The African Union (AU) was invited to the G20 summit held in India three weeks ago. That was fresh on the heels of the Brics summit held in South Africa, at which the AU and many African countries were invited.
And by the way, South Africans should smile from ear to ear, proud of the excellent manner we hosted a huge number of important visitors during the Brics gathering.
The invitations to these summits are a testimony to the growing role the African continent plays in world affairs and the potential it must contribute even further. Our continent needs to take these opportunities with both hands for the faster development of Africa.
We should move as quickly as possible to remove the underling status we occupy at both the Brics and the G20. We should not be the region of the world that needs to be assisted, but one that participates as an equal with the others.
Even in debates about the war in Ukraine, we are mentioned as the region most affected by the constrained exports of grain by the warring Russia and Ukraine. And yet Africa is a rich continent with fertile lands, varied climate, and rich mineral resources. All we need is an agreed programme of agricultural production and the designation of regions to produce various foods to feed the continent and export to other countries beyond the continent.
The fragmented nature of our representation on the continent as well as on other international platforms needs to change as soon as possible. Our combined population of nearly a billion-and- a-half people, is roughly the same as that of China and India. Yet both countries were represented at the Brics summit by one leader, as in Xi and Modi, respectively, and we were represented by 55. Our countries are simply too small to stand any chance of negotiating and dealing with other countries of the world when we are so disparate.
This weakness is amply demonstrated by the spectacle of African leaders being occasionally summoned en masse by Russia, France, China and the US to be lectured like schoolboys and girls, and, more often than not, concluding individual economic deals that benefit the summoning country.
It is great that we have established the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to attend to the woefully low levels of trade among ourselves. However, that needs to be accelerated as a matter of the utmost urgency, bearing in mind that our strength depends on the size of our collective economy.
The African continent can move our unity and strength many notches higher by moving towards greater political integration. This we can do by amending the AU statutes to give the chair of the AU a higher status and powers to represent the entire African continent. He or she would be the executive leader of the continent with all the relevant powers relating to a head of state.
Instead of the heads of state electing the chair every year, we might consider doing that every five years or so. Together with the AU bureaucracy, he or she would work for the interest of the entire continent. Among other things, he or she should accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA, which should eventually be replaced by something much stronger.
For the African continent to banish underdevelopment, inferior status in the world, the legacy of colonialism and take its rightful place among other continents, we need to dream big. We should not be happy with small states and powerless leadership that has no muscle to drive African development.
- Mangena is former cabinet minister and former president of Azapo