Britain and Africa after 50: Social justice and development.

Michael StaggMichael Stagg




Britain & Africa at 50: WCIA & British International Studies Association

Speakers: Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society (RAS) & Dr Edwin Egede, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Cardiff University, and member of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Chair: Dr. Carl Death, Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy, Manchester University and Martin Pollard, Chief Executive of the WCIA.

A view from an attendee

As the audience made its way in to the main council chamber at the Temple of Peace it became clear that Africa has a place in the conscience of the Welsh people and demands the interest of a wide variety of individuals and groups. A lively chat began the evening with each arrival joining small groups, building links and connections within this vibrant community interested in Africa, international development, and international affairs. There were academics, students, interest groups, concerned citizens and members of the diaspora community, all to hear the insights of the two prestigious speakers, Richard Dowden and Dr Edwin Egede.

Richard Dowden began the event with an oversight of the turbulent relationship between Africa and Britain (as well as the rest of Europe). That turbulent past still informs the relationship to this day. This history was first formed at the Berlin Conference, with the European powers drawing lines on a map with no regard or knowledge of the communities they were dividing or forming. It was continued with the massive ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’ that the IMF and World Bank forced upon it in the 1980’s. This, he argued should be considered a “crime against humanity”. He continued his talk explaining what he saw as the two narratives that dominate the western view of Africa. One regards Africa as a rich continent ripe for exploitation. The second view understands Africa as a continent that is in need of saving (may be even from itself!). This, he argues, has been the story of this mixed history. He called for people to go to Africa and experience for themselves and commending the community to community links so richly fostered throughout Wales. However, the key theme of this event from both speakers was one of hopefulness for the future of Africa. “This is Africa’s moment” Richard Dowden proclaimed. There is an increasing self-confident Africa emerging, standing up to the western and emerging eastern powers alike. Aid is no longer what Africa cries out for; the buzz word now is equality and trade. Indeed, Richard Dowden believes the next big challenge for African states is turning the apparent abundance of wealth in to what he termed “the good life” for their people.

Dr Edwin Egede (the second speaker) agreed with much of what Richard Dowden put forward. Dr Egede argued convincingly that Africa could be the economic power-house of the future. He cited the growing number of young entrepreneurs, along with an enormous wealth of natural and human resources. However, Dr Egede rightly drew attention to the undeniable fact that there is still so much poverty and inequality throughout Africa. Ethnic conflict and poor political governance, he argued, are still key issues blighting Africa. The reality is, as both speakers so rightly expressed, Africa is continuing to dealing with, what Dr Egede referred to as “an ugly hand from the past”. This ugly hand is the hand of European colonialism in which Britain played no small part. Indeed, the International Courts of Justice (ICJ) has described colonialism as a “wound” which will take time to heal. Dr Egede focused his talk on Nigeria, and there was agreement here with Richard Dowden, in Nigeria, aid is seen with suspicion. They fear that it is another form of colonialism. They seek equality with Britain, not hand-outs. Dr Egede ended his talk with a similar optimism shown by Richard Dowden. He believes “A new generation of leaders is emerging”, one that identifies with the nation state, not ethnic sectarianism. Dr Egede believes that Nigeria (as with Africa) will stand or fall by the quality of this new leadership. It seems that the ugly hand of history is slowly letting go.

There was, following these insightful talks, some questions from the audience. Religion was approached with both speakers being asked if, in their opinion it was a force for good or bad? Richard (as an agnostic) felt it could be both. However, as a former journalist, he witnessed religion bring hope and resilience to those most in need of solace and fortitude.  Dr Egede (an ordained minister) agreed, Religion brought hope to millions, however accepted it could be manipulated by those with other motives. Some questioned the dangers associated with nationalism (which Europe suffered so terrible) however, Dr Egede felt no such outcome was likely in Africa, ethnic sectarianism was the real threat in Africa.

To end this piece, it is worth remembering that colonial rule (or miss-rule) in Africa is recent history not ancient history; this was made clear in both speakers insightful remarks. However, even though as Dr Egede stated the “ugly hand creeps in from time to time” Africa is finding its own place and its own voice. It is coming out of the shadow of the Berlin Conference and its future is one that must hold more for its citizens than its past. Our choice is to decide on our role. Are we to be a friend who helps but does not preach, or are we to be, as Dr Egede so eloquently described, Africa’s “evil step mother”. I choose to be a friend, as did all in attendance at this informative and hopeful lecture series.

You can find out more about the BISA Africa and International Studies Working Group and their forthcoming events which includes the Britain and Africa after 50 series by going to the BISA website and following them on Twitter and Facebook.