Africa: Russia and China Trigger a New Scramble for Africa
Ahead of the US-Africa Summit in December, the Russia-Africa Summit next year and as new geopolitical alliances form, Africa is under great pressure to take sides.
China is increasingly becoming a strong economic powerhouse while Russia is making its own stand. The West finds itself reliving history, scrambling for portions of Africa.
This summer was most fulfilling for me, not because the Earth’s revolution had finally brought the sun to shine on my part of the World, I live in Tanzania, East Africa, its spring and summer all year around.
- Africa is under increasing pressure to take sides in new global alliances
- Africa wants an economic proposal in the upcoming US-Africa Summit
- 2022 witnessed the highest number of diplomats & presidents visiting Africa
No, it was not the weather, the reason my summer was most memorable is that my daughter came to visit from the US. We had excellent family time, she went on safari, the stories are true, if you have not visited the Serengeti, make a point to do so.
Here are some other people who came to Africa this summer, and not to visit family or to see the big five, oh no, the only thing these diplomats’ trip to Africa had in common with my daughter’s is, they too came to affirm their commitment and love for the continent, but unlike my daughter, the diplomats love is explicitly conditional.
This summer, French President Emmanuel Macron visited three West African countries (Benin, Guinea-Bissau, and Cameroon), Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited four (Egypt, Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia) and to take the trophy, former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited eight (the long list is readily available on Google).
That was July alone. The following month US Secretary of State Antony Blinken went to a slew of countries. Before that, in February, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan made a four-day tour to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau, that same month, the sixth European-Union Africa Summit took place in Dakar, Senegal… you get the drift.
So what has sparked this vehement fervour for Africa?
A researcher from the African Centre for the Study of the US at Wits University in South Africa has the answer: “These high-level state visits to Africa speak to a changing geopolitical landscape in which Africa is being persuaded to take sides and in which global powers seek political and economic opportunities on the continent.”
It only makes sense that in ‘a changing geopolitical landscape,’ non-partisan Africa would be ‘persuaded to take sides’ and ‘global powers (would) seek political and economic opportunities on the continent.’
And if the mountain will not come to Mohammed… such is the case, if the World leaders are not visiting the continent, the researcher says they adopt another strategy, ‘summit diplomacy.’
Put simply, summit diplomacy is where the G7 (each in its own time), host major events where African leaders are guests of honour, next in line is the December US-Africa Summit to deliberate US-Africa trade relations followed by the Russia-Africa Summit in 2023, a key meeting when it comes to building Russia-Africa relations.
New geopolitical shifts, who stands to win?
In February, when the EU and AU leaders met in Senegal, they agreed on what they described as ‘a joint vision for a renewed partnership to bring regions and organizations together.’
Africa offers one of the largest single markets in the World, a market that is increasingly becoming much more available, especially with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA), who wouldn’t want access to a market of 55 unified countries with over a billion people?
So it is no wonder that the EU developed a continent-wide engagement strategy that the AU seems to have welcomed so far. While the details of this ‘engagement strategy’ are yet to be made public i.e. what are the conditions or requirements of engagement, officials of the EU in Brussels are working hand in hand with their counterparts at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
That being said, it would be expected that the US would also be working towards a similar continent-wide engagement, however, that is not what Blinken’s visit did. The US Secretary of State presented a sub-Saharan proposal rather than a continent-wide alliance. Notwithstanding, African economists would like to see a more detailed document on US-Africa trade relations.
Another aspect of the US approach that is different from their arch-rival China for instance, is the US approach has a democracy and human rights perspective while the Chinese (and others) have an economic angle.
Take Turkey’s foreign policy to Africa for instance. It is unequivocally focused on bilateral relations, trade cooperation and overall economic development. Even the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) admits that thanks to this approach, ‘Turkey has increased bilateral trade by over five folds between 2015 and 2018.’
In this regard, China takes the lead in its approach to Africa, consistently maintaining an economic development engagement and not political appraisal.
Even Russia is taking an economic angle to improve Russia-Africa relations. It might as well considering the fact that Africa was and still is a major importer of cereals from Russia (and Ukraine too). In fact, according to the UN, Russia and Ukraine supply almost half (44%) of Africa’s cereal consumption annually, this reality plays a major part in Russia-Africa relations.
Given this fact, Russia-Africa relations are also on the table. Russia is expected to play this card at the Russia-Africa Summit next year, which will serve as its basis for a strategic alliance with Africa.
With these developments, notably China and Russia taking the economic approach that Africa is so much in need of, the US has to rethink its game plan and present a more concrete offer at the upcoming US-Africa summit in December.
In the ongoing global geopolitical rearrangements, and the possibility of improved Russia-Africa relations, the US is an underdog when it comes to African relations; the least of the reasons not being the Donald Trump administration. Now the Joe Biden administration has its work cut out to develop a sustainable strategy that has Africa’s development in mind rather than a wag of the finger on political matters alone.
This would be a good time to rethink and beef up the AGOA deal, a pact that has come to be tested and questioned on several occasions in the last few years. Most African countries see the AGOA treatment as a leash to keep them in check rather than to build US-Africa trade relations.
For example, over the last half-decade or so, several East African countries sought to ban the importation of second-hand clothes from the US. Lobbyists in Washington, however, pulled strings and threatened to kick out of AGOA all parties intent on the ban. Such approaches do not help US-Africa trade relations, the end result was that African countries had to stay their clothing and textile industry development plans.