Five basic features shape Euro-African relations. One, it is a relationship based on an asymmetrical power structure. Two, it is built over almost five centuries – from the days of slave trade to now – and deeply embedded in the institutions, culture and behaviour of both sides of the divide. Three, the colonially constructed language of discourse and terms of negotiations persist to this day. Four, it is essentially a contradictory, not harmonious, relationship. And five – and this is the most significant point – a general pattern is broadly discernible over the last 500 years. It starts with resistance (against slavery, colonialism, racism, etc.). Then it moves to active connivance on the part of sections of society (including those in state power), who then become agents of the exploiting/oppressor nations of Europe. Over time, when exploitation and oppression reach their limit, the cycle returns to the resistance mode. Today we are in the resistance stage – where Africa is in its current negotiations with the EU on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
The history of EPA negotiations is a long one, going back to the time of Africa’s independence beginning late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The Lome, Yaoundé and then Cotonou agreements were all signed partly under pressure and partly under the inducement of so-called development aid. Africa, as we all know, was fragmented by the European colonial powers in Berlin in 1984-85. The contemporary expression of Berlin is Cotonou. If Berlin was the European beginning of the journey of colonialism, Cotonou was the African end of its latest manifestation as neo-colonialism. Berlin was the apogee of colonial conquest; Cotonou is its more sophisticated disguise. Disguise because (Economic Partnership Agreements) EPAs are presented as if these are agreements between sovereign Europe and `sovereign` African states. It is a mystification of the new face of colonialism. Yes, African states are `sovereign` in the juridical-political sense. But their attempts to create an economic infrastructure at national and regional levels have been systematically sabotaged by imperial machinations.
With the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995 all Free Trade Agreements such as EPAs have to conform to the rules of the WTO over a certain period. There are procedures that allow a “waiver” to this rule. And this has been done with EPAs in the past and could be done again. But the EU is not interested in waiver, and has now given Africa a unilaterally imposed ultimatum of October, 2014 to sign the EPAs, or else ….
The good news is that whilst African states and governments are still in the connivance/adaptation phase, the people at the grassroots are moving into the resistance phase. One demonstration is the recent judgement of the High Court in Kenya. In 2007, the Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum (KSSFF) filed a case against the Government of Kenya on the EPA issue. In their plaint the Forum argued that if the EPAs were signed in their current form, they would put at risk the livelihoods of millions of farmers across Kenya and the rest of the East African region. They might have added that the EPAs would also hold back Kenya and the region’s industrialisation.
On 30 October, 2013, the High court ruled in the farmer’s favour. The Court also directed the government to establish a mechanism for involving stakeholders (including the small scale farmers) in the on-going EPA negotiations, and furthermore, within thirty days, to publish information regarding the negotiations for public awareness and in order to encourage public debate on this matter of utmost importance to the people of Kenya and the region.
This is a game changer for the EPA negotiations; it speaks to a push for more transparency and participation in the decisions and decision processes. No longer can the Kenya government push the EPA down the throats of the people. Of course, the EU might go ahead and sanction Kenya if it fails to sign the EPA by EU’s unilaterally imposed deadline of October 2014. But that would be an act of war against the people of Kenya. Sanctions are acts of war, in this case “trade war” against Kenya in Europe’s desperate effort to grab African resources for their industries.
All people of Kenya, of East Africa, of Africa and all solidarity movements everywhere must show their solidarity to this courageous act of the small farmers of Kenya in daring to defy their government and challenging it to fight back the imperial imposition of EPAs. Things change slowly, but they do change.