Support grows for sacked AU ambassador

By Oupa Makhalemele

A petition is being circulated calling for the reinstatement of Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao to her role as the AU Permanent Ambassador to the United States The injustice of her sacking ought to stir all who are displeased with the global injustice to which the continent, and others in the Global South, continue to be subjected.

The sacking two weeks ago of the African Union Permanent Ambassador in the United States, Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao sent ripples amongst Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. In a hastily penned letter trying to explain (without really explaining) the decision to relieve Dr Chihombori-Quao of her duties, the AU Commission’s Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat tried to downplay the strong sentiments expressed by the Tennessee, USA, based family medicine specialist. The 7 October letter sparked a flurry of tweets, with some expressing their support for her bravery, for telling it like it is. Others however, felt that given her position as an ambassador, she should have been more prudent about the platform and tone of her engagement.

Whichever view one holds on this matter, what is without doubt is that another salvo had already been fired at the elephant in the room. Africa continues to be intrinsically integrated into the global economic system. Its position in the world is inextricably tied to its colonial past and as such, continues to be ensnared in the rough and tumble of the global economic, political and social machinations of the metropole.

So, what occasioned this strong reaction from both her distractors and supporters? Doctor Chihombori-Quao dared to call a spade a spade, deriding the paternalistic and exploitative posture of France, and by extension the family of European colonial empires that carved up the African continent at the Berlin Conference 135 years ago and are today continuing the pillaging and looting of resources to further their geo-political and economic interests. Only today, they have in place compliant leaders in Africa, consisting of the political elite who work in cahoots with state officials and heads of oil and weapons firms to advance interests inimical to the wellbeing of Africans.

France has made much of its commitment to preventing deaths and supporting democracies to explain its presence in Africa. The country has permanent military bases in Ivory Coast, Chad, Senegal, Djibouti (its largest in the continent) and Gabon. Over and above the goals of achieving the glib notions of encouraging regional stability and development, and ostensibly for supporting ‘democratic governments’, Africa remains an important supplier of oil and metals, which motivates its presence in Africa.

An interesting case to demonstrate how France and other international players’ apparent commitment to buttressing democracy and stability is lacking in substance is Djibouti. This coastal nation on the Horn of Africa is host to military bases for the French, the United States, Japan and China among others. President Ismael Omar Ghuelle is an autocratic leader who has not hesitated to hound the opposition. He has offered his country as a base for these and more powers that are in pursuit of their respective national interests, especially geo-political in nature – in return for rents.

Central to Chihombori-Quao’s criticism are the two CFA zones in west and central Africa. Colloquially known as the franc, this currency is used in some West African and Central African countries under the administration of France, as decreed in 1945 by General de Gaulle. Ostensibly set up to ensure currency stability for its members, the CFA is used in some 14 west and central African countries.

In her rant against France’s continued neo-colonial and imperial designs, Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao, reminded everyone of the vagaries visited on the two currency zones, which effectively stunt growth in those countries in the name of currency stability. Having their respective currencies pegged on the Euro makes these developing countries’ products uncompetitive, thus purchasing cheap imported goods is preferable to those produced locally.

The result is a stunted local industry. Some economists have argued that the billions of dollars of the CFA franc reserves sitting in France’s central bank could go to more fruitful use in the construction of schools, roads and hospitals in these African countries.

West African states, having assessed the pros and cons of remaining inside this CFA franc zone have begun the process of leaving the zone by launching a single currency system, the Economic Community of West African States that includes the biggest economy in the continent, Nigeria.

So, as Africans strengthen their resolve to wean themselves out of Western tutelage and continued exploitation, they are literally threatening established interests in those countries.

Hence it was not surprising in the eyes of many in Africa and in the diaspora that such swift action would be taken against an ambassador for pointing these out. A methodical, people-centred approach to an integrated economic zone is essential for Africa to determine her fate.

A petition is being circulated calling for the reinstatement of Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao to her role as the AU Permanent Ambassador to the US. The real facts surrounding the circumstances of her sacking remain in the speculative realm. One might not agree with every pronouncement she has made in her official role, but the injustice of her sacking ought to stir all who are displeased with the global injustice to which the continent, and others in the Global South, continue to be subjected.

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Contributors

Oupa Makhalemele

Oupa Makhalemele works in the Research, Policy and Advocacy Unit at the Film and Publication Board. He has published widely on transitional justice, local government and youth and identity in South Africa.

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