If there is one thing to learn from Africa’s history, it is the fact that whatever happens in one part of the continent ultimately has significant repercussions for the others. From the rise of early man, to the great trading kingdoms of Mali and Zimbabwe; to early slavery and the spread of goods (and Islam) across the Sahara, to war-driven migrations into the Southern tip of the continent; to colonialism, post-colonial liberation, and today’s context of climate change and globalisation, Africa’s triumphs and tragedies have been shared across the continent. For better or worse, this is one continent, with one past and one future, even though we may lead vastly different lives in a number of unique and diverse nations.
I definitely d
o not wish to imply that Africa is in some way “one country,” as many seem to think, or even that it should be, as Pan-Africanists may believe. Rather, I wish to emphasize what is already clear to most (and especially to a South African from the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town): our challenges are shared. With this in mind, I find it troubling how many countries undermine each other in matters of peace and security and international trade. All too often, we seek partnerships with distant countries (some of which are certainly beneficial) before exploring the possibilities of our own continent. All too often, nations refuse to show faith in their neighbours. All too often, we miss out on the incredible opportunities the diversity of this huge continent has to offer.
When we work together and trade with one another, we need to make sure that it is mutually beneficial; if we uplift one country at the expense of another, we will all be affected at some point regardless. South Africa itself needs to be sensitive in the manner in which she trades with the rest of the continent. On the one hand, we may be eager to criticise the hegemony of countries such as the United States in their trade relationships, yet on the other hand, we have been accused of being an African hegemon which often rides rough-shod over the interests of less-powerful nations.
I am not an idealist. I do not believe that every country on this continent can simply join together to solve all of our problems. As much as our challenges are shared, so are the immediate concerns each country faces individually. However, it is quite clearly in our best self-interest to partner with each other in matters of peace and security, food security, environmental change, health, and trade. What uplifts one will end up uplifting the other. The zero-sum game is, in the long term, disastrous. Instead of playing the zero-sum game with one another, I would like to see more African states playing the “team game” as other regional blocs internationally do. Competition is healthy, but let’s make Team Africa stronger on the global stage.
The challenges faced here, and the challenges faced internationally, need a more unified effort to overcome them, because African states alone lack the full capacity to address all of them individually. South-South co-operation is surely the answer to our many challenges, especially on issues such as marginalisation in important peace and security decisions (see Libya) and tackling trade barriers (agricultural subsidies, for example). South Africa, and other regional powers such as Nigeria, must take responsibility for building Team Africa. However, this must always be done with humility and caution to ensure that South-South co-operation does not become South-South exploitation.
Daniel is currently completing his PGCE at Stellenbosch University with the aim to become a teacher in South Africa. Having completed his MA in International Relations at Stellenbosch University, Daniel also has a keen interest in political and economic affairs; in Africa and globally. Daniel was a part of the 2012 SAWIP team which spent six weeks in Washington D.C. as a part of an intensive six-month leadership programme. Daniel hopes to combine his interests in political science and education in order to play a leading role in tackling South Africa and Africa’s educational challenges.
The South Africa-Washington International Program (SAWIP) is a six-month leadership, service and professional development program that recruits 15 high-potential South African students from three top South African universities each year in pursuit of its mission to inspire, develop and support a diverse new generation of emerging South African leaders from multiple disciplines.