The illusion of comfort in clinging onto neutrality in global matters is Africa’s Achilles’ heel. We have principles that guide our policies, and we have a set of moral standards to look up to, so we must be seen to be taking sides to preserve the foundations upon which our continent should be rebuilt. There is no strategic benefit to Africa’s neutrality; we cannot address a skewed international order by sitting on the fence that we all know will inevitably collapse one day throwing us to one side or the other; neutrality exposes the region to weakness and marginalisation in international institutions.
We appreciate the reasons for Africa’s scepticism of the world hence its adoption of a neutral stance. Be it slavery or colonialism or imperialism or structural adjustment programmes, Africa has been hurt by the west and its institutions. The widely held narrative is that the present western dominated world is skewed against Africa and black people. Events in recent times during the Covid-19 epidemic seemed to confirm this institutional western bias, the world intervention and access to vaccines was clearly the west first and Africa later. It is therefore understandable that the region will view the world with suspicion, but Africa is a part of the world and constructive steps will have to be taken.
Given historical interaction of Africa and the west, distrust of the west is both predictable and understandable, but does that make default neutrality a trustworthy alternative? Far from it, restricting the region to a bit part role in global matters is no solution; instead, an assertive, self-interested Africa should show up and demand to be admitted to a fuller part in the international order.
We risk marginalisation of unimagined scale in international matters if we continue to dodge responsibility and only adopt neutrality in all matters of global interest while others engage in fight for a share of resources, power and control of international institutions. And to seek to be included by one side or the other after spoils have been shared exposes us to perpetual weakness. Whoever we choose and whoever embraces us does so in the interest of their agenda not ours; we are adopted into an agenda over which we have no control.
It is time Africa accepted she cannot remain neutral in a world of rapidly changing and clashing political interests and already moving in certain directions. It is both impossible and undesirable to remain neutral in a conflicted world where right in front of our eyes wealth and power are already distributed in certain ways, neutrality means accepting the way things are now, and with the way things are now, there is little hope for Africa today and no hope for the future.
Neutrality is a weak base for Africa to call from. Neutrality against oppression is itself oppression, it feeds and protects the powerful, not the weak. We must face up to the reality that African interests will neither be met nor be protected by apathy; neutrality is not empowering Africa; neutrality leads to unfavourable decisions that hurt people’s lives; passivity does not express African interests, it either maintains the status quo and/ or leaves us perpetually subservient to the agendas of the assertive west and east who take sides and fight their corner.