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In a panel discussion in the 17th Dialogue of Civilisations Rhodes Forum where relations of Africa, Europe and China were discussed, Mahamadou Issoufou, President of the Republic of Niger expressed his disappointment with Europe regarding involvement and co-operation with African nations and the African Union. As an example, he mentioned that although Niger is the neighbouring country of Libya and any disorder has significant effects on his country, The European nations and the United States did not inform Niger about their plans to intervene in Libya.

He learned about the bombardment and the military intervention in Libya from the radio after it happened. 

The regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was toppled by a coalition of the United States and European countries, lead by Nicolas Sarkozy's France, with catastrophic consequences. The country has been since in chaos and has turned into a hub for human trafficking and illegal migration to Europe. "We would have warned them about the consequences," said president Issoufou. "Today, we have to tackle the consequences of this intervention."

Ivor Ichikowitz, South African-born industrialist, social entrepreneur, philanthropist and the founder of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, agreed with the President of Niger on Europe ignoring Africa. "The current Scramble for Africa that we're seeing now is the rest of the world turning around and saying while we were sleeping, the Chinese have stolen the March," said Ichikowitz. "When the rest of the world ignored us; when Africa needed the rest of the world most; when African needed the North most, the North didn't believe in us at all, and they left us to our own devices, and the Chinese stepped in, and they made a contribution which changed the complexity of the continent completely. They made real investments in the billions of dollars. They put their money where their mouth is." 

Africa Themed panel discussions in the forum were popular with the attendees and speakers. Topics such as China's activities and Europe's ignorance of Africa were discussed by participants from Europe, Africa and China.  

Kabiné Komara, Former Prime Minister of Guinea, and High Commissioner of OMVS emphasised the transformational role of the African Free Trade Agreement, which has been in the making for decades. "This agreement is a huge opportunity for the entire continent. There will be no tariffs, and we will have a free exchange of goods within the area. Even if 50% of the entire trade of Africa is done within the area, it still means a lot in terms of development" commented Komara. 

Panellists also underlined the vast human and natural resources of Africa, mentioning the abundant of the young workforce and leapfrogging of many sectors due to the digital revolution.

"Let me remind you that when our countries became independent in the 1960s, African and Asian countries had the same economic feature," Said President of Niger Mohamadou Issoufou. "For example, South Korea was even less developed than some African countries back then and yet

today; South Korea is way ahead of African countries and way ahead of Latin American countries. South Korea is the 12th ranked of world economies, India is the fifth power and China second," he continued. "Asian countries were able to take full advantage of the phenomenon of delocalisation of Western industries that were trying to maximise their profit by moving manufacturing to Asia."

He then underlined the fact that Africa is exporting massive amount of natural resources which are being processed and modified elsewhere and when the end product is sold, what Africa receives as its share for the raw material remains insignificant. This practice is senseless, as Africa has a lot of workforce which can be used to develop and manufacture products from the raw material itself. "We have cocoa, for instance. We can have a lot more revenue by actually producing chocolate, rather than just exporting cocoa. We also import fifty billion dollars worth of cereals every year. Now we have to stop that and develop our agriculture."

The issue of climate change and the role of Africa in both tackling the problem and as potentially one of the most affected parts of the world was also discussed in the panel. 

"It is not a matter of being aware of climate change. We are living the climate change. Go to Lake Niger, and you will see how the level has dropped. Twenty-five hundred square kilometres of land are under the threat of desertification," Commented Jean-Yves Ollivier, founder and director of the Brazzaville Foundation with one focus being environmental problems in Africa. 

"We ask Africans to protect their forests, but nobody is giving them the means to produce something else around the forest. They are forbidden from cutting down trees, but they do not get any compensation for that."

Ichikowitz agreed with Olivier's comments: "I think partnerships between Africa and the rest of the world are going to have to extend to everything where there are mutual issues. Not destroying the forests in Gabon and in Congo and in Cameroon has a direct effect on air quality in London, and there has to be a consequence for that. For an African government to decide to make 2/3 of their land available to remain forested against the interest of growth and development is a

huge commitment and there needs to be a consequence for that, and I think that this new generation of partnerships needs to take all of those things into consideration." 

The 16th Rhodes Forum on Dialogue of Civilisations was held in Rhodes Greece on October 11 and 12. The forum, which was established in 2013 by the Berlin-based DOC Research Institute has facilitated debate and exchange of ideas between thought leaders in academia, diplomacy, business and political fields. Many current and former heads of state have attended and participated in discussions. 

In addition to the above mentioned and President of the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou; Other speakers of this year's forum included: Former president of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz; former Secretary of State for European Affairs in Portugal, Bruno Maçães; Former Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert; Former Prime Minister of Austria, Alfred Gusenbauer; and numerous parliamentarians, academics and thinkers from all around the globe from India to to Canada and the United States. The full list of speakers can be found here. 

This year's umbrella theme was: Global (dis)order, Towards dialogue-based world views. Other topics included multilateralism and globalisations; the future of knowledge, education and learning, and the role of the civil society. Over 300 attendees and 51 speakers from 50+ countries were attending the event in the Greek island of Rhodes. Sessions were moderated by Ali Aslan, Stefan Grobe, Martina Fuchs, and Hannane Ferdjani.

Video recordings of all sessions can be viewed here.


Alexis Kouros - HT

Image: DOC Forum