Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Bifurcation of the Continent of Africa

Event Title: The Bifurcation of the Continent of Africa: Bridging the Divide Between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa
Sponsor: The Africa Society of The National Summit on Africa
Location: Howard University- Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center
Date: 28th February.2007
Time: 2:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Approximate Number of Attendees: 45
Intern Attending: Aramide Bajulaiye

Featured Speakers: Ms. Linda Thomas- Greenfield, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs; His Excellency Amine Kherbi, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of Algeria; His Excellency Kwame Bawuhah-Edusei, Ambassador of the Republic of Ghana; Dr. Ben-Fred Mensah, Assistant Professor of Political Science in International Relations, Howard University.

There has been a growing realization that the division between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, created in the aftermath of colonialism by non-African governments and international organizations, calls for a closer look by African leaders and foreign governments. The panel of experts shed light on whether or how the current political and cultural separation can be addressed within Africa, and by outside actors.

The grounds for the bifurcation of Africa into two regions were political and cultural. Many outsiders perceived sub-Saharan Africa as being socially and culturally distinct from North Africa. According to this regional and racial classification, sub-Saharan Africa is comprised of traditional African cultures and societies and by the “black race.” North Africa, on the other hand, is dominated by the Arab culture, language, Islamic faith and “non-black,” peoples. Judged by their appearance, they were not considered culturally and socially African, with their roots originating in the Middle East.

In the past decade, there has been a growing recognition that the division of Africa into these two regions was created to fit Cold War and racial paradigms. While North Africa has a shared Arab heritage which distinguishes it from other regions in Africa, there are social, physical, cultural, and historical connections which unite North Africa with sub-Saharan Africa.

“Despite geographic and trade barriers imposed by Europeans, the new Africa will have easier trade, easier travel, and more democracy; lessening marginalization,” said Ambassador Kherbi, who began his diplomatic career specializing in sub-Saharan African affairs. Acknowledging the traditional divide between northern, mainly Muslim states and southern, mainly Christian nations in sub-Saharan Africa, Ambassador Kherbi said, “We also have a horizontal as well as vertical divide.” This means that, for example, flying from Tunisia to neighboring Morocco one must fly to Europe then to Morocco. Ambassador Kherbi went on to say that trade between Algeria and its neighbors is less than with Europe, despite the fact that European products must be shipped by sea or air to reach the continent.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, mentioned that, “bifurcation is not a constraint on how we conduct policy in Africa.” On a day-to-day basis, she said, the State Department’s Africa Bureau tends to focus on country-to-country relations. She continued to say that regional relationships are not ignored, and the African Bureau works closely with the African Union (AU). Within the AU the North African countries are equal members as ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). On security matters, Africa is indeed vital to the security of the U.S. Ambassador Kherbi agreed with Ms. Linda Greenfield adding, “democracy is vital to the security of the United States, and Africa should be looked upon as a whole; especially concerning important issues like terrorism and economic development.”

Ghanaian Ambassador, Kwame Bawuah-Edusei, noted the good news that good governance and democracy are now universally acknowledged as the most rapid way to achieve progress. They will help Africa move into the global market. Good governance and democracy, he said, will lead to direct transportation links within Africa, less corruption, and increased transparency in governance. According to Ambassador Kherbi, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is an economic plan designed to address the current challenges facing the African continent. It deals with issues such as poverty levels, underdevelopment, the continued marginalization of Africa, and the need for an intervention led by African leaders. Ambassador Kherbi ended the discussion pointing out that NEPAD is, “acting as a bridge towards integrating all of Africa as a whole in the global economy.”

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