Chukwuma Okonkwo enjoins African leaders to speak with one voice in the current scramble for Africa
The scramble for Africa can be traced back to the colonial era when many African countries were colonized. The colonial masters from seven European countries – Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain came to Africa scrambling for resources. Motivated by economic, political and social factors they disguised themselves as saviours to penetrate Africa and eventually colonized all of the African countries, except Ethiopia and Liberia. With the end of colonialism in Africa one would have thought that the scramble for Africa would have died a natural death. However, what seems to have happened is that though colonialism ended with African countries gaining their independence from their colonial masters, its fundamental rubrics metamorphosed into new forms of economic (and even political) domination of Africa by those European powers, transitioning from new economic imperialism to globalization. With that metamorphosis the scramble for Africa’s resources continued, inspiring non-European powers like the United States of America (USA) to join in. With the USA as an entrant, the scramble for Africa took a different dimension, as the USA became the world’s super power, with its economic and political influences as vantage points over the other European powers.
Since the new millennium the scramble for Africa has intensified with China’s re-emergence as a global economic power. China saw what (or even beyond) other Western countries were scrambling for in Africa and decided to (re)echo its interests and presence in Africa by establishing an official platform – The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) – to consolidate its relationships with African countries. It is noteworthy that, historically, China has had trade relations with some African countries, for example Somalia, Tanzania and Morocco, dating back to the medieval times. But in the 1990s China’s trade with Africa increased significantly by 700%, which was somehow an indication of China’s interests and presence in Africa. It would appear that with FOCAC China was following the path of European powers and the USA in the scramble for Africa. For example, we have heard about US-Africa Business Summit, which started in 1997 as a vehicle to advance USA-Africa relationships. We have also heard about EU-Africa Summit, which started in early 2000 as a platform to strengthen EU-Africa relationships. Also, like the European powers and USA partnerships with Africa, China’s partnerships with African countries have undertones of financial help and debt forgiveness with China offering billions of dollars (in 2018 the offer rose to $60 billion) in financing for Africa and cancelling debts of some African countries.
However, it would appear that China’s entrance in the scramble for Africa has not only threatened European powers and the USA, who have often resorted to discrediting China’s investments and trade relations with African countries with rhetoric, but has also inspired another world power, Russia, to join in the scramble for Africa. Just recently, Russia, like China and the West established its Russia-Africa Summit, which is a platform to build mutual economic and political co-operation between Russia and Africa. According to the report by Henry Foy in Financial Times the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, described the summit as “joint efforts to develop full-scale mutually beneficial co-operation, wellbeing, peaceful future and prosperity” between Russia and Africa. Following similar paths like the West and China, Russia’s new partnerships with Africa have undertones of financial help to Africa, but with clear borderlines. Russia recognizes that it does not have the same financial and economic firepower as China and the West, particularly the USA, it rather focuses on where its presence in Africa can impact Africa and its people the most given the economic and political challenges that African countries are facing. This is why Russia’s new strategic partnerships with Africa focus on “nuclear power plants, fighter jets and missile defence systems” as the report by Henry Foy in Financial Times shows.
Nonetheless, the big question is what does this continued scramble for Africa by world powers hold for them and Africa? For the world powers, the dynamics have changed with the presence of China and Russia in Africa, demonstrating their seriousness to engage with Africa. What this portends is a continued global scramble for Africa, with more attention being paid to Africa’s economic, political and social problems. As the scramble intensifies, players are looking at the big picture by exploring their vantage positions in order to ensure that they have access to the strategic natural resources that Africa is endowed with. For example, China’s offer to African countries for $60 billion financing for infrastructural projects and Russia’s arms supply and nuclear power deals with African countries worth $12.5 billion are indications that players are looking at the big picture. China knows that an average Nigerian is concerned about huge infrastructural gaps in the country. For the person it will make sense that Nigeria maintains strong relationship with China having seen the infrastructural projects delivered by China. This same applies to an average person in Central African Republic (CAR) where Russia has intervened with arms and military. For that person it will make sense that CAR maintains strong relationship with Russia seeing the positive impacts of Russia’s military interventions.
Furthermore, for Africa, the continued scramble for Africa is a re-iteration that Africa remains a holy grail for its numerous natural resources, which are objects of attraction in this scramble for Africa. Though these natural resources have exposed huge investment opportunities in Africa, however, they have revealed the inability of African leaders to manage the resources for the greater good of Africa and Africans. As a result, Africa is blighted by multifaceted economic, political and social problems that have remained chronic for decades. With the abundance of natural resources and investment opportunities mixed with complex economic, political and social problems those scrambling for Africa believe that they have what it takes to bring Africa out of its quagmire. This is why they are bringing new partnerships with offers for financial aid, debt forgiveness, arms supply and military training, as well as strengthening good governance and electoral processes in exchange for rights over those natural resources and other investment opportunities.
To conclude, it is important that African leaders take pan-African approach in dealing with this scramble for Africa. That will help not only to build strong national and regional economies in Africa, but also to position strongly Africa’s voice within the international community.
Chukwuma, author of Speaking From My Mind, wrote from Calgary