I asked this question four years ago and it bears repeating now: While the unpleasant living conditions of African youths who seek escape to Europe through the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea is well known, are living conditions of African heads of state and government so dire that they have their bags packed, waiting for any super power, former super power, upcoming super power, pretentious super power, not-so-super power, medium power and genocidal power anywhere around the world to invite them to a “Summit,” and many or sometimes all of them will depart at short notice? Just because it is taking place at a seaside resort, a mountain retreat, a hunting lodge or an old castle, must African leaders scramble and attend?
As you read this, delegations from fifty African nations, many of them led by Heads of State, are in Rome for a two day “Italy/Africa Summit,” holding today and tomorrow. It is hosted by Italy’s right-wing, anti-immigrant Prime Minister, Ms. Giorgia Meloni. Aware of her country’s sordid colonial past in Africa, Meloni said she will present to African leaders a “non-predatory” approach aimed at fostering cooperation, a so-called “Mattei Plan”, named after a 1950s Italian public administrator. It is not clear if the African leaders will ask to visit African migrants who escaped drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and now live in squalid camps on Lampedusa Island.
It was less than three months ago that 50 African leaders returned home from Riyadh after attending the maiden Saudi-Africa Summit, on November 10, last year. Fifteen African Heads of State personally attended, including President Azali Assoumani of the Comoros, who is the African Union [AU] Chairperson, as well Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the AU Commission. African leaders who attended sat side by side with the military rulers of Niger, Sudan and Gabon, all of them since suspended by the AU but who the Saudis invited anyway. Saudi rulers said they were dealing with Africa, not African Union.
What Arabs can do, Persians can do better. In September 2010, then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted the Iran-Africa summit in Tehran, at which he said Iran and Africa share a similar “rich culture, a history full of ups and downs, and an aspiration for a bright future for human kind.” 40 African nations including the presidents of Senegal and Malawi attended the summit. African leaders, are you not tired of attending these neo-colonial jamborees? A country living on past colonial glory will summon all of you for a monologue, including by a prime minister whose ideology resembles her political ancestor Benito Mussolini’s? Is she going to apologise for what Italy did to Libya and Ethiopia in the 1930s and 1940s?
It was the British that first invented the art of summoning African and other leaders to a “British Commonwealth” meeting in 1926. Maybe because Malam Aminu Kano once asked, “Whose wealth is common?”, they renamed it Commonwealth of Nations with their Queen/King as the Head. During a 2018 Commonwealth Summit in London when Queen Elizabeth was aged, the Brits tricked other member states and made them to designate Prince Charles to succeed the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, even though the position is not hereditary.
The French followed suit by convening Franco-Africa Summit in 1973. Ten countries attended that first meeting but 40 countries attended the 25th Summit in Nice, France in 2018, including co-opted Anglophone leaders of Gambia, Sierra Leone and South Africa. European Union leaders too summoned African leaders to EU/Africa Summits, which took place alternately in Europe and Africa. The Germans are to yet summon African leaders to a summit near the Brandenburg gate. Maybe they are still smarting from their loss of African colonies Togo, Kameron, Tanganyika, Rwanda, Burundi and Namibia in 1919 due to their defeat in the First World War.
Americans copied the European trick when President Barack Obama convened a USA-Africa Summit in 2014. Fifty African leaders attended that meeting; Obama was alarmed that US trade with Africa was $85 billion compared to China’s $200 billion. Imagine Canada, with its 38 million people [slightly more than Angola] summoning leaders of Africa’s 1.4 billion people to a Canada-Africa Business Summit in Vancouver last July.
It became more interesting because India, too, invited African leaders to a summit. Despite its fast-growing economy, India is still a Third World country with many problems similar to Africa’s, yet it invited a few African leaders to meet with its prime minister in Addis Ababa in 2011. A second one followed in New Delhi in 2015, attended by 50 African leaders, some of whom probably wanted to see Bollywood actresses. At the next summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will probably take them to visit the Hindu temple he built on the ruins of the demolished Ayodhya mosque.
Even though most of the glory of the Ottoman Empire ended after it sided with Germany in World War One, Turkey invited African leaders to Istanbul for the first Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit. Fifty African countries sent delegations, many headed by presidents and prime ministers. African leaders were summoned to Turkey again for the 3rd Turkey-Africa Summit in 2020. Since current, former, pretending and aspiring world powers had already summoned African leaders to summit meetings, emergent super power China followed suit in 2009 by convening the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sham-el-Sheikh. At the event, then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao splashed gifts on the leaders reminiscent of a traditional African wedding. He gave African countries 10 billion dollars in concessional loans, on top of the 5 billion dollars that China pledged at the Forum’s previous meeting in Beijing in 2006. Wen also pledged to cancel the debts of 31 African countries and to build 100 clean energy projects across Africa. No wonder that at the forum’s 2018 summit in Beijing, all 54 African nations attended, most of them represented by their heads of state.
Not to be outdone, the Japanese followed suit by inviting African leaders to the International Conference for African Development [TICAD] summit in Yokohama in 2018. 26 African heads of state and another six vice presidents and prime ministers attended. The annoying thing is that African leaders have a short memory. From the mid-1950s right until the 1980s when Japan’s economy was the world’s second largest, its economic growth rate was best described as a miracle and it was the top exporter of consumer goods to Africa, Japan did not call you guys to a summit and splash yens on you. Now that Nippon itself has been struggling with sluggish economic growth for three decades, who wants a basketful of yens?
In 2018, 54 African leaders scrambled to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the Russia/Africa Summit. Sochi was venue of the 2014 Winter Olympics which many Western nations boycotted, allegedly due to Russian annexation of Crimea. Vladimir Putin took African leaders there so that the facilities will not go waste. Nigeria got a bagful of promises at Sochi, including Russian promises to complete Ajaokuta steel plant, build our coastal rail, revive the Aluminum Smelter [Alscon] at Ikot Abasi and give us helicopter gunships to blast Boko Haram out of Lake Chad islands. Unlike the double-faced Westerners, Putin knew better than to attach human rights clauses to arms deals. None of those promises has materialised yet. In July last year, he again hosted the second Russia–Africa Summit at the Expo Forum in St. Petersburg. Forty-nine African delegations but only 17 heads of state attended, probably for fear of Western punishment due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
The way things are going, Sweden, Spain, Brazil, Ukraine and Mongolia will soon summon African leaders to summit meetings. As soon as Israel finishes its genocide in Gaza, it will also arrange a summit with all African leaders at its Red Sea port of Eilat, Houthi missiles permitting. It will not invite South Africa. Pakistan, Indonesia and Mexico will quickly follow suit with Africa summits. Thereafter, an Australia/Africa Summit will hold at a location in the Outback so that African leaders will see kangaroos and saltwater crocodiles. Soon afterwards, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will host a DPRK/Africa Summit at the Yongbyon Nuclear Science and Weapons Research Centre.
Once the world powers are done, international organisations will invite African leaders to summits. Food and Agriculture Organization will convene an FAO/Africa Summit, not in Rome where it is based, but on the Italian island of Lampedusa so that African leaders will see boats full of starving African migrants rescued from the Mediterranean. UNESCO will soon organize a UNESCO/Africa Summit, not in Paris but on Corsica Island, birthplace of Napoleon. The UN’s World Food Program will soon convene a WFP/Africa Summit to complain that African IDPs are depleting its food stocks, even though rich Europeans and North Americans throw away millions of tonnes of food every year.
Amnesty International will follow suit with an AI/Africa Summit. My favourite NGO, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, could soon summon African leaders to a WWF/Africa Summit to discuss the future of lions, elephants and rhinos. It however won’t raise the issue of North American bison, which the Whiteman reduced from 60 million in 1700 to about 500,000 today. International Whaling Commission too would convene an IWC/Africa Summit to discuss the fate of whales, sharks and barracuda.
For a change, why can’t we convene a Nigeria/Europe Summit at Yankari Game Reserve, followed by a Nigeria/Asia Summit at Ikogosi Warm Springs, a Nigeria/North America Summit at Obudu Cattle Ranch and a Nigeria/Arab Summit at Kajuru Castle? We too have castles, springs, mountains, ranches and beaches. If any African leader’s desire for going to Italy is to ride a gondola in Venice, we have them in Bayelsa.