s lives. The Emerging Senegal Plan, formulated in 2014 for a horizon of 2035, and formalized according to a non-crisis scenario of this scale, needs to be updated. The objectives need to be reoriented with new priorities, including a vision of reviving the productive apparatus, an accentuation of diversification with an export strategy, a formalization of the economy and – what Covid teaches us above all – an incentive to consume locally.
By putting 1,000 billion into a resilience program, the State is playing its role in managing the emergency, but it also has an obligation to diversify its income through new mechanisms for financing the economy.
This economic crisis is accompanied by a latent social crisis. Which was expressed even before the pandemic, and is waking up here and there (Mali, Algeria, elsewhere in the world too…) After fear, anger?
Loss of income, isolation, restricted mobility, deployment of security forces in the streets to enforce exceptional measures, sometimes liberticidal, constitute a cocktail capable of awakening violent demonstrations. This is especially true when the national effort is demanded of all the same people, while the political class enjoys its privileges and even allows itself on certain occasions to divert emergency aid intended for the most modest households.
The economic crisis is almost always followed by a social crisis and a political crisis. The Arab Spring is first and foremost a demand for employment and a decent life for young graduates. The revolt that sent Omar al-Bashir to Sudan comes after demonstrations against the rise in the price of bread. The supply of electricity was at the heart of the mobilization for the departure of Abdoulaye Wade in 2012.
There is a logical correlation between social concerns and political demands. If they do not meet with adequate political responses, they will generate upheavals in the coming months.
Finally, in Africa as elsewhere, this crisis has revealed our shortcomings and our strengths. Can we speak of an “after-world”?
I am wary of this “after world” that is claimed everywhere and configured according to everyone’s software and ideas, especially since its promoters say nothing new. This crisis exposes problems related in particular to governance and the excessive pegging of Africa to Europe or China. But it also reveals the capacities buried in the African social body to face the danger, through an imaginary, a cultural substratum and ancestral forms of solidarity that are necessary in these times of crisis.
The forms of social and professional organization such as telework, webinars, summits of Heads of State by videoconference are, on the other hand, an excellent contribution to the crisis that must be preserved, as are the new forms of conviviality that have reconfigured the relationship and affinities between people..
Young people in particular have mobilized, making masks and gels in universities, developing e-commerce, meeting the concrete needs of local populations… Will this enterprising, mobilized and saving youth finally have its place in tomorrow’s world??
Of course, it is the world of tomorrow! We have observed a mobilization of young people to invent a response to the crisis at their own level and according to their skills and means. This commitment is salutary, because young people benefit from an agility that allows them to take over from public actors where the latter are failing or even absent. But I would also like us to talk about young people who are neither students nor entrepreneurs, let alone activists, who live from day to day with no hope in countries that do not offer them any, but who have shown dignity, courage and modesty in difficult conditions.
Can we also talk about a more politicized youth?
By observing social networks, an imperfect but representative barometer, there is an intensity of speech on Covid-19, alternating between waiting for political decisions, criticism of measures, calls for respect of barrier gestures and also, it should be mentioned, conspiracy talk. I have seen an upsurge in youth activity, with its inconsistencies and contradictions, but it is difficult for me to give it the label of essentializing the whole thing of politicization. It is a subject at the heart of my work, and surely in time more refined answers will be found.
Similarly, given the evolution of digital technology and the political, economic and social upheavals it creates, can we speak of a political cyber-activism in Africa?
Web 2.0 is a powerful accelerator of digital engagement, also known as web-activism. In addition to curiosity for something new and conducive to the need to give one’s opinion on everything, there is also the minor place offered by political apparatuses and systems to young people that compels them to the role of web activist with more or less success depending on the case. The sixty-eight generation took to the streets, our generation uses and sometimes abuses hashtags to shout their frustration or to militate for new rights.
There have been major advances thanks to citizen engagement on the Internet, that is undeniable, but – as we were just talking about the next world – the next step, that of the political arena, is sometimes missing to be an actor in the transformation that is called for via the keyboard and screen.
Just a few words to finish on the protest movements against racial discrimination in the United States and France, after black is beautiful, black lives matter, a new expression of defense of the “black concern” that crosses borders and transcends generations?
In France, as in the United States, black people are vulnerable to a long racist tradition within the police force. Politicians of the left or right have shown their inability to fight racism; some who encourage it even come to power. It is normal for the new generation of activists to take to the streets as a space for denouncing racism and expressing a desire to break up and transform society. I feel solidarity with the family of Adama Traoré, George Floyd’s family and all those who are standing up to demand the justice without which a society cannot live in peace.
*Hamidou Anne is a senior civil servant and essayist.
Ce message est également disponible en : French