The Second Atlantis

Ahmed Al-Moslemany
Sunday 5 May 2019

While Africa's potential remains vast, most of it is left to waste, with the continent burdened by underdevelopment and dependency

Before landing on the island of Malabo in the Atlantic Ocean, the scene from the plane was a magical blend made up of green and blue. Dense trees are rivalling the ocean’s waves. When I wandered on the capital’s shores, the scene became most beautiful. I took pictures beside those fascinating trees while local inhabitants shook hands with their visitors with friendliness and appreciation.

Equatorial Guinea lies in West Africa and its capital is located in that island in the east of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a newly rich country where oil was discovered several years ago. With the oil discovery, roads were paved and installations were built. A number of modern restaurants were opened and European-style promenades emerged. There is a modernist crust attempting to expand so as to remove the legacy of poverty and disease.

I was a member in a delegation headed by Egyptian former Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and it included another two prime ministers, Sherif Ismail, who took the post immediately after Mahlab, and Dr Mostafa Madbouly, the current prime minister.

Relations between Cairo and Malabo grew closer and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi met his Equatorial Guinean counterpart more than once. Both countries coordinate many missions in the African Union (AU).

A journalist in Equatorial Guinea told me: “I and you are standing here in our island. There is Africa on the right and Brazil on the left. Here you can take a look at the horizon engulfing the two continents suffering most in the world today; we and Latin America."

The modern age in Europe led to the draining of the continent’s resources and Europe went out to colonise the world. The modern age in Asia also led to the draining of many resources of the continent and Asia went out to invest in the world.

On 13 May 2000, The Economist cover bore the title “The Hopeless Continent” while on 2 May 2013 it bore “A Hopeful Continent." Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), said: “After 10 years, I wonder what will be the magazine’s cover title?”

The president of the AfDB meant to say that the next title will be better and that perhaps it would be “The Continent of Hope” or “Rising Africa." However, matters don’t seem to be going in this direction. More than 10 years have passed and nothing has changed in Africa. Many times, Africa seems to be the sunken continent Atlantis, unable to rise to the surface; breaking layers of water and the alliance of waves. In the “Sunken Continent," there are still 20 conflicts and disputes ranging between ethnic, religious and tribal and secessionist movements, resource wars and foreign interventions.

African fate continues to be of limited independence. About this political vassalage, African thinker Yash Tandon said: "Western countries buy some African officials and representatives during the management of international matters. They summon them in what is known as the green rooms. They enter these rooms refusing and come out accepting the compulsory suggestions of Western countries."

One researcher commented by saying: "The green rooms resemble the rat rooms with which they scare children, and the rats here are the foreign aid."

I’ve pointed in my book Modernism and Politics to a number of the continent’s challenges amid a wider array of world challenges. I still see it as necessary that our continent is given much more attention from intellectual and research institutions in our country.

In Africa, there is the food of the world. According to international economic institutions, 60 percent of arable land is unused, and in Democratic Congo alone there is 80 million hectares — enough to feed two billion people. Those lands in Congo are sufficient to provide food for all the populations of Africa, Europe and Australia combined.

In Africa also, there is a third of the world’s mineral reserves. According to Afrique Expansion magazine, published in France, Africa has 60 percent of the world’s cobalt, 61 percent of the world’s manganese, 81 percent of the world’s chrome, and 90 percent of the world’s platinum. It also has a fifth of the world’s gold, diamond and uranium reserves, as well as oil wealth found in 30 countries.

Moreover, there is an intellectual elite, a rising middle class and prosperous urbanisation. The continent has 22 Nobel laureates and hundreds of millions of middle class members. According to McKinsey & Company, there is more than 300 million who belong to the African middle class. The Financial Times noted that there is a wide urbanisation process where the inhabitants of the city Bamako, Mali, are more than three million and the population of Tanzania’s former capital Dar es Salaam is more than five million while the population of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, exceeds 20 million.

In Africa, the great and medium powers compete over the second wave of influence. According to the Land Matrix initiative concerned with land investments, several countries are buying lands in Africa. China and India are topping the list of countries buying lands in the continent, where India invests in 1.6 million hectares and China invests in about the same area while Japan invests in a million hectares of agricultural lands.

Naturally, colonialism and investment can’t possibly be confused or put in one basket. However, when the continent’s countries lack an investment vision and sustainable development strategy, opportunities for benefitting from foreign investment aren’t enough.

Achieving real independence for the continent is a tough matter. The powerful North doesn’t help. In the eyes of the wealthy of the planet, Africa is the source of enrichment through its raw materials and a nuisance regarding its human beings. The advanced world wants the nature without the people; wheat and uranium minus immigrants and refugees.

All roads lead to Africa but Africa itself has no roads. Many times, Africa seems to me, as if it is a “Second Atlantis,” a continent soaked on the surface, or a remnant of a continent. Egypt is taking over the presidency of the AU while perceiving the volume of challenges and the areas of danger.

There is no solution before Africa except its countries closing their ranks and the whole African club working as one team. Using the expression of Yash Tandon: "The globalisation tsunami is too violent and one lifeboat isn’t enough. There should be more than one boat in the ocean."

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