Africa-US relations are on a global table next month. 45 African leaders have confirmed their attendance at the upcoming US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. The menu focus is vast – from business to human rights; from climate justice to democracy; from civil society to amplifying diaspora ties.
I have always wondered with these summits about the quiet, closed-door private sessions, the goings on, and conversations among leaders, and the demands by America of Africa and the pleas by African leaders towards America.
A major focus is, of course, the Economy. The global economy is reeling from the devastating hit of the pandemic, and the pre-pandemic circumstances that have wreaked havoc with every-day living threatening every day survival. While this havoc showed up in upward spiraling prices, climate issues, the devastatingly expensive cost of food, fuel, and rent, the 1% who enjoy obscene wealth, and nations who increased their wealth. The obscenity and increasing of their wealth is partially predicated on this continent remaining a landscape of extraction.
The US State Department statement on December’s Washington-based summit says in part: ‘The Summit will demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa, and will underscore the importance of US-Africa Relations.’ Africa will shape the future, not just of African people, but of the world is the Summit mantra. Laudable words indeed.
There is an absence on this menu – one that underpins all of the other menu items. There is ‘the emotional economy’.
Naming ‘the emotional economy’ matters. It begins with this language, before moving to definition, exploration, application and manifestation. The emotional economy requires the kind of focus, urgency and attention it has never had.
What is the emotional economy? It is a world that makes decisions and creates policies that revolve around the feelings of white men, and is relentlessly driven by those feelings regardless of the cost and consequence.
When it comes to the economy between Africa and the US, it is still so rooted in Africa as a landscape of extraction, and America as benevolent, democracy-spreading, weapons-wielding superpower. It is not possible for a focus that simultaneously and mutually benefits Africa and America; not when America’s emotional economy is as superpower and reliant on a relationship to Africa as a landscape of extraction. We cannot focus on markets and notions of global competition when what we really mean is privilege and power by one group over another. The language of the fiscal economy masks the underlying power of the emotional economy.
It is beyond time this emotional economy – this fresh focus is centered – or at least included – in such summits. It is beyond time to focus on and fix the emotional economy within, and between America and Africa.
Doing that means we must first understand that the fiscal economy is very much tied to an emotional one. Too often, we fail to recognize the weight, depth, and breadth of this emotional economy and how it shows up. A fixed emotional economy is one that centers the wealth, welfare and wellbeing of Africans. It is simply impossible for a fixed emotional economy in Africa to not have detrimental consequences to the US’s and the West’s fiscal economy.
Here’s an example of what that emotional economy looks like. In 2015, East African governments, including Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda declared that from 2019, they would ban the import of second-hand clothing from the US, and the West – what they called ‘dead white man’s clothes.’ Africa has beautiful fabrics, traditions of weaving and couturiers and Africans need not wear what was called ‘dead white men’s clothes,’ declared Rwanda. An American company said this decision would significantly hurt America’s used clothing industry, potentially costing 40,000 US jobs and $124 million in lost revenue. While the numbers were questioned, and their source challenged – it was enough to trigger a backlash. The response was immediate. The East African governments were threatened with removal from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – the legislation created and designed to stimulate economic growth in Africa, and eliminate trade barriers. Kenya backed down while Rwanda refused to back down.
The US was poised to watch a lucrative economy tank, because – in the case of Rwanda – African nations’ emotional economy centered itself and its own creations; and African governments sought to build and add value to an internal industry, and reject the privileging of an external industry. Think about the ask via the threat. The ask is that African governments and African people protect and privilege American jobs and futures over their own jobs and their own future. That’s what the emotional economy demands – an identity that acknowledges the super-power must be fed, even when feeding it leads to another nation floundering.
An unfixed emotional economy understands that America’s relationship to power centers itself, centers whiteness, and is about being the best and biggest in the world. It is not co-existence, mutuality – and therefore the fiscal economy supports the emotional economy, this identity as superpower. Africa cannot feed America’s emotional connection to power that centers itself, and makes economic decisions driven by maintaining this power without doing ongoing damage to itself, its economy, its wellbeing. Of course, such is the poison of capitalism. But the emotional economy underneath it fuels capitalism’s steady march into sustained havoc-creation within the Continent.
There is no easy fix. There are no comfortable conversations. There is no summit where mutuality can co-exist between Africa and the US without substantive, transformative change. These are not necessarily new conversations, these are more urgent times though. The urgency means Africa again stands in the crosshairs of superpower seeking nations. China’s scramble for modern Africa matches America’s historic one.
The emotional economy needs urgent fixing. It may seem strange to advocate that the emotional economy be on a summit menu given the above arguments, however, I suggest it because the truth is more African leaders are likely to be at the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit than attend Africa-led initiatives. That is part of a legacy of untreated trauma, and an unfixed emotional economy – you heed the invitation of the West, and treat it with greater urgency than perhaps that of your fellow African nation. Given the times we are in, it is a by any means necessary approach.
Africa as a continent, creative and contributor, vibrant and visionary is drenched in all that it needs to flourish in unprecedented ways. Fixing the emotional economy would enable such a flourishing.
We cannot fix this emotional economy by negotiating at the rate of the West’s economy and economic needs. That simply determines that the fixing will never happen. And that cannot be Africa’s future.
It is time to fix Africa’s emotional economy as a path to transform Africa’s future. Now, that would a summit.
Esther A. Armah’s new book ‘EMOTIONAL JUSTICE: a roadmap for racial healing’ is a #1 New release on Amazon for six straight weeks. She embarked on a global book tour: 3 cities, 3 countries, 3 continents. On Tuesday 29th November, Accra is the final city that closes this global book tour. The Accra book launch features as Webster University Ghana’s Inaugural Global Conversations Public Reading Series, East Legon, Ghana. This event features a Dramatized Reading by Ghanaian actress Pearl Korkor Darkey, A Moderated Discussion with Francis Abban and a Book Signing. The event is free. Please register via this link:- https://www.eventbrite.com/e/inaugural-global-conversations-public-reading-series-tickets-460836583627