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.
Yet The 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?