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An African looking at Latin America

By March 19, 2017Summit 2017

The Latin American region is of growing importance to Africa as global realignment takes place. It has a growing population of roughly 645 million as of October 2016 in a combined land mass of 19,197,000 square kilometers which is roughly 13 % of the earth surface. It has a 2015 combined GDP of 9,517,000 and a per capita of 15, 617.79. The general purchasing power, therefore, is big despite great wealth disparities in the region, and within various countries.

Most of that purchasing power is concentrated in those countries whose per capita is above 15,000 and have sizeable population of about 18 million people and above. The richest and therefore most powerful countries in terms of population, territory, and per capita distribution are the competing giants of Brazil, in South America, and Mexico in North America. Argentina in South America is a distant third. Of the three, Brazil is the most diverse, vibrant, and attractive to Africa in part because it has a big sense of independence and has a large African population. Mexico, tied to the US in ways other than neighbourhood, struggles to appear independent. Argentina, with roughly 2% black population, would like to come from the shadow of Brazil and reaching out to Africa is one way.

Although Latin America is geographically in the Western Hemisphere, it is not a member of the exploitative Conceptual West, meaning those countries that identify with the interests of Western Europe and its mental extension in the United States, Canada, Australasia, and Japan. Instead, it belongs to the South-South geopolitical constellation of exploited and marginalized regions. Latin American countries, having common experiences with Africa of suffering colonization, exploitation, and marginalization, therefore, have interests in linking up with Africa.

Latin America complimented Africa in terms of ideological experiments and intellectual stimulation. Some of the most brilliant minds tackling African anti-imperial challenges over time were from Latin American. They include Marcus Garvey, Ivan van Sertima, George Padmore, Frantz Fanon, and Walter Rodney. In the field of education thinking, it was Brazilian Paulo Freire, with his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, who captivated education policy makers and thinkers in Africa. Latin America intellectuals, among them being Argentina’s Raul Prebisch and Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cordoso who became president, gave the world the dependency core-periphery theory which African leaders and intellectuals embraced.

Some inspired political revolutionaries, stressing class struggle and became examples where they succeeded. Ernesto Che Guevara, an Argentinian friend of Fidel Castro in Cuba, was inspiration in his revolutionary zeal although he was not very successful in Congo. There was also Castro successfully leading Cuba to resist multi-front American onslaughts. That ability to resist prolonged American hostility inspired anti-colonial warriors in the wars of liberation in Southern Africa. Castro’s standing skyrocketed in Africa when in 1975 Cuba helped to repel apartheid invasion in Angola.

Even in matters of faith, Latin America inspired. It is responsible for the concept of “liberation theology” in which ministers were to show concern for the political well being of the flock if they were to have any people to minister to. For them, the political was the spiritual and any attempt to separate the two was to sacrifice the flock to the whims of tyrants. Post-colonial African theologians found that argument very appealing. And now there is the Argentinian at the Vatican, Pope Francis, who is busy reassessing St. John’s claims on divine exclusivity. He recasts the concept of the “Sacred” to include other belief systems as possible routes for reaching God. And African theologians like the drive for faith inclusivity in part because it allows for the concept of the “Sacred” to include pre-European African belief systems as also being Christian.

Currently, Latin America appears to be adjusting itself to the geopolitical realities of the 21st Century in which the centre of global power is not necessarily the United States or Western Europe. Similarly, focusing on countering the United States, the essence of 21st Century Socialism, has to give way to paying attention to other regions with similar interests. In part this is because the plummeting of the oil prices put Latino socialists on the defensive and the appeal of the 21st Century Socialism disappeared in the face of geopolitical hardships. Subsequently, Latin America has to look to other regions with similar interests as it adjusts to the exigencies of the 21st Century. Africa is one such region. The Business Summit on what the two regions can do together is part of that readjustment.

Professor Macharia Munene
Professor of History and International Relations,
United States International University, Africa (USIU-A).
International Faculty at UJI, Spain,
Professorial Affiliate at NDC, Nairobi, Kenya
UN recognised Expert on Decolonisation
In the Top 100 CCTV-4 Commentators in the world.

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