Tame geo-pol­i­tics to se­cure Africa’s ‘eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion’

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - SUNDAY REVIEW -

Eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion is the goal of all so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­forms. It is Pope Fran­cis who wrote: "We are faced not with two sep­a­rate crises, one en­vi­ron­men­tal and the other so­cial, but rather with one com­plex cri­sis which is both so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal. Strate­gies for a so­lu­tion de­mand an in­te­grated ap­proach to com­bat­ing poverty, restor­ing dig­nity to the ex­cluded, and at the same time pro­tect­ing na­ture”.

Un­doubt­edly, the re­cently con­cluded Blue Econ­omy Sum­mit in Nairobi this week may have set the agenda for the con­sol­i­da­tion of an “eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion” in Africa’s In­dian Ocean seaboard.

But lin­ger­ing geo-po­lit­i­cal ri­val­ries and weak state ca­pac­ity to se­cure and govern the mar­itime space re­main ma­jor stick­ing points in the build­ing of an “eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion” in­te­grat­ing land­based and ocean economies.

Schol­ars and an­a­lysts use “eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion” to re­fer to a syn­the­sis of eco­nomic, ed­u­ca­tional, po­lit­i­cal, agri­cul­tural, and other so­ci­etal re­forms bal­anc­ing the im­per­a­tives of pro­duc­tiv­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.

It is a form of hu­man civil­i­sa­tion based on eco­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples, which re­sults from ef­fec­tive re­sponses to so­cial in­jus­tices and global cli­mate dis­rup­tion. It is the end state of so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­form in a polity.

For thou­sands of years, Africa’s In­dian Ocean seaboard has been the con­ver­gence of civil­i­sa­tions, which have dis­rupted the emer­gence of a strong eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion in the re­gion.

The “Swahili civil­i­sa­tion” marked the ear­li­est at­tempt to es­tab­lish an eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion in Africa’s In­dian Ocean coast.

This marine civil­i­sa­tion, es­tab­lished by the Bantu peo­ple who were joined by Arab mer­chants and traders, was flour­ish­ing by the first cen­tury AD, en­com­pass­ing So­ma­lia, Kenya, Tan­za­nia, Mozam­bique, the Is­lands of Zanz­ibar, Co­moros and pen­e­trated deep into Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Malawi and North­ern Zam­bia.

The civil­i­sa­tion’s affluence, beauty and power are well doc­u­mented by the Moroccan in­tel­lec­tual and trav­eller, Abu Ab­dul­lah ibn Bat­tuta, who ex­ten­sively toured the re­gion in the 14th cen­tury.

To­day, as in the past, lo­cal in­se­cu­ri­ties and ex­ter­nal geo-po­lit­i­cal ri­val­ries and in­ter­ven­tions by ma­jor pow­ers have con­tin­u­ally un­der­mined ef­forts to con­sol­i­date an eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion in Africa’s In­dian Ocean rim.

It is against this his­tor­i­cal back­drop that China is craft­ing its diplo­macy in the In­dian Ocean Belt, hoisted on three con­cep­tual pil­lars. One is an ap­peal to his­tory. In 2018, China cel­e­brates 613 years since the fa­mous ad­mi­ral and diplo­mat of its Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644), Zheng He, made seven ex­pe­di­tions to West­ern In­dian Ocean re­gion be­tween 1405 and 1433, in­clud­ing to the coasts of So­ma­lia, Kenya, Tan­za­nia and pos­si­bly Mozam­bique.

Chi­nese diplo­mats and schol­ars stress­ing the peace­ful en­coun­ters be­tween the 5000year old Chi­nese civil­i­sa­tion and African civil­i­sa­tions to counter the nar­ra­tive of a clash of civil­i­sa­tion and to project its eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion model.

Sec­ond, China is show­cas­ing its com­mit­ment to build­ing part­ner­ships for “eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion.” Since 2007, “eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion” has be­come an ex­plicit goal of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) and a core prin­ci­ple guid­ing its de­vel­op­ment.

Dur­ing a side event at the blue econ­omy sum­mit, Bei­jing’s Di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Na­tional Marine Data and In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice (NMDIS) in the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, Mr He Guang­shun, placed Bei­jing’s eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion model at the cen­tre of the blue econ­omy de­bate. He ex­pressed China’s com­mit­ment to in­ject “vi­tal­ity into the global green and sus­tain­abil­ity agenda.”

Third is Bei­jing’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI), a de­vel­op­ment strat­egy adopted by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in­volv­ing in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment and in­vest­ments in coun­tries in Africa, Asia and Europe. Be­sides “the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt” con­sist­ing of over­land routes (road and rail trans­porta­tion), the BRI ini­tia­tive com­prises sea routes col­lec­tively known as the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road link­ing China to West­ern

In­dian Ocean Blue Econ­omy es­ti­mated to be US$22 bil­lion.

Por­tu­gal, which is set to co-host the United Na­tions Oceans Con­fer­ence with

Kenya in June 2020, is an in­te­gral ac­tor in the story of the ebbs and flows of eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion in Eastern Africa. Us­ing their so­phis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy in­clud­ing bet­ter and faster ships (car­racks) well equipped for naval war­fare, the Por­tuguese con­quered and oc­cu­pied the West In­dian Ocean coast for 200 years be­tween 1500 and 1700 — and ac­tu­ally re­mained in Mozam­bique for another 275 years.

Bri­tain is another ma­jor power shap­ing the for­tunes of eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion in Eastern Africa. Dis­cernibly, be­sides deep­en­ing its transat­lantic re­la­tions with Amer­ica and Canada, Bri­tain’s post-brexit global strat­egy is to trans­form the Com­mon­wealth club — com­pris­ing 53 coun­tries across all con­ti­nents and a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of 2.3 bil­lion peo­ple, al­most a third of the world pop­u­la­tion (94pc liv­ing in Asia and Africa com­bined) — into a for­mi­da­ble eco­nomic bloc.

Ahead of the im­pend­ing with­drawal of the United King­dom from the Euro­pean Union by March 29 next year, the UK has al­ready started piv­ot­ing to­wards the In­dian Ocean, in­clud­ing all the coun­tries on Africa’s In­dian Ocean Coast.

With the resur­gence of Cold War era geopol­i­tics, a med­ley of iso­la­tion­ism, pro­tec­tion­ism and pop­ulism threat­ens to un­der­mine the emer­gence of a strong “eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion” in the In­dian Ocean.

Although the Don­ald

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has drifted to­wards iso­la­tion­ism, pro­tec­tion­ism and antien­vi­ron­men­tal­ism partly to counter the dual chal­lenge to its global dom­i­nance by China, Rus­sia and the Euro­pean Union, the US has in­creased its foot­prints in the re­gion.

While a resur­gent Rus­sia is mak­ing se­ri­ous in­roads into Africa’s In­dian Ocean Coast, the Gulf states are locked in fierce geo-strate­gic strug­gles over the re­gion. The prospects of an eco­log­i­cal civil­i­sa­tion in Africa de­pend on African coun­tries bol­ster­ing their ca­pac­ity to ef­fec­tively govern their marine do­mains and se­cure the blue econ­omy.

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