The New Scramble For Africa
Date published: February 26, 2013
There appears to be a third scramble for Africa underway. This follows the first which occurred during the Berlin Conference of 1884 and the second during the Cold War.
Let me state at the outset that relationships with external powers are not innately good or bad. Some have been good while others have been bad. While we recall things like the slave trade, the conduct of the Belgians in Congo, colonialism, apartheid and other such unspeakable evils, there have been good things coming from our relationships with outsiders. When we use roads like the Bush Highway in Accra or the Chinese railways in East Africa or see millions of HIV patients get free medication or see French forces liberate Mali, we see the good side of the world powers in Africa.
The alarm for this current scramble was sounded by none other than then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in June 2009, during a tour of Africa. Warning of a “new colonialism”, Mrs. Clinton stated, “We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take our natural resources, pay off leaders and leave.” While she was referring to China, did she have a point and was this really a question of the kettle calling the teapot black? This new scramble appears to be mainly between the United States and China with France playing a very significant role as well. In addition to these, Brazil, India and Turkey are all trying to increase their influence in Africa. While these are external, African countries like Libya, Nigeria and South Africa have always been influential in Africa. Foreign influence and interventions raise important issues of sovereignty and independence.
China has been very active in Africa over the last few years. In 2009, China became Africa’s largest trading partner, surpassing the United States. Chinese Direct Foreign Investments in Africa was 100 million USD in 2003. By 2011, it had jumped to 12 billion USD. All over Africa, China is building roads, railways and other infrastructure. Indeed, the new African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa is a gift from China. Last year, many African leaders, including South Africa’s Jacob Zuma gathered in China for the China-Africa Co-operation forum. In an interview on the sidelines of the forum to the magazine Jeune Afrique, the Director General of the Department of Africa in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Lu Shaye, defended China on the accusation that Chinese are being sent to do work that can be done by Africans. Said he of the Chinese workers, “They work in three shifts a day and work all day and all night to speed up projects schedules.” Continuing, the Chinese official stated, “Take government assistance projects for example. China spends 95% of the money on the project and on recipient countries, while the West may spend 80% on their own staff.” Was Lu Shaye suggesting that Africans could not work three shifts and complete projects on time?
In contrast to the Chinese effort, the US aid to Africa in 2009 was 8.2 billion USD. Furthermore, in the Bush era, the US committed about 16 billion USD to the fight against HIV and Malaria. Furthermore, the US has established the US Africa Command which became operational in 2008 and is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. Furthermore, earlier this year, the US, which, in the words of administration officials, “led in Libya and the Ivory Coast from behind”, signed an agreement to station drones in Niger as part of on-going operations in Mali. As the US and China strive for influence in Africa, it becomes increasingly likely that one of these days, they will clash militarily in Africa.
While the Americans and the Chinese have been active, the French role has been open and forceful, no pun intended. They led the military interventions in the Ivory Coast, Libya and now Mali. Just a few days ago, French President Francoise Hollande was welcomed to Mali as a liberator. The welcome for the French leader was not surprising. While nearly 4000 Frenchmen and women were pushing towards Gao to liberate Malians from the clutches of Al Qaeda and all manner of thugs, hundreds of African soldiers were still getting ready to leave for Mali. It was obvious that if left to Africa and her leaders, the Malian invaders would be in Mali for a long, long time. It can be argued that the repeated failures of leadership in Africa, has led to foreign interventions in the Ivory Coast, Libya and now Mali. All these are very reminiscent of the role of the powers during the Cold War and since then. Even in the case of China, even if we grant their good intentions, leadership has been glaringly lacking. Why are Chinese doing illegal mining in Ghana and other places while officials look on?
Why did our leaders sit down for outsiders to come in and resolve problems in the Ivory Coast , Libya and Mali? The frightening thing is that there are many Africans who will happily welcome foreigners due to the inability, by and large, of our leaders to perform. How can Nigeria help in fighting Al Qaeda in Mali when it is impotent in the face of Boko Haram at home?
What are the motives of the Americans and the Chinese and the French, to mention just a few, in the new scramble for Africa?
Is it the need for raw materials like oil and minerals which exist in Libya and Mali and Niger?
Is it the need to control Al-Qaida and Boko Haram and emerging drug lords?
Is it African development?
Is Western imperialism better than Chinese or Indian or Brazilian imperialism?
The hard question is this—if we do not welcome them, can we solve our problems on our own? How can we deal with terrorists and drug dealers and pirates on our own?
Are we getting bad deals, as Mrs. Clinton implied because many of our leaders are corrupt?
Regardless of their motives, Africa cannot trust its future to foreigners in the mistaken belief that they mean well. While we must trust others, we must verify that they mean well.
Africa’s leaders must sign agreements that protect our interests. We cannot permit people to do business in Africa without protections for our environment or local resources.
We cannot permit exploitation of our natural resources without benefit to our people. It is unconscionable that a place like Obuasi in Ghana can produce so much gold for so long without any tangible benefits to the local population. The same applies to Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and others with regard to oil.
Our leaders must start addressing our problems effectively.
We should re-examine Nkrumah’s idea of an African High Command that is effective and can get to places like Libya and Mali before the West does.
We should draft investment laws that protect our environment and invest in our future.
We should empower ordinary people so that they can hold our leaders accountable at all levels.
We should increase transparency in our politics so that it is clear how our politicians are influenced by money and other factors.
We should ensure that the most powerful court regarding Africa are courts in our countries, not the International Criminal Court.
If we fail to address these challenges, we may wake up one day and realize that ordinary Africans, frustrated by the ineffectiveness of our leaders, are not only welcoming outsiders who come to solve our problems but demanding that they come.
Let our leaders start working to make Africa, the independent continent Nkrumah, Nasser, Nyerere and Senghor meant her to be.
May African leaders grow to make us proud and to earn our confidence.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy
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