The second Russia-Africa Summit took place in St Petersburg on 27-28 July. Once again, Africa has been invited by a major power to discuss ways of strengthening the political, economic and security partnership.

The format of this Russia-Africa summit is not unprecedented. There have long been France-Africa summits, China-Africa summits, United States-Africa summits, European Union-Africa summits, and so on.

Supporters of these summits see them as a salutary step: African states would effectively diversify their relations in order to reduce the influence of the former colonial powers and seize the new opportunities offered by the emerging powers.

For those who are critical, this format of international meetings is problematic. With the exception of the European Union-African Union summit, each time it is a single country that brings together 54 other countries from the continent. This is perhaps understandable given the economic, diplomatic and military weight of these powers compared to the modest combined weight of African countries. But the situation still hurts the pride and dignity of many Africans, who cannot understand why current African leaders continue to lend themselves to such formats.

Apart from the format, there are other facts to consider:

– These summits are initiated by the world powers, be they old or new. This means that they are proactive, have a strategic agenda and are present in Africa with the aim of consolidating or even increasing their influence.

– These summits take place in situations where there is a clear imbalance of power between the inviting powers and the African countries that accept the invitation. The powers are obviously stronger and have a surplus in their relations with Africa. The African countries are obviously weaker, with a deficit in their relations with these powers. The latter are asking for help, solidarity and support without having much to offer and even less to impose.

– These summits are an opportunity to see the strategy of the powers for Africa, without Africa or “the Africas” being able to develop a large-scale strategy specific to their interlocutor. Most African countries go there to negotiate their contracts and special advantages. The role and weight of continental organizations (the African Union) and regional economic communities (ECOWAS, ECCAS, SADC, etc.) are practically non-existent on these occasions.

– At these summits, African leaders very often display their divergent views and interests. Some leaders position themselves as the best allies of the inviting powers, as if they do not see their future primarily with their African neighbours.

– These summits come and go, but there is no significant change for the people. The structural problems remain acute. Financing needs remain unmet. Conflicts persist and Africa’s economic transformation is still not taking place. Some countries are going backwards, while others are not implementing changes commensurate with the multiple challenges posed by the continent’s large population.

– Worse still, summits organized by Africans to address African problems are not given the same attention or consideration by African leaders. Organizations such as the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities are not always taken seriously enough by African leaders. This is evidenced by their absence from summits, the inadequacy of their financial contributions and the failure to implement the joint strategies they have developed.

In light of the above, it is clearly time for Africans to change their approach. If African states are to carry more weight on the world stage and better seize the opportunities offered by the changes taking place at the global level, a number of changes are urgently needed:

Be aware of the ways and means of getting by in today’s world. This means recognising that there are no immutable and disinterested “friends” or “partners”. Every power has an agenda to consolidate and increase its power through cooperation with African states. So there is no need to be naive about this. In practice, this means approaching summits with a clear understanding of our interests and the common positions that Africans must defend before each power.

Develop a global agenda and specific strategic agendas for the different poles of power that share the leadership of world affairs. These agendas should be the subject of a common approach by African states to each of their interlocutors.

Seriously prepare for participation in the various international summits by holding consultations to agree on common negotiating points. These common elements must be clearly known to the public before the summits and be at the centre of discussions during the summits. At the end of the summits, of course, the results obtained must be communicated.

At these summits with the other powers, stop negotiating things that are not essential. Instead of asking for grain, it would be better to ask for the transfer of knowledge and technology to produce it in Africa. Africa must concentrate on acquiring from its “partners” the elements that will enable it to build its own autonomy, so that it can satisfy the basic needs of its people.

Africa must also initiate international meetings through its continental institutions and regional economic communities. With proactive leaders, Africa can invite the rest of the world to discuss issues of international concern that have a major impact on these populations in particular.

Give consideration and priority to cooperation between Africans. Exchanges between regional economic communities, within the African Union and between actors in all sectors of African life must be multiplied, intensified and made more effective. If it needs reminding, it is clear that no power will take Africa’s development more to heart than Africans themselves.

Develop an obsession with the effective implementation of strategies and policies defined by African institutions for Africa. How many Africans are aware of the content of Agenda 2063? To what extent is this agenda actually present in the minds of Africa’s leaders and being implemented? In addition to Agenda 2063, many other sectoral strategies have been developed in Africa, but very few have been effectively and fully implemented.

But to get there, let’s be clear, Africans will not be able to do so without overcoming certain internal obstacles that prevent them from making their states and institutions work effectively. These are:

▶️The diversity of loyalties of African states or multiple loyalties. This is reflected in the multiplicity, juxtaposition, duplication, inconsistencies and contradictions of the various entities to which African states belong. Entities that condemn themselves to never playing their full role for the people.

▶️ Political instability and insecurity make it impossible to implement essential projects in the medium and long term. Africans need to develop acute strategic thinking, deploy instruments of security intervention more quickly and, above all, devote most of their energies to conflict prevention.

▶️ The problems of poor governance, which lead to wasted resources, despair among young people, increased conflict and greater inequality between populations.

▶️ Funding issues. If Africans do not effectively and substantially invest financial resources in their common projects, all talk of development and emancipation from the tutelage of the rulers will remain wishful thinking.

Put simply, Africa’s respect on the international stage will depend on the success of internal reforms and transformations within African states, institutions and societies. Without a strategic and thoughtful approach, a focus on their development priorities and spectacular improvements in governance, African countries cannot hope to carry weight on the world stage.

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