There are many strategic thinkers who believe that Africa's underdog position in the world stems from the fact majority if not all the countries do not pursue policies that put the interest of their countries and people first. That is each of the countries in Africa does not work for the interest of its people by putting the interest of the nation and its people ahead of all other interests. There is a consensus among policymakers that if each African country should work for its own interest while coordinating with other countries in the continent on issues such as free trade, energy and human security, and political stability among others there will be more successful economies in Africa than we have seen over the past 50 years. The lack of 'Africa first' as both an ideology and as a strategy has been one major factor that has delayed the continent's development.
Every country in the world works for the interest of its' people. US, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, Korea all work to develop their economies for their citizens to benefit and these countries do not care what means they use to achieve those interests. But here in Africa governments sell resources and don't account to the people. Politicians only campaign for votes but not for development. There is complete lack of policies that articulate the concerns and interests of the countries and their citizens. In the 1980s and 1990s many national assets were sold under Structural Adjustment Program to foreign entities without considering the interest of the countries and their citizens. Today there are countries in Africa where multinational corporations have major shares in mining, oil, and timber, firms while the nations and their peoples who own the natural resources get very little.
Africans are quick to sell raw materials to countries in Europe, North America and Asia without asking what they could do with those natural resources themselves. It looks as if African governments do not have any specific interest in the world. They have not projected themselves as nations that matter in any sectors of the world affairs. It is not that these countries do not know what they must do; the problem is that the leaders have often tended to serve the interest of other nations rather than their own.
The governments always give their support to countries trying to get a platform in the world and seeking their interest in Africa and some have done so even to the detriment of their own countries. One clear example is the announcement by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and President of Liberia that her country is willing to host AFRICOM even though she has not consulted her people or the countries in the West African sub-region. In her article published by allAfrica.com titled “AFRICOM Can Help Governments Willing To Help Themselves,” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf horned AFRICOM as a Marshall plan for Africa's development and encouraged African nations to 'work with Africom to achieve their own development and security goals'. This attitude is part of the reason why nations like Liberia and Nigeria have not developed. There is no collective national interest, neither is there any effort to do so rather they tend to support others whose interest is to exploit the continent to benefit their citizens.
The Guardian newspaper in Nigeria quoted Sanusi Lamido, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria as saying: “As an economist, I have done and looked at the input and output content of the Nigerian economy, and I have never seen an economy with a kind of black hole like that of Nigeria. We produced cotton, yet our textile plants are not working; we produce crude oil, we import petroleum products; we produce gas and export, yet we don't have power plant. We have iron ore, we don't have steel plant; and we have hide and skin, we don't have leader products”.
There is a black hole in Nigeria and other African countries' economy because for decades the leadership in these countries have deferred their countries' interest to entities such as multinational corporations and foreign governments as is in the case of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In 2009, US, China, Russia, France, Britain, Iran, and Israel all sent presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other powerful government officials to Africa to pursue their interests. United States has been urged by the Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies and Africa Oil Policy Initiative Group to declare the Gulf of Guinea a strategic interest and US under AFRICOM is seriously lobbying African governments to allow her to establish military bases so as to achieve her strategic goals.
A declassified document of the US Defence Department regarding the strategic importance of West Africa states that: 'West Africa is a swing production region that allows oil companies to leverage production capabilities to meet the fluctuating world demands.. . .West African oil is of high quality, is easily accessed offshore, and is well positioned to supply the North American market. Production in two major oil producing states (Nigeria and Angola) is expected to double or triple in the next 5-10 years. Already Nigeria and Angola provide as much oil to the U.S. as Venezuela or Mexico, making it of strategic importance.
Walter Kansteiner, the US assistant secretary of State for Africa speaking about what Africa oil means to his country said: “African oil is of national strategic interest to us, and it will increase and become more important as we go forward.”
The United States is not hiding her strategic ambition in Africa, however, I am yet to see Nigeria or Ghana or Senegal, Angola, and Namibia saying wait a minute what is our strategic interest in the Gulf of Guinea, how do we want to see the oil wealth in the Gulf of Guinea exploited and utilised to benefit our peoples and how do we contain the powers that are seeking to exploit the region's vast mineral wealth.
How do we coordinate to ensure that our peoples get the lion share from the oil deals; or how do we work together to strengthen security and prevent terrorists from getting foothold in West Africa? Such issues as the economy, energy security, political stability and infrastructure do not appear on the radars of the countries in Africa. There are few role model countries in Africa where the rest can learn from. The kind of competition that we saw in Asia that led to the industrialisation of countries like Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, which has given them a sense of national pride has not occurred in Africa. I am yet to see the foreign policy of Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, DRC, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Kenya that put the interest of their people first. To me it looks as if each of these countries does not have interest that has to be articulated through their foreign policies.
Nations around the world are launching satellites to strengthen their economies, boost their communication capabilities and to police their countries, others are building a new generation of technologies to help propel and give their nations good footing in the increasingly competitive global economy. You don't see such aggressive efforts in Africa. Nigeria is sleeping, Angola is still reeling from decades of war, DRC lacks a strong central government to formulate and implement any policy at all. The end result is that a vacuum has been created which is being filled strategically by the United States as in the case of her military base Djibouti.
The lack of strategic interest on the part of African nations means that they will have to rely on countries like US, Britain, France, and China for their security and economic needs, but for how long? How will they win the fight against poverty, hunger, diseases and illiteracy if they do not champion their own interest and how are they expected to be taken serious if they continue to champion the strategic interest of others rather than their own?