« Africa must reinvent itself on the basis of a new sovereignty », Dr Cheikh GUEYE in Le Point


ITERVIEW – The plea of Cheikh Gueye, co-author of the Alternative Report on Africa, to rethink development and link it to popular sovereignty.

Propos recueillis par Agnès Faivre

The foundations of the AROA (Alternative Report on Africa) were laid in May 2018. The multitude of authors involved in this continental project, from think tanks, research institutes or NGOs, then converged on a principle director to rethink Africa’s challenges and in particular its economic policy orientations: sovereignty. And to that “which emphasizes national sovereignty”, they preferred the notion of “popular sovereignty which allows a deeper understanding of the real mechanics at the base of social transformations. “The health crisis, revealing the vulnerabilities of African countries in the face of upheavals in world trade, “proved us right”, believes today Cheikh Gueye, strategic coordinator of the Enda Tiers Monde strategic platform and permanent secretary of the AROA. He returns for « Le Point Afrique » to the vision that infuses the seven main axes of this first issue of the Alternative Report on Africa entitled: “The recipe for African sovereignty”. Le Point Afrique: This report is intended to be different from those that are regularly produced on Africa, in particular by international financial institutions. What is concretely changing? Cheikh Gueye: Unlike the reports initiated by these institutions, but also certain banks or large NGOs established in Northern countries, our study was produced by African institutions which have always clearly positioned themselves on the recovery of intellectual sovereignty or leaving the colonial library. This report also highlights issues that concern African societies, and not only States and markets, which are often the prisms of analysis of international institutions. We start from social realities, infra-state powers, innovations, cultures… Culture being a concealed domain in usual relations whereas it is central in our eyes: it determines changes in the consumption and production methods of Africans. We also seek to create new openings in thinking about economic development, going against the trend of development based on individualism, unbridled extractivism, competition, because this has contributed to the impoverishment of whole sections of the globe. and environmental degradation. There are attempts at resistance by African societies, but again, these elements are not reported in the « classic » reports.

What types of alternative indicators are advocated in this report?
The notions of well-being or progress cannot be the same for all peoples or for all categories of people. Neoliberal economics considers individuals and populations from the exclusive angle of producer or consumer. Reflection is now open in international institutions and the authors of Rasa launch the debate on alternative indicators to traditional aggregates, inviting greater consideration of socio-cultural aspects, social ties, the principles of the social and solidarity economy, but above all sovereignty, which is our main barometer. The capabilities approach theorized by the Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen is one of the proposals, because it can facilitate the definition of indicators more in line with the cosmogonies of Africans.
The development of this report began before the Covid-19 pandemic. How have its ideas and guiding principles been affected by the effects of this pandemic on the African continent?
During the pandemic, the whole world has been confronted with the question of sovereignty, which is at the heart of our report. But Africa is perhaps the continent where this issue has been the most heated in recent years. We observe a regeneration of the sovereignist and independence thinking of the founding fathers such as Nkrumah, Modibo Keita or Cheikh Anta Diop. It is now carried by new generations, through the debate on decolonial thought, or events like « https://lesateliersdelapensee.wordpress.com/ »>
Thinking workshops initiated by academics Achille Mbembé and Felwine Sarr.
The Covid-19 proved us right on the choice of this angle of attack. It was quickly understood that in Africa, the impact of the pandemic would be less significant in health terms and very significant in economic terms. Our economies obey free trade, which is the dominant fact of the neo-liberal doxa and of globalization. However, this crisis has only confirmed that we represent too little in this free trade to continue to participate in it and to try to find our interest in it. This observation was established very early on, when many sectors began to slow down. The ports were shut down, imports of goods and services, such as tourism, were interrupted… And our central banks did not have the possibility as in other countries to generate liquidities.
Has this health crisis in fact made the question of the “disconnection” that you advocate, like the economist Samir Amin, more significant, and what meaning do you give it?
We expected a kind of Copernican revolution, a therapeutic shock likely to change mentalities. But since solutions to Covid-19 have been found, with vaccines, revolution is no longer an option. The fact remains that Africa must reinvent itself on the basis of a new sovereignty and a disconnection from the international system in which we will never be winners. We are infantilized there, subordinated. And then, whatever progress our states may make, it will not have a significant impact on our societies.
Disconnection is not autarky. It is a strategy to define our policies by ourselves, to develop the gains of sovereignty on the bases which seem fundamental to us. Like agriculture, which leads to food sovereignty by developing industrial systems geared towards the needs and interests of Africans, and not towards export. It is also about economic sovereignty, by recovering the resources invested in global and monetary value chains. And that goes, of course, through an acceleration of African integration.
Agriculture has rarely been considered as a lever for economic development by international donors, even though it occupies an important place in African economies and societies. How to explain this discrepancy?
The agricultural sector has not received the attention it needs. It has long been dismissed in the international relations to which African leaders are attentive.Are infrastructures not necessary to sell and market products from local agriculture?
Admittedly, it is estimated that there are between 15 to 20% post-harvest losses, due to shortcomings in terms of storage and transport infrastructure, but considerable resources are also invested in prestigious infrastructure. These include, for example, in Senegal, the regional express train in Dakar, which we have been waiting for to start for 4 years, or motorways that are little used, when we could have made less ambitious but more useful choices.
The agreement establishing the ZLECAf (African Continental Free Trade Area) entered into force on January 1, 2021. This common market should ultimately boost intra-African trade, while the continent was the destination of only 17% of African exports in 2017.
Is this a step forward that you welcome?
There is an awareness of the need to establish more pan-African dynamics, we can only be satisfied with that. The African Union is putting in place a long-term vision, underpinned by programmes, policies and strategies. What we fear, however, by observing the involvement of the countries of the North in the mode of operation of the AU, is that these initiatives are diverted to the benefit of neo-colonial projects of the countries of the North and their multinationals.
In January, AfCFTA Executive Secretary Wamkele Mele reaffirmed that it was an instrument for the decolonization of African trade, which reassured us. It seems important to us to accompany these dynamics by pointing out the possible risks of the choices made or not, rather than being in a posture of denigration. These are new projects, produced by Africans who know the ambient constraints, so we want to support them.
The Eco, to replace the CFA, does this seem to you to go in the direction of the monetary sovereignty to which you aspire?
The monetary issue is very complex « https://www.lepoint.fr/afrique/l-union-monetaire-ce-defi-que-l-afrique-de-l-ouest-doit-relever-27-01-2020 -2359819_3826.php » We must take the time to develop this project, to achieve a really useful single currency. We must also ensure that we make the right political choices so that the single West African currency does not find itself under the excessive influence of Nigeria. It is not a question of replacing one domination by another.
There is also a symbolic value, linked to changing the name of this currency…
Of course, even if some people think that simply changing the name and not the content is not a sincere reform…it’s a trick! But it is true that the CFA franc remains the old colonial currency made in Chamalières. As long as President Emmanuel Macron and the Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire can influence the future of this currency, as long as the Ivorian presidents Alassane Ouattara or Senegalese presidents Macky Sall are accused of wanting to perpetuate this system, we will not arrive at this rupture with France that a large part of the French-speaking African youth demands. And the revival of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial thinking is fueling anti-French sentiment in many African countries.
On May 18, a summit was held in Paris on the financing of African economies. Beyond this cyclical aid, do you think that the aid mechanisms for Africa should be reviewed?
Aid mechanisms are counter-productive and do not allow exiting aid. They are ankylosing and prevent Africa from redefining the medium and long term agenda of genuine economic and monetary sovereignty. They are also a trap that accentuates the influence of donor countries on the definition of our priorities and our policies. In our view, these are patterns from which we must get out. We could set ourselves a deadline, developing aid exit strategies, mobilizing greater local resources.
Local taxation, for example, is still less than 10% of potential. If we waste less, if we restrict prestige expenditure, this can make it possible to borrow less from outside and to dispense with these funds in the medium term.