Recent developments in Africa and the progress registered over the last two decades have earned the continent a place in the new world order.
The observation was made by President Paul Kagame while addressing members of the France-based think-tank Institut Francais de Relations Internationales (IFRI) in Paris, yesterday, as he continued his two-day official visit to the European country.
Speaking about the changing global reality, President Kagame noted that it is time for Africans to get to know what role they should play in shaping the new world order and to ensure that they are well integrated in it and the West to understand this global reality.
“I think the answer to this complex question is that Africa, the West, and other partners must recognise and accept that times have changed,” President Kagame said.
“Africa, including Rwanda, is quite different from even just a decade or two ago. Today’s challenges dictate different approaches, including a readiness to adapt and adjust to new circumstances. Our relations and respective roles should therefore reflect this reality.”
The Head of State noted that it is becoming clear that African countries are poised to play a more strategic role in reshaping and stabilising the international landscape, observing, however, that the new world order comes with its own challenges and opportunities.
“This presents us with both opportunities and challenges – an opportunity to develop more diplomatic and trade relations with African states, with of course the corresponding challenge of redefining past and current approaches to foreign policy,” he said, adding;
“In Africa’s case, economic performance in the last decade gives the continent a unique opportunity to claim a more active role and a stronger bargaining position in the global arena,”
President Kagame observed that Africa’s real GDP rose 409 percent every year from 2000 to 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and 90s, putting the continent’s collective GDP at US$1.6 trillion in 2008.
The new dynamics, he said, put Africa at equal footing with big economies like Brazil and Russia and means that the continent is among the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions.
“Africa’s economic growth gained greatly from the surge in global commodity prices over the past decade. But it is not only resources that explain Africa’s emerging strong position,” he said
The Head of State said the continent acquired its current status due to deliberate actions of individual governments to end political conflict and embrace democratic governance.
He observed that the continent drew lessons from the last two decades of the last century that improved macroeconomic conditions and a better business climate make diplomatic and business engagement with Africa imperative.
Among other factors, President Kagame said that Africa’s growth is also increasingly fuelled by domestic social and demographic factors, such as increasing urbanisation, a growing middle class and an expanding and skilled labour force.
He added that these factors lead to greater consumption of goods and services and today there are 52 African cities with a population of more than one million people each.
“The urban and middle class population in Africa is about 40% of the continent’s total, and it is projected that by 2020 people in this income category will have doubled, with a combined consumer spending of 1.4 trillion USD,” he said
President Kagame also highlighted another important factor of Africa being at the centre of the global supply chain - a strategic source of almost 40 per cent of raw materials, agriculture, fresh water and energy essential for global growth, which is an opportunity to be utilised.
“In order to benefit from this position, African countries have to engage with trading partners on the basis of what is in their best interests. They must be strategic in their dealings and pursue partnerships where everyone involved has something to gain,”
“It is not only Africa that can benefit from a new international reality – the West can also seize this opportunity to improve the economic climate and build better relations with Africa,” he added.
He observed that if African countries harness the ties they have with Europe appropriately, for mutual economic growth, then even the entry of other players can be seen for what it really is – healthy and useful competition.
Increasing intra-trade on mutual terms, President Kagame said, can lead to Africa depending less on aid as a development tool, and foster the rise of true partnerships.
For Rwanda, and indeed the rest of Africa, to play their new role effectively, Kagame said certain conditions must be in place, including the imperative for African governments to be responsive to their people’s needs and ensuring that the gains of progress are shared fairly and that citizens participate meaningfully in their own governance.
In Rwanda, the Head of State said, the government has built modern institutions based on Rwandan traditional values and they work. People devise their own strategies to answer their specific needs and accomplish what they want.
“Africa today is better placed to play a pivotal role in international affairs, but will only do so effectively as a partner in the true sense of the word,”
“In the new reality, relations between nations and their respective roles cannot be built on expectations of favours or accepting a status quo that came to be at the will of some and without the consent of others,” he said.