While the COVID -19 pandemic rages on, the UN IGWG (Inter-Governmental Working Group) on Business and Human Right has been working remotely and otherwise on its tasks. The Working Group (IGWG) has remained committed to its February 28, 2021 target of receiving all new text suggestions arising from the October 2020 session of the Working Group towards the proposed treaty on the regulation of Trans-national corporations (TNCs). What still boggles the mind is that from the inception of the treaty until the just-concluded session is the African state actors’ abysmal participation in the whole treaty process. A throwback through the treaty process’s memory lane shows that Ecuador and South Africa presented the UN resolution 26/9, 2014 that paved the way for the treaty. It is instructive that out of the 20 votes favouring the treaty, 50% were African, and no African country voted against it. What began like a singular opportunity for Africa to rewrite the injustice meted to it by the 1885 Berlin Conference may go down history lane as the worst missed opportunity for her.

In 1885, the General Act of the Berlin Conference, among other things, regulated trade on the African continent. Later, historians referred to it as the ‘Scramble for Africa’ because the bénéficiaires were the European colonial powers, and Africa was the Conference’s cake. Africa had no voice in the deliberations or the outcomes. Fast forward almost one and half centuries later, and another ‘Scramble’ is about to occur with the knowledge and cooperation of Africa. That is the drama unfolding at the IGWG, a drama that will leave Africa with layers of regrets for many centuries because of its refusal assert her presence and protect her resources.

It is worrisome that all through the six sessions of the IGWG on the treaty process, the largest number of African state actors’ participation was 2019 with 26 African state actors. Even at that, their contributions were not impressive and remained at the level of general support for the treaty with only a few exceptions. It is a situation that does not portend well for Africa because it appears that the table is set for a worse outcome than the 1885 European power’s partition of Africa. What makes the current more frightening is that Africa was not invited to the table in 1885 and could attract sympathy for the injustices meted out to her; not this time. In this case, Africa joins in preparing the banquet table and places herself on the lunch but appears not to be interested in what happens to her.

Surprisingly, the reasons for the apathy of the African actors is yet to be known or understood.  Africa does not lack the technical competence to engage the process actively. There are functional continental and regional economic institutions in Africa that could help to point the African state actors’ direction to follow. Besides, there is a pool of civil society experts readily available to help Africa states strengthen their current debates. Could their apathy be attributed to blatant indifference to their affairs? Could it be a case of misplacement of priorities as implied in the African proverb about the man who spends his time pursuing rodents while his house burns?

Understandably, AEFJN is dismayed about the situation and has assembled a toolkit for African religious to be the vanguard of awakening for Africa peoples.  The African states must wake up from their slumber and fulfil their responsibilities to their citizens. They can no longer sleep while the script of African economic survival hangs on the balance. The Church and the Civil Society actors must rise now and engage the African state actors. The Church in Africa must complement the Civil Society’s efforts and seek the black goat while it is still day. The Church must leverage on the respect that she enjoys in Africa to engage the state actors and pave the way for the Civil Society’s expertise. Lest we forget, whenever it comes to making decisions, the instinct of self-preservation rises powerfully to the fore despite good intentions. Once again, the Church in Africa has a golden opportunity to be the voice for the voiceless, and she must not allow this opportunity to slip by. A stitch in time is better than nine; now is the time!

Chika Onyejiuwa