What post-Covid Africa / EU relationship?

In the mid-seventies of the last century, the Director General of Nestlé at the time gave a press conference in Bern (Switzerland), which I attended, to answer questions from NGOs relating to powder milk (for babies) marketed in Africa. He first indicated how proud he was to have started his job as an apprentice at the bottom of the Swiss multinational before rising through the ranks to become its top manager. Since that time, at Nestlé as elsewhere, the big decision-makers at the top of the big groups have almost exclusively been recruited from among financiers, sometimes without any intrinsic knowledge of the industrial activity they were called upon to manage. And these new types of leaders continue to have in common the motto of profit at all costs, for shareholders first, even if the number of employees has to be downsized at will to meet this goal. In short, this marked the starting point of the financialization of society which today affects a large part of global companies, particularly those of our European neighbors, who are also our ex-colonizers *.

*: We understand by colonizer in this article, one or the other of the European countries which colonized African countries. For us in Morocco and West Africa, it is mainly the French state.

The “magma of profit at all costs” now bathes, in a more or less pronounced way, the main part of the activities of the private sectors all over the world and, for certain countries on the north side of the Mediterranean, as the crisis of Covid-19 has just revealed, “the motto of easy and immediate gain” is about to engulf them in an existential crisis from which they will probably take a long time to recover. It is true that the one who seeks profit and only profit ends up acquiring an opportunist and mercantile spirit which consists in investing the minimum possible in order to quickly reap the maximum that he can. In this regard, in the eighties of the past century, while working as a manager in a pharmaceutical group in Casablanca, I was able to observe that orders for medicinal active principles, worded in accordance with pharmacopoeias of large European countries, were supplied from China directly to Morocco, sometimes without even passing by the country in whose name the certification was granted. The occasional verification of the initial selling price and the one invoiced to us by the European Broker showed substantial margins for the latter. This mercantilism which consists in the redistribution of the “made in china”, or of another country outside Europe, by tinkering it to make it appear as “made in EU”, supposedly “above all suspicion”, must have turned out to be extremely juicy, quick, easy and risk-free, to the point that EU countries no longer saw any (financial) interest in producing anything at home.

As a result, with the outbreak of Covid-19, several EU countries no longer knew how to make a face mask, or an artificial respirator or any other material that could have helped slow the pandemic. In addition, the sudden slowdown in international trade has also highlighted the EU’s dependence on a number of medicines, previously supplied from China, which suddenly became rare or not found in European pharmacies, such as paracetamol for example. European countries then began to reiterate in unison their desire to regain their manufacturing sovereignty over many products in order to face potential future crises. In other words, the EU seemed to rediscover, on the occasion of this pandemic, the virtues of the real economy and to measure the extent of the misery of de-industrialization to which a mercantilist financialization of their economy has led them with the aim of rapid gain by speculation.

It is useful to remember that these colossal financial gains, which are they real, which have benefited European societies, have been achieved mainly at the expense of our African companies.

But this backlash in the face of Europeans, generated by the EU’s lack of preparation for Covid-19, will not have displeased China, which finally sees the balance of serious and credible work tilted towards his favor.

In reality, it is not only the Chinese and their work that are belittled by the Europeans. We too, and our work in Africa, suffer the same type of denigration. So, on the eve of the launch of the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) on January 1, 2021, it may be useful for us to draw inspiration from the Chinese approach, which has enabled China to enhance its credibility in the face of the EU, to guide us in achieving the same goal of credibility in turn.

What pleads in our favor is that we have our raw materials locally in Africa and their valuation is only a matter of will. The officials concerned of the AfCFTA are already looking into this chapter to find solutions to the questions that arise among which the rules of origin are in pole position.

Obviously, if we make food products, it is to eat them ourselves and sell them to others. But to export, it is necessary to respect sanitary and phytosanitary standards required by the Codex Alimentarius. This is where the shoe pinches, because while the EU puts its own standards ahead of Codex, the African continent as a whole has not produced its own standards to date. It is a thing of the past to consider the EU, our past colonizer, did everything to prevent us from achieving this goal. At the same time, we must recognize that we still depend on the accreditation of their private organizations which sometimes shamelessly overcharge our African companies before issuing them the necessary certificate. At the same time, this allows our ex-colonizers to know everything about our work and to control our entire business. It is not colonization by guns, but it is economic colonialism, devious and pernicious, which is far more complicated to get rid of.

But on closer inspection, perhaps it’s less complicated than it seems to regain our sovereignty over our economies, particularly in the agro-industrial sector which is the priority for us in Africa at the moment. Those responsible for advancing the work of AfCFTA will surely find a modus vivendi for cooperation on the basis of Codex and other international standards. But the issue of accreditation and / or certification of our private companies, so that they can fully exercise their production and export activities, will also have to find a solution.

In this regard, the concept of accreditation, or its corollary the certification, is based on two principles, Knowledge and Credibility. Today, knowledge about industrial food processing, with a few rare exceptions, is in the public domain and accessible to everyone. You just have to take a quick tour of the USFDA (US Food and Drug Administration) website, or the Codex Alimentarius to be convinced. On the other hand, credibility, that is to say the recognition of the sincere and regulatory side of an issued document (certification or other), is a quality that the signatory of such documents acquires through serious and solid work over the long run.

However, politicians at home in Morocco, some of whom have enriched themselves by being civil servants, or in the cash economy and / or speculation, like to paint a rosy picture of our industrial activities, foremost among which is the agro-industrial sector. In our opinion, the situation in Morocco, in particular, and probably in many other countries of our continent, is alarming in this regard. In the sense that if the private company, designed to make a profit, is likely to lend itself to possible abuses to make more money in defiance of the law, and that the certification of its work and / or its products can be justified in the eyes of regulatory bodies, it is on the other hand bizarre that official bodies (of the State) in our country, such as ONSSA (National Food Safety Office) or LOARC (Official Laboratory of Chemical Analysis and Research) are certified by foreign  private certifiers. So, to show other African brother countries and friends the basics of working according to standards, we must first get rid of the minor status in credibility in which we have been locked up for over 60 years.

In addition, the EU certification bodies in question make the issuance of their certificates conditional on strict adherence to EU standards. However, these European standards, which deal with everything and its opposite, are neither set in stone nor incontestable. For example, the British want to abandon them from next January, the effective date of Great Britain’s exit from the EU (Brexit); to use their own standards, which nevertheless formed the basis on which the ISO standards were developed.

China for its part works according to USFDA standards, which are considered more reliable and objective. In this regard, if Europeans now recognize (half-heartedly) the reliability of raw materials sourced from China, they are still far from accepting the relevance of the Middle Kingdom in biological disciplines. Otherwise, they would have placed orders for the Chinese vaccine as they have done for others. But, they probably fear that such an act would validate de facto the considerable advance in the field of Chinese medical scientific research on the Europeans who will then have to content themselves with occupying a place at the back of their competitors.

The bitter reality is that the countries of the EU are less and less competitive, more and more speculators, whose commercial radius of the Euro is narrowing day by day and who find themselves today in a situation that we do not envy them. It is all of these reasons that must have prompted them to knock again on the door of the African Union (AU) to request what amounts to a second chance to cooperate with our continent, supposedly on new bases. The AU has not closed the door, but in a letter last Tuesday the Union postponed a possible meeting with the Europeans until next year. This time should probably be used to study on what criteria one must base oneself to conclude that people who remained for centuries in Africa and left behind only illiteracy and misery can be considered today as cured of greed and the speculative spirit that characterized the colonial era.