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“It’s time for the voices of African peoples and societies—all too often ignored by international powers and by the African elite—to be taken into account. There must necessarily be hope, because the challenges that we face are not only African; they affect the entire planet. They affect us all.”
These are the words of Oscar Mateos, professor of International Relations at the Blanquerna Department of Communication and International Relations at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, an analyst of African topics. A forum was just held in Assilah (Morocco) regarding the challenges facing the African continent, in which Mateos participated as a guest speaker and expert on peace and safety in Africa.
What are the global challenges facing Africa?
There are many. Some are shared with the rest of the planet, such as the enormous impact that climate change is already having, the effects of which are much more intense in many parts of the African continent than elsewhere. Other challenges are related to the place Africa holds in the new multipolar geopolitical scenario.
On one hand, the continent continues to occupy a rather marginal place in the overall framework of international relations. However, the growing role of developing countries, the dominance of new international forums such as the G-20, or the dynamics of South-South cooperation in which China as well as India, Brazil, Turkey and Saudi Arabia play an important role, have given Africa a more significant role than the one granted it in the unipolar scenario of the post-Cold War era.
On the other hand, this new multipolar reconfiguration continues to give rise to seriously damaging situations for the majority of African societies, such as an intense process of selling off land, in which the continent is once again being exploited and in which the African continent’s societies and communities are clearly the most harmed.
And what are the local challenges for a continent with dozens of armed conflicts and equally significant political instability?
Armed conflicts continue to be a reality that significantly affects a portion of African countries, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Central African Republic, northern Nigeria, South Sudan, and the Darfur region in Sudan.
Similarly, Jihadism is having a serious impact on the Sahel region, especially on countries such as Mali. Nonetheless, in our image of Africa, it is important for us to understand that, beyond armed conflicts, African societies face challenges similar to those facing other areas of the world. Of particular significance are the protests and social mobilizations that have taken place in numerous countries in recent years (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria…) driven by young urban adults who demand greater transparency and accountability on the part of the political elite and a palpable improvement of living conditions.
And the population of the continent is growing.
Intense demographic growth (in 30 years, Africa will double its population) and the intense process of urbanization being experienced by most African cities offer a double challenge on a very large scale for Africa and for the world as a whole.
Did you leave the Assilah Forum feeling hopeful?
The Assilah Forum was an opportunity to share ideas with people who are on the front lines of political and economic decision-making on a state and intergovernmental level, as well as with a sizable group of people who work in think tanks or the academic world.
Because of this, the narrative regarding Africa abandoned a pessimistic tone long ago. What matters now is to make an in-depth analysis that inserts the challenges facing Africa into the context of global injustice, and that will take into account the voices of African peoples and societies—all too often ignored by international powers and by the African elite.
There must necessarily be hope, because the challenges that we face are not only African; they affect the entire planet. They affect us all.
Many Christians see Africa as a problem, and sometimes even as a threat. What would you say to them?
Africa is neither a problem nor a threat. Africa is complexity, richness, diversity. African societies are mobilizing, the same as in other parts of the world, against trends towards religious radicalization.
The great threat right now is that of persisting in an economic model that pillages the planet and is putting at risk the lives of future generations. In this regard, it is urgent that we all become more aware of the problem and act accordingly, just as Pope Francis insists in Laudato Si.