The just concluded eighteenth edition of African Union (AU) summit, which wrapped up Monday 30 January in Africa's political capital, Ethiopia, was not after all as fruitless as it sounded to be.
Yes, many waters have passed under the bridge since the last AU summit in which many issues were left pending. Promises had been made to address those issues, and in some cases, actions were taken. But the results largely leave much to be desired.
Therefore, many issues were expected to be tabled for discussion when African leaders converged once again in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Some of the issues were so pertinent and urgent that urgent decisions from the continent's highest decision-making body, the African Union Assembly of heads of state and governments, was required.
Unfortunately, most of those issues were overshadowed, if not bullied by the controversial stalemate in the election of the chairperson of the African Union Commission, the body that executes the executive functions of the continental grouping.
But arguably, contrary to what others believe, the election was a time, energy and resources worth investing in. For the position of the chairperson of the AU Commission is crucial.
One of the most important decisions taken by African leaders was the resolve to pursue banking reforms, a free trade area for the entire continent in five years, and the modernisation of rail, air and road transport to boost trade. This is in line with the theme of this year's summit. And if it is anything to go by, then the African Union has started walking the talking.
For instance, according to reports monitored at the summit, the African leaders have also agreed to seek international financial support to implement an ambitious US$78 billion plan for major infrastructure projects, to connect the continent for ease of trade and to fight off effects of an economic decline.
In this regard, the leaders agreed to seek new sources of funds, drawn from taxation of aid money in the continent, taxes from minerals and mining deals and revenues drawn from dealings with banks within Africa as well as multilateral bodies, to fund the trade boost.
This, if achieved, will transform Africa's rich natural resources into a blessing for the continent, rather than a curse, as it has been far too long.
Accordingly, Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, currently the chair of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), was mandated to lead a 7-member heads of state committee, called the "High Level African Trade Committee," to look into ways of raising the funds required.
And the AU, the UN-Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Development Bank were mandated to carry out studies on the implementation of the road map to a Free Trade Area.
Besides, this year's summit also witnessed the inauguration of the new AU headquarters built by China for "free" to the tune of about US$200 million. And China was made the honored guest at the summit. The opening session, as well as the closing, was filled with expressions of gratitude for Beijing's gift of a new AU headquarters while the West was criticised for poking its nose into our issues and interfering with our sovereignty.
The summit, no doubt, reflects Africa's increasing tilt towards China, whose influence on the continent is growing rapidly.
But how free is China's 'free gifts' to Africa, which African leaders seem too happy to consume? Is this a new form of scramble for Africa? What must China be hiding under its sleeves? How should African leaders weigh whatever that China wants against the interest of Africa and her people? At a time now, more than ever before, when Africa needs to promote intra-African trade, where should apparent expansionists and aspiring imperialists like China be placed? There are millions of Africans wallowing in abject poverty and hunger, why did China instead prefer to invest hugely in the construction of such an expensive edifice? Is China's gesture done out of love or sympathy for Africa?
These are questions that this paper believes, as Africans, we should ask ourselves and debate about it in order to come out with best decisions and best mode of approach in our dealings with China or any other power.
Clearly, our African leaders are only too happy to receive string-free funds from China and the likes. They love not to be asked to account for the funds received on behalf of the people. The Pandora's box is now open for debate.