Africa, a Renewed Battle Ground?
The continent has an infamously long history of being a battlefield for foreign powers, vying for regional and global supremacy. And despite the strenuous efforts to steer its development policies towards fulfilling its potential, the African continent is still a theater of thinly veiled great power competitions. However, where historically brutal and naked military force had served as the means for dominance, trade and investment engagements have now superseded.
Very recently, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Europe’s economic powerhouse, was on a three-day trip to Africa. Unsurprisingly, migration—a core issue that might decide the fate of the European Union in the years to come—was her driving agenda. Indeed, she must have learnt that the issue of migration does not only threaten to split up the EU, but more pressingly tear apart her own government, and potentially abruptly end her illustrious political career. Therefore, the Chancellor understands well, like anyone honest enough would understand, that the most effective way to adequately deal with the migration crisis in Europe is to focus less on short-term political solutions, and more on extirpating the root causes, the driving forces that make young men and women to risk their lives traversing the Mediterranean: poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunities to thrive in their homelands, etc. Thus, investment and jobs creation were Merkel’s other priorities in Africa.
Theresa May, too, was on the continent. And her exhaustion from the unfulfilled Brexit promises did little to prevent her from an innovative ‘dance-diplomacy’, though she would do better to learn the right moves and work on her rigidity if she is ever to succeed an African dance next time! As the UK is set to force a divorce with the EU with no clear deal on the table, May is desperate to find new partners. Her trip and the “forcible” dance epitomize that state of soul-searching only those faced with an existential crisis understand best.
Jean-Claude Juncker, in his last address on the State of the Union to the European Parliament, calls for more European investments, both public and private, in the continent. Europe, Juncker argues, needs to become an investment partner to Africa, thus end traditional role as donor and patronizer, which has helped promote and maintain the development of underdevelopment in many African countries for many decades.
More remarkable, however, is China’s prominent presence as a major player in the continent. Western powers have enjoyed years of monopoly in dealing with the continent. But recent decades have seen China rise not merely as a serious contender for preeminence, but also as an alternative. It offers a radically different model of cooperative engagement for development. And regardless of one’s stand on the debate—on whether the Chinese model is sustainable, or whether it allows accountability and transparency—one thing is quite undeniable: as Africa’s biggest single investor and trading partner since 2008, China’s growing influence in the African continent is remarkable. Even more remarkable is that it also exemplifies the growing importance of South-South cooperation.
Nevertheless, to be seen is whether the African countries and their respective governments will be able to make the most out of these unstated competitions by attracting viable investment in the direly needed infrastructures, creating real economies, striving for fair and sustainable trade deals, and boosting inclusive economic development. And few with doubt that, with the shifting tides in the international trade and the global order as a whole, the way Africa manages this renewed battle will certainly determine its success or failure to develop in the years to come.
In any case, the continent had better remember that time and tide wait for no man!
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