Geopolitics

Abidjan Postcard: Black Lives Matter, But They're Different Here

The movement rising up in the wake of George Floyd's death is built on a question of identity and shared history, not a unified community of interests and experiences.

George Floyd mural in Kibera, Kenya
Jean-Hugues Cherif N. N'doli

-Analysis-

ABIDJAN — From Paris to Dakar, black populations have risen up against the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman. The global outrage over this umpteenth racial crime by U.S. police has given some activists ideas, and they are now calling for a coordinated political response from the black community around the world.

Still, at the same time, others are questioning this appropriation of a problem they would like to see as exclusively American. There have been strong reactions and incomprehension from French political leaders surprised by the scale of the demonstration in memory of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old man who died during his arrest by the French military police in July 2016. The search for the exact cause of his death has given rise to an endless forensic battle over the past four years.

The George Floyd case resonates with Adama Traoré. That's a fact. But in a world dominated by the concept of the nation-state, can there be a politically active transnational black community?

A community is a social group of people who share the same characteristics, culture and way of life, a shared language and shared interests. According to these criteria, such a black community that some dream of bringing together does not exist. It is only a fantasy. Although black people undeniably share the same skin color, this is their only common characteristic. They have no language, no culture, no common interests.

While African-American and Afro-European struggles are mainly directed against a state racism that ostracizes them, Black Africans' struggles are aimed more at satisfying their basic needs (security, health, etc.). Thus, the different interests and objectives of the various black populations remain major obstacles to a unified global movement.

Identity is based on a common social experience shared by black populations.

The absence of a black community has not, however, prevented the development of a black identity. As historian Pap Ndiaye points out, this identity is based on a common social experience shared by black populations is first and foremost the fruit of a common history. Moreover, whether they are African American, West Indian or African, they have their origins on the same continent and share a past marked by slavery and/or colonial systems. Similarly, musically, although the sounds differ, bridges exist between the Lagos ambience and the Bronx rappers.

It is this shared foundation that allows for the development of a sense of identity that makes black populations united and actors in what has begun as an African-American struggle. It is in this sense that the official condemnation of Floyd's murder by Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, is a call for action: It gives a political voice to a group that until now had been deprived of one.

While it is unlikely that an African initiative will be able to impose itself in the U.S. racial debate, this indignation at the highest political level on our continent gives a significant echo to the notion of black identity and accentuates the media pressure on American decision-makers. In the absence of a sustainable political community, it is a sense of identity that has become the vector of solidarity for the struggles of black populations around the world.



*Jean-Hugues Chérif N'doli is an Ivory Coast financial analyst and blogger.

*This article was translated with permission of the author.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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