Covid-19: Looking at Africa from a political perspective

Amadou Sadjo Barry calls for a radical change in African politics.

Bild: von Salomon Djidjoho Will debt cancellation foster Africa’s structural transformation? The West African Central Bank in Cotonou, Benin.

Is debt cancellation or debt relief a solution to revive development in post-Covid-19 Africa? If this question arises, it is because in the vast majority of African countries the State remains captive to infra-institutional practices that prevent it from being constituted as an agent of justice. Indeed, political and social institutions are not organized in a way that enables them to meet the needs of human, economic and social development. Thus, in the current state in which the State has been reduced to its actual size, it is difficult to see how the money that would be made available through debt cancellation will help to boost Africa's development. There is even a real risk that, in this situation where the State is severely weakened by the absence of a government control and monitoring mechanisms, debt cancellation could lead to the strengthening of authoritarian and unjust regimes. It is therefore important, beyond any economic considerations, to think about the relaunch of development in post-Covid-19 Africa by questioning the political conditions without which the very idea of development is doomed to failure.

To ensure that the current health crisis does not hold the continent's development hostage, solutions thereto will have to take into account political preconditions that are not found in most African countries. What are these prerequisites that are so important? It is first of all the organization of social relations within a framework of justice shared by all. Followed by the need to make the public sphere autonomous and independent, the only sphere capable of giving shape to the idea of the commons and a community of men with converging interests. Accompanied by the establishment of a contractual relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. Finally, it is an organization and practice by the power in place that gives content to political and social institutions.

Taken together, all this will somehow determine the political sphere in which to move. It will provide a framework for economic and social progress. In other words, for development to be possible, there must be a political organization capable of thinking and building it. It is this political foundation of living together and its embodiment in an institutionalized system of constraints that can consecrate the advent of a political society, where, in concrete terms, issues of social justice and political equality can become issues of collective concerns. Apart from this reflection on the political dimension, Africa cannot build its institutional capacities to cushion the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

As long as political power is informal and prevents the anchoring of effective institutions, there is no point in calling for a Marshall Plan or for the reduction of African debt. It is to be hoped that the coronavirus crisis is an opportunity for a political transformation such that it leads to a break with nihilistic power practices and encourages political leaders to invest in the generative capacities of the society. Otherwise, all the international aid imaginable and the cancellation of the African debt will have no significant impact on the lives of the people.

However, this metamorphosis of political practices will only be possible by means of an Afrocentric thinking which will refrain, as long as it is necessary for the measures to take full political responsibility to be effective, gives up to think Africa in its relationship to the world. That means: temporarily give up a thought of World-Africa in favour of an idealisation of Africa by Africans about Africa. This Afrocentrism should force the political actors to sober up and work towards the eradication of existing habits and acts that have ended up minimizing human dignity across the African territories.

But sobering up Africa will mean thinking of Africa with a hammer, to use a famous Nietzschean expression, which means demolishing the authoritarian ontology and the development aid it creates. On this condition and solely exclusive to this condition, the Covid-19 outbreak, beyond triggering the health crisis including the economic and financial crisis prevailing today, could be considered more than a mere event, but the advent of "another Africa".

Therefore, if Africa does not want to be the big loser in the post-Covid-19 world, the issue of debt cancellation should not be the focus of debates on the continent's development recovery. The hope is that this coronavirus crisis will be an opportunity for Africa to think about and ensure effective enforcement of the conditions of its sovereignty, and not to renew the mechanisms of its subordination to the international environment.

Amadou Sadjo Barry is professor of philosophy at the Cégep de Saint‑Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. He has specialized in ethics of international relations, global justice issues, foreign policy and development policies. He is also interested in issues related to ethnocultural diversity in liberal democracies.


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