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What the West’s upsurge conservative turn portends for Africa

Monday December 23 2019

By BITANGE NDEMO
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The British people last week overwhelmingly voted for the conservative party.

In the US, the country is split between a ‘vote of conscience’ on impeachment and tolerating abuse of power under a far-right conservative wave.

It is a catch-22 moment: conservatism is on the rise in the West while Africa is at the crossroad between democracy and dictatorship.

In the US, all indications are that the Senate will acquit Trump. The risk, however, is that there might be a backlash from the attempted impeachment that is likely to send several democrats home in the coming 2020 election and hand over control of the House, the Senate and the Whitehouse to conservatives.

US POLICY

The rise of conservatism will certainly impact US policy towards Africa.

It is no secret that the US wants to focus on its internal affairs first notwithstanding the fact that it is a global superpower.

Several other Western countries such as Italy, France, The Netherlands and even in Germany are staring at a possibility of conservatism (best described as far right nationalists) taking the reins of leadership.

The fear of immigrants is fuelling a new world order not just in the western world but also across the world. The end result is that ethnic minorities will suffer and no one will have a moral authority to protect them.

EMERGING WORLD ORDER

There is reason to be concerned about the emerging world order.

For years, the West has held the moral authority to lecture many other countries about liberal democracy.

They were the protector of minorities across the world. They spoke strongly about the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, xenophobia in South Africa and even the protection of South Sudanese and Somali immigrants in Kenya.

Not anymore.

It will be difficult to defend what most US news agencies have termed as “aggressive response” to refugees from Latin American countries while condemning similar happenings elsewhere.

LACUNA

Indeed, many other countries will take advantage of what in my view is a supervisory lacuna to harass refugees in their respective countries.

Already it is beginning to happen in states like India where the new immigration law is said to target some minorities. We are basically undermining the very principles that created the United Nations.

In my view, Africa should not sit and wait to see how the extreme right will want to run the world. There is reason to caucus and develop a counter strategy to drive our own ambitions. Failure to plan, we would have subjected our people to another period of domination.

In his first speech to African leaders at the side-lines of the UN General Assembly, President Donald Trump told the luncheon gathering that he has many friends going to the continent to get rich.

TRUMP

We should thank Trump for his honesty towards the conservative intentions about Africa. I blame the African leaders for not reacting to Trump’s intentions about Africa.

Many of the leaders value the little donor money – $30 billion – we receive into the continent while more than $1 trillion is stolen from Africa each year.

There are two likely scenarios that will arise.

Africa will slide into obscurity or emerge with new hope. In the absence of a predictable ideology, populism will rise, authoritarianism will spread, the rule of law will be set aside, media will suffer and conflict will be the order of the day as climate change is destined to ravage through the continent as we have seen with drought and floods.

As a result, there will be less accountability and transparency. In other words, we shall be back to the cold war era when all manner of evil was tolerated.

NEW SUPERPOWERS

There is hope, however, that new superpowers like China and India will emerge to forge a global alliance and fill the void in an attempt to create a greater market for their goods and services.

Africa needs to be strategic by negotiating beneficial trade arrangements. By World Data Lab calculations, the middle-class markets in China and India in 2030 will account for $14.1 trillion and $12.3 trillion, respectively, comparable in size to a US middle-class market at that time of $15.9 trillion.

No one will ignore a market that size and if that becomes the case, Africans must start to work on a plan B to survive drastic conservative policies that may catch them off-guard.

Concern about rising conservatism is being raised in virtually every continent except in Africa. Yet Africa stands to lose the most from the changing ideology in countries that were traditionally considered as friendly.

DESPOTS

The emerging tendency of western leaders embracing despots in developing countries is in itself a pointer to the fact that they may exploit developing countries using dictatorial tendencies.

Like in the past, they will exploit Africa’s resources without regard to the people.

There are many lessons Africa can draw from its colonisation, the cold war and now the age of technology that could undermine our freedoms. The tragedy is Africa’s dependence on aid to do even mundane things like developing a strategic direction of the continent.

The future means that the continent weans itself from donor dependence and begins to create its own wealth. Aid has never developed any country. It is sometimes used as a tool for compliance to outside powers and can be withdrawn any time. The fall of Berlin wall shifted aid from Africa to Eastern European countries leading to an economic slump in Africa.

The rise of conservatism in the Western world is worrying. There is nothing that we can do to change its course. However, we have the power to change our course.

Africa must develop a constructive engagement with willing partners to ensure food security, job creation, build capacity in the emerging technologies and seek sustainable development for growing independent nations.

The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.