Getting the Question Right: What’s Really Changing? Is It Africa's Narrative or the Narrative On and About Africa That’s Changing?
Most discussions on Africa: its development challenges, its
poverty, its raging wars, its intractable conflicts, its booming population,
its economic growth, its security issues, its unstable political landscape, etc.
constantly reminds one of Karl Marx’s observation in “Eighteenth Brumaire of
Louis Bonaparte”. They are indeed reminiscent to his observation
that "they [the masses in the revolutionary France] are unable to assert
their class interests in their own name, be it by a parliament or by
convention. They cannot represent one another, they must themselves be
represented." Simply substitute Africa for “the masses” and you pretty much
get the answer the questions posed above.
National Interest, an American bimonthly international affairs magazine associated
with the realist school of foreign policy thought, seems unaware of this plain
reality. Just a day ago, it published an
entry wondering whether Africa’s narrative is changing: “Is Africa's
Narrative Changing?”, it asks. The possessive clearly implies an “African ownership” of
the narrative, whereby the continent independently decides the direction, the
tone, the timing, and everything in-between of the narrative(s) on and about it.
Yet the magazine is quick to decide that “This year, the big
story in Africa is less about growth rates, or big changes for better or worse
in conflict dynamics. Instead, the biggest story is in the realm of politics.” Who
decides what the “big story” is for the continent—what matters and what does
not? Based on what is such decision made? And where is the purported “African
ownership” the title so conspicuously brought forth? One is left, to say the
least, perplexed with these questions; but their answers are plainly obvious
enough to require mere hard thinking.
Apparently, the signing and entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area, the
largest free trade area in the world since the creation of the World Trade
Organization (WTO) in 1995, isn’t important enough to be a big story, for instance; nor is
the conflict in the Sahel Region, especially in Mali, despite the recent
warning from the Economic Community of West Africans States (ECOWAS) that the
crisis could effectively spill into neighboring countries, thus potentially engulfing and destabilizing the whole region. The list could go on and on. What is undoubtedly true is that for the
National Interest, like so many others, all these developments are not big stories simply because
the magazine decides so.
Thus, shouldn’t the real question be: What’s Really Changing? Is It Africa's Narrative or the Narrative On and About Africa That’s Changing?