When the ‘Brexiteers’ in the United Kingdom vigorously campaigned, argued and voted to leave the European Union (EU) recently, little did they realise that the road to that divorce was going to be long, winding and bumpy. The referendum of 23 June 2016 in which 52 per cent of those who voted supported withdrawal has triggered a flurry of activities that followed. As part of the unfolding consequence, the outcome of the referendum has claimed many casualties in business, status and prospects, chief among which was the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who midwifed the contentious Brexit baby. At the aftermath of the Brexit vote, Cameron had to give way to another Prime Minister, Theresa May who recently grappled with either the deals to take Brexit through or the possible failure and a consequential resignation.Although the confidence vote that was passed on Wednesday went in May’s favour, it nonetheless shook her government to the root and she henceforth needs change of strategy as she noted in her veiled reference to 2022 election and her acquiescence that she would henceforth listen to her party members who voted against her. Nothing can be more upsetting for May whose government almost fell on account of the perception of her approach to the Brexit deals.
The ensuing events have proved the relevance of the EU, in which case the technicalities involved in the withdrawal have thrown up many legal, political and economic implications, some of which were beginning to retard the speed of the Brexit process or may even have delayed its implementation if May has lost the confidence vote and subsequently had to resign and be replaced, or – in a more unlikely case – upturned it and returned the UK to another referendum. In this Brexit bid, EU has, to a very good extent, proven to be a strong force to reckon with. The gusto, energy, vehemence and vivacity that the EU politicians have thrown into the Brexit-or-no-Brexit affair are a proof that something significant is at stake – for the EU or UK, or both – even though the interests on either side of the divide may be complex, convoluted and contradictory. But the EU has proved its potency by any means imaginable in this context.
In Africa, a similar union still appears, by contrast, much like a toothless bulldog in the sense that it is yet to prove capable of influencing any member country in any significant way in the direction of integration. The African Union (AU), as a cord, is expected to bind African nations together for a common front, coordinating many different issues affecting all countries within the continent. According to the set objectives, AU is expected to achieve greater unity and solidarity between and among the African countries, defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its member states and accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent. On the last score, AU – it seems – still leaves a big vacuum that outside forces are currently filling.
There has been a surfeit of programmes, policies, pronouncements, declarations, treaties and commitments on Africa’s development. The African Union (AU) and its associated agencies have done commendable jobs within the limits of their human and financial resources. But these are just the starting points. Much more vigour and attention need to be devoted to taking the continent higher still. Ambitious programmes toward this end are not enough yet. Africa must commit to greater accomplishments, to higher ideals and to more achievements. It must pursue realistic and measurable goals and be mindful of the fact that changes are taking place now more rapidly than before and the future is most difficult to predict with accuracy or certitude. The Africa 2063 agenda “from fragility to stability” appears a far-fetched, exceedingly long-term ideal that will involve two generations of leaders from today to accomplish. Within this time frame, gaps and distortions could set in and the agenda could fall apart.
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The goals should be revised and broken down into four phases and revision periods of fifteen years – similar to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that metamorphosed into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It will not be a bad idea or a superimposition on existing noble ones to review and revise the views expressed in 2011 by Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki in NEPAD on “Africa’s decade of transformation.” This initiative, which was envisioned then, could come on stream in 2020, identify key critical transformational issues – health, food security, education, trade, energy, ICT, transportation, climate change, demographics and governance – and concentrate on making remarkable changes that would catapult the continent into proper global reckoning.
A case in point here is the position of Africa in the global energy’s future. Although Africa has a significant relevance in the world’s transition into clean energy, one of the countries that most aptly represent this transition is giving too much away for too little returns and AU needs to step in. war, poverty and underdevelopment have been the bane of the country for a while and the situations need to be reversed. The DR Congo, famed for its huge deposit of Cobalt and Lithium is more or less a captive to the Chinese explorers who might soon have a stranglehold on the country for a peanut in exchange for its deposits. For AU this should be regarded as a challenge for a strategic intervention.
As investors face uncertainty over new supplies, stockpiling and traders are making speculative moves, China is seeking to dominate the world electric car market by going all out to secure lithium and cobalt supplies. Almost 60 per cent of the world’s unrefined cobalt output in 2017 came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose output was more than 10 times that of the second producer Russia, according to US Geological Survey. Congo is reputed as having more than half the world’s reserves of the metal. But, lest we forget, DR Congo is still in crisis. Despite logistic constraints and power shortages in DR Congo, a Henan province-based China Molybdenum has agreed to a $2.65 billion deal in 2016 for a 56 per cent stake in Tenke Fungurume Mining, which controls one of the world’s largest resources of copper and cobalt. A controlling share and a smart move! Right?
But we must reckon with the fact that DR Congo, and indeed Africa, is trading away priceless resources. We must also reckon with the fact that DR Congo cannot deliver itself. It needs all other African nations. It needs a functional AU. It needs to unshackle itself from opportunists and exploiters. It needs to be helped to ensure its cobalt deposits are sustainably mined. It needs to own its deposit and have a greater say on its mining. Presently, there are questions about the environmental and child labour implications of cobalt mining in DR Congo. The immediate and long-term solutions should come from within Africa. This is Africa’s problem, not just DR Congo’s.
There seems to be a consensus of opinion that there are few new cobalt mines elsewhere that can compete with the volume of cobalt in the DRC. So the country will remain at the centre of cobalt supply. Electric cars are gaining ground. Before the end of 2018 alone, about one million electric vehicles (EV) sales are expected in China, as part of the country’s industrial strategy and for better air quality. So, what’s Africa’s strategy? It seems fitting that Africa must evolve a robust strategy around DRC – in terms of economy, environment and global value change (GVC). On GVC, the DRC must not be allowed to play the part of just a primary commodity exporter but an industrial base, a decent job creator and a part of a well-coordinated global strategy for clean energy. Therefore, there must be a Congo strategy. A proactive and smart economic diplomacy should be evolved at AU level for engagement with DRC government and people of the cobalt-rich area, to avoid commodity-driven crises or hostilities.
If DRC fails to occupy a proper ecological niche in the new EV economy and cobalt GVC, then Africa has failed. As petrol-driven economy recedes in Nigeria, Angola, Libya and Gabon, and global attention is turning to EV, another economic powerhouse needs to be propped up in DRC on the back of the new auto fuel. Despite spirited research for alternatives, battery experts expect demand for DR Congo’s cobalt to continue to rise. This is a good business case for the country and for Africa as competitiveness of the electric car depends on cobalt, for which DRC holds the ace. Africa must see through this window and carve out its niche for global reckoning on the new energy economy.