Kenya: The G7 Summit Through an African Journalist’s Eye
By Bernard Namunane*
At 10.15am on Friday, a battery of journalists filed into a hall hired by the European Union at the Hilton Hotel in the Sicilian city of Taormina, on the sea front of the Mediterranean Sea.
EU Commission president Jean-Claude Junker and the union’s Council president Donald Tusk walked in briskly, with few minders and aides, to brief journalists on their agenda during the 43rd G7 Summit meeting that was to get under way one hour later at Atahotel Capotaormina.
Like presidents of any organs of union of opulent nations, they were really brief in their briefing.
The need for the EU to unite and speak with one voice during the meeting on issues of terror, growing threats of nuclear war, immigration, climate change, Russia and the union’s position on Ukraine were the highlights.
They promised to be tough on US President Donald Trump, who has a habit of picking out individual EU member states for criticism, in the latest case, reports that he had accused Germany of enjoying high sales of Mercedes Benz vehicles in the US.
“The US cannot compare performance of an individual EU member state, it has to compare the entire EU performance,” said president Juncker.
They briefly turned to the war in Syria, threw a few verbal salvos at Russia and Iran for their prominent role in the war, and then to the disgusting outcome of the crisis — immigration and terror.
The six of us Kenyan journalists in the room, uniquely dark in the room, got excited — here comes an opportunity for Africa, a source and home to millions of refugees, to be talked out.
We held our breath as president Tusk spoke on immigration and terror.
He mentioned Europe, the Middle East and then… Asia, not Africa.
Only five questions were allowed. As it is becoming a tradition during such briefings, journalists who were to ask questions appeared to have been head-hunted. Journalists from Poland, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy asked the questions. Again nothing on Africa.
A sly grin, as if perturbed by our attempts to be given the floor to ask questions, was the only response from the EU spokesman.
The briefing ended with no mention of Africa.
Still determined to have the EU top organ presidents respond to questions on financing of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) and the fate of Kenyan goods in the face of delay by other East African countries to sign the union’s Economic Partnerships Agreement, the answer was short and stern: “Your issues (read African) will come up at later press conferences”.
Fact, this was not Africa’s meeting. Neither was it.
One of the issues that we had failed to notice was the apparent questioningly strange looks from fellow journalists and officials as what the hell were Kenyan journalists doing at a G7 Summit meeting.
You see, this is not just a common meeting.
The G7 Summit is a high-profile annual coming together of leaders of the world’s key most industrialised democracies.
Russia and China are not invited to the meeting.
Those who were taking special group photos at the Atahotel Capotaormina were Presidents Donald Trump (US), Emmanuel Macron (France), Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Ministers Theresa May (UK), Paolo Gentilon (Italy), Justin Trudean (Canada) and Shinzo Abe (Japan).
Media documents showed that the summit is discussing the way forward on how the world can act as a global force against terrorism, enforced immigration, nuclear threats in the Korean peninsula, how to tame a rogue Russia, the crisis in Syria, climate change, British exit from the EU and how to develop Africa.
Gradually, however, the G7 leaders are involving select leaders from African countries to find ways of solving the various challenges facing the continent.
“Initial interest in issues relating solely to financial stability and to macro-economic coordination were soon joined by an interest in other crucial themes ranging from development in Africa and climate change to food safety and the resolution of international crises,” one of the documents on the meeting states.
“It was Italy, in Genoa in 2001, that inaugurated the now traditional ‘African segment’ of the Summit, with dialogue sessions between the G7 leaders and the African countries invited by the Presidency.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta is one of the four heads of African state who have been invited to this year’s summit and he is expected to address the meeting on Saturday morning during the African segment.
In his article on taking part in the summit, President Kenyatta questioned the wisdom of keeping African leaders away from such meetings when the continent was the melting point of issues affecting the world.
“The continent is often at the sharp end of the greatest challenges facing our planet, combating terrorism or bridging the gaping disparity in trade that perpetuates poverty, it’s high time a voice from sub-Saharan Africa was given the platform,” argued Kenyatta.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia are also attending the meeting.
As the G7 were meeting to find solutions to global problems, statistics showed that over 20 million people in Yemen, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Nigeria were staring at starvation while global figures stood at 500 million.
More than 800 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished.
In 2015, when the G7 held its 41st meeting in Schloss Elmau, Krun in Germany’s Bavaria, they promised to lift 500 million people from hunger. Have they? These issues are not going to be solved without involving Africa.
“I want to see Kenya take her rightful place on the world stage, feeding into the multinational trade mosaic that has always been part of our fabric. As chair of EAC, we spearhead greater regional and pan-African cooperation as a basic strengthening of the continental prosperity of over 150 million East Africans,” said President Kenyatta.
A total of 65.3 million people globally are now living as refugees, with 21.3 million running away from crises. Ironically, they were meeting in Sicily, one of the main transit points for Africans running away from a war crisis in North Africa to Europe.
However, during the summit, soldiers and police officers were deployed to ensure no such embarrassment takes place.
It may be too early to make judgements from the meeting but there are doubts about the commitment to end Africa’s problems.
Apart of sparing the eminent G7 leaders the shame of seeing boatfuls of sick and starving refugees from Africa on the nearby pine forests and private beaches of Taormina, security was tight in the hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily.
The two had been divided into “area of restricted access”, which included the outskirts of the town, with special restrictions on local residents not to interfere with official convoys.
In the “area of maximum security” only delegates with official G7 badges were allowed to keep away protesters. Security was tighter at San Domenico Hotel, where they later moved to conclude their meeting on Friday.
At the end of the meeting, I fear there may be neither realistic solutions to Africa’s problems nor a blueprint for growth.
No wonder eminent South Korean development economist Ha-Joon Chang, in 2003, accused the leaders of the developed world (read G7), in his book Kicking Away the Ladder, of denying other countries the toolsthe G7 nations usedto modernise.
“Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the historical fact is that the rich countries did not develop on the basis of the policies and the institutions that they now recommend to, and often force upon, the developing countries,” he said.
“Unfortunately, this fact is little known these days because the ‘official historians’ of capitalism have been very successful in re-writing its history.”
*Daily Nation/Allafrica.Bernard Namunane, the Nation’s Assignment Editor, and Joan Pereruan, the Nation’s Photo Editor, are covering the G7 Summit in Sicily, Italy.