Not long after her termination, more than 80,000 people signed an online petition demanding the reinstatement of former African Union (AU) Ambassador to the U.S. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, perhaps out of a belief that external forces didn’t take well to her criticism of France’s economic foothold on its former colonial subjects.
On Friday — her first day as a civilian — a calm, yet emboldened Chihombori-Quao channeled the spirits of Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah in her calls for a unified, financially solvent Africa and France’s prosecution for what she described as crimes against humanity.
“No longer shall we continue to be exploited. France is stealing from us in broad daylight. It’s downright bullying, just that simple,” Chihombori-Quao told an audience of several dozen friends, family, colleagues and supporters during an “Evening of Appreciation” at Swahili Village Bar and Grill in Beltsville, Maryland.
“I’m going to talk to those 80,000 people with a petition to get France [out of Africa],” she continued as revelers, dressed in neatly fitted suits and West African garb, belted praises and clapped their hands. “They can’t bully us for our money. We will approach the United Nations with a million signatures and ask, ‘What the hell this is?’ Enough is enough.”
This farewell event preceded a meeting in Dallas scheduled for Nov. 9 in anticipation of an upcoming $3 trillion free trade agreement in Africa, called the largest of its kind in World Trade Organization history.
Starting July 2020, 54 out of 55 African countries can buy and sell nearly all tarrif-less commodities, goods, and services to each other, an arrangement that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in an appeal to investors last month, predicted will increase the African intra-trade value by 10 percent within 20 years.
Currently, intra-continental trade between African countries stands at 15 percent, compared to 47 percent for the Americas, 61 percent for Asia, and 67 percent for Europe. In recent years, China and Russia, among several western and non-western countries, have increased their economic footprint on the continent. Infrastructure projects in Africa have boosted China’s economic and political influence on the continent. Last month, in advance of the Russia-Africa summit, the Russia government canceled $20 billion of Africa’s debt.
From 2017 until Oct. 7, when she received notice of her termination, Chihombori-Quao, a Zimbabwean medical doctor practicing in Tennessee, engaged Pan-African groups in the United States as part of an effort to strengthen the region’s ties with the African Union. One of her recent works, the Wakanda One Project, fostered the development of medical facilities, hotels, shopping centers and other structures in the five regions of Africa. In January, Zimbabwe and Zambia had reportedly cordoned off land for this endeavor.
Throughout her tenure, Chihombori-Quao espoused African political and economic unity. In her address before the National Newspaper Publishers Association in Orlando earlier this year, she tied the African continent’s modern-day issues to the Berlin Conference, the 19th century meeting of European nations that divided Africa into different pieces without any regard for its various tribes, languages and cultures. In several YouTube addresses, Chihombori-Quao suggested that the Organization of African Unity, the AU’s predecessor formed amid several independence movements, didn’t go far enough in facilitating a united Africa.
At Friday night’s dinner, the former AU ambassador minced no words, arguing that Africans at home and abroad must trust one another and control the economics of the continent in the next decade and beyond, especially with the lifting of trade restrictions between African countries.
“The environment is right to finish the mission, but we have to put our money where our mouth is,” she said. “By July 2020, you will have one Africa where you can be born in one place and conduct business anywhere. But we don’t have the financial resources to build. China, Russia and India are ready. Let the other players come, however when they come, they [should] come behind Africans.”