There is Still a ‘Scramble’ for Africa
On May 25, Africa Day celebrated its 60th anniversary. The day commemorating the Organization of African Unity’s founding symbolizes the steadfast commitment of newly independent African states. The Organization of African Unity’s principal objective was to end all kinds of colonialism and neo-colonialism, primarily in response to the “Scramble for Africa.” Colonialism is still seen as prevalent in the catastrophes and calamities that continue to affect Africa today.
The ill-famed Berlin Conference, which began the rush to secure Africa’s mineral wealth, hosted numerous Western nations on November 15, 1884, who looked to exploit Africa. During the Cold War, the “Scramble for Africa” worsened as various African nations were used as proxy wars between the Americans and the Soviets. Numerous African countries have been targets of coup d’états supported by nations like France, the U.S., and the UK., which have left deep scars on the continent. Long-standing local issues have resulted from those pervasive scars. Fears abound that Africa will again be the unfortunate pawn in a major power struggle, given the simmering geopolitical tensions between the East and the West.
This is arguably best shown in Sudan, where a recent conflict between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese army erupted amid plans for the nation to switch to a civilian government. Ambitions to host a Russian naval base along the Red Sea is the leading contributing cause to the continued bloodshed. The U.S. has voiced its strong objection to what is anticipated to be Russia’s first naval base in Africa.
In September 2022, John Godfrey, the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, stated that there were “reports that Russia is trying to implement the agreement it signed with ousted President Omar al-Bashir in 2017 to establish a military base along the Red Sea.” He warned that such an action would cut off Sudan from the world community and jeopardize its interests. He further argued, “All nations have the sovereign right to choose which other nations to cooperate with, but of course, these decisions have consequences.” Sudan has now become the scene of a protracted proxy conflict for influence in the region, primarily between the United States, China, and Russia but also between other parties with vested interests, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
More proxy conflicts in Africa seem imminent as Russia and the U.S. increase their security assistance to several nations on the continent. As this continues, there is a sense of domestic scrutiny not witnessed even during the height of the Cold War.
In the U.S., during a Congressional hearing, members asked AFRICOM Commander General Michael Langley about the alarming number of African soldiers who had received military training from the United States and had since gone on to lead coups against their respective civilian governments. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) asked Langley, “Why should U.S. taxpayers be paying to train people who then lead coups in Africa?” Langley responded, “Congressman, our curriculum harvests core values and also to be able to embolden these countries for a representative democracy.” This prompted Gaetz to press further: “But General, that democracy isn’t what emerges. The problem is I know you may have great confidence in what you’re teaching. But when two governments had been overthrown, I guess, how many governments have to be overthrown by people we train before you sort of get the message that our core values might not be sticking with everyone? Is it five countries? Ten?”
While the U.S. and Russia continue to escalate competition across Africa, China is expanding its influence to the point where it now easily holds the most significant overall effect in the region among all the major powers due to seizing mutually profitable economic opportunities. These possibilities have mostly been discovered in various infrastructure projects led by China that have greatly aided in bridging Africa’s infrastructural gaps with the rest of the globe.
Because of this, there is increasing evidence of a changing American policy toward Africa to boost investment, support sustainable and inclusive economic growth, benefit workers, consumers, and companies, and aid African regional economic integration. In line with this strategy, Washington is currently negotiating a trade agreement with Kenya. The partnership aims to boost investment and advance a stronger relationship between Kenya and the United States. These and other agreements are an attempt to emulate China’s non-interference model in the internal affairs of its trading partners and an acknowledgment of the success of Beijing’s less prescriptive approach to Africa.
Africa’s systemic significance to the world has never been greater. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa recently sent a peace proposal to Russia and Ukraine along with Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda as a first step toward ending the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to meet separately with the six-nation African delegation to discuss strategies to end the war, despite reports suggesting that the proposal’s goal is in part to hasten the release of wheat and fertilizer for shipment to Africa.
In response to this diplomatic push, Zelensky requested that the delegation press Russia to free prisoners, which put numerous African states in a powerful position to mediate an end to the war. However well-intentioned, the peace plan largely failed not because of its substance but because both sides, especially Russia, are dug in and committed to seeing the war through.
Given that Africa is on the verge of a significant economic development boom, major international powers have taken notice of the growing attractiveness of nations across the continent. For instance, Djibouti is home to several international military outposts, with military personnel from the United States, China, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Turkey all present within a small area due to the unique security advantages Djibouti offers. Although the days of colonialism in Africa appear to be over, the specific methods used by large-scale players in the global order continue to persist as Africa remains a continent of great promise.