If the way to unlocking massive development in the heart of Africa is through asserting itself as a self-sustaining continent, then the key could be in the hands of technocrats seeking home-grown ways of generating the wealth of Africa from within.
This was one of the key themes emphasised in a conference dubbed “Atlantic Dialogues” – now in its seventh edition — that strives to tap the latent potential of mainly the southern Atlantic rim and Africa into tangible wealth and an ability to assert itself in the world geopolitical map.
The conference held under the theme, “Overcoming the Choke Points,” ended in Marrakesh, Morocco, on December 15 where it has been hosted for the past seven years.
The conference is a convergence of technocrats, think tanks, experienced international leaders in various fields and select young leaders in various fields.
Though it is held in North Africa, the meting does not confine its interest to the Atlantic sea board.
It sends out feelers of inclusion to East and Southern Africa, with a message that the continent can only maximise potential from all its spheres.
Invited this year from beyond the southern Atlantic region were experts in private and public sectors from East and Southern African countries that were variously called upon to present innovations that can be replicated on the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean rim nations.
From Kenya, two young delegates invited had been noted for leadership roles in the public and private sector — Raphael Obonyo and Jacob Ouma respectively. Other young delegates had been selected from over 30 African countries and other continents.
Three of the prime plenary sessions were moderated separately by Kenyan television personalities, Jeff Koinange and Uduak Amimo, each who pointed out to the panelists that the Atlantic initiative should be flagged an all-Africa initiative to empower the continent.
Even as emphasis was obviously on interests that the Atlantic dialogues conference has for the West and North Africa, the issues may as well be copy-pasted for East and Southern Africa.
A Moroccan think tank, Policy Centre for the New South (formerly OCP Policy Centre), which organises the conference, has its main mission as promotion of knowledge-sharing on economic issues and international relations among Atlantic States, especially those in the South including South America that share challenges of developing countries.
The think tank seeks to rally nations to contribute to strategic decision-making through four research programmes that matter most for Africa: Agriculture, environment and food security; economic and social development; finance, conservation of raw materials and manufacturing; and geopolitics and international relations.
Key issues that excited debate among delegates included; the effects of globalisation on Africa; how the continent can benefit from its demographic advantage; coping against the surge of protectionism by the developed nations and the WTO; the human dimension of the migration crisis affecting Africans; the effects of the declining power of the United States and other issues that touch every nation.
Panelists at the plenary-style conference were mainly dignitaries who had been at the top level of handling global issues in their nations or internationally, especially those that have interacted with Africa.
Former American secretary of state Madeleine Albright was the highlight of the plenaries as she examined the backlash against globalisation, alongside former president of Cape Verde Pedro Pires.
Ms Albright, 81, and just coming from launching her book — Fascism; A Warning — acknowledged globalisation had been tilted against Africa, even as she encouraged the continent to take advantage of its emerging status and powerful potential to chart its own course.
“Africa was always seen as the loser in globalisation, but increasingly now the continent is on the path to becoming a winner despite the negative effects that held it back for so long.
“And this is not just for this region (Atlantic side), but also for the North, East and Southern Africa. The continent has the chance, it must embrace it,” Ms Albright said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.
She told African leaders not to be discouraged by those who still show a tendency to sideline the continent, making a thinly-veiled attack on US President Donald Trump for his policy to assert American power at the expense of the exclusion of former allies. She said at the plenary:
“When someone goes to the United Nations and talks about national power, it undermines the spirit of the UN. When the US is not represented in such a conference of like-minded allies such as this, we are pulling away from the world and into ourselves.
“Africa should surge ahead and focus on where it matters, like its young population that is the largest in the world. If systems that work can be built for them to earn a living at home, many would not even want to migrate.”
She commended students from Morocco, Kenya and Nigeria who had earlier sat in a session with her at the King Mohammed VI Technical University in Rabat, noting they had given her the main point to address at the conference — that young Africans just need empowerment through education, and the continent will change forever.
Other leaders from the South American delegations encouraged Africa to embrace self-belief and chart its course.
Former president of Argentina Federico Ramon Puerta, former Equador president Luis Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea and the Governor of Sao Paulo Geraldo Alckmin all dwelt at large on the topic, “learning from experience for new joint development.”
Handling the topics of Mediterranean and North African Dimensions and the Human Dimension of the Migration Crisis, most delegates drawn to contribute on issues of injustices meted out to the continent by the rich nations spoke strongly against the historic oppression of Africa by the North.
Former secretary general of the Arab League Amre Moussa, prompted by Kenyan moderator Jeff Koinange to comment on the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in regime change in some North Africa nations, reacted that NATO should forever bear the blame for “destroying” some nations like Libya and Tunisia.
“NATO calls itself North Atlantic and it is only for the countries of the North, yet they allot themselves the role of intervening in Africa where they have no members. This should never happen again,” said Mr Moussa, drawing emotive comments by other delegates in support.
Migration of African seeking a better lives in Europe or escaping dire conditions, who risk their lives sailing on inflatable rubber boats from the beaches of North Africa to Italy and Spain, drew heated debate, with most delegates blaming the North for calling on itself the immigrants by oppressing the development of Africa nations and inciting and supporting conflict.
For East Africa, as most delegates interviewed on the sidelines and speaking in the plenaries said, the region should create its own forum to formulate common action on issues that pose bottlenecks to development and give guidance on the way to the future on issues identified as priorities for growth.