Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Scramble For Africa: A Continuing Narrative

Africa is fast becoming the go-to continent for countries wanting access to the vast and rich resources. But can the countinent harness its potential, negotiate effectively and have the confidence to take charge of its own future, without allowing global financial giants to ride rough-shod over it?

Most historians generally regard the 1884 Berlin Conference as the index point on the scramble for Africa continuum and it is by all means a continuum. The African continent has played host to several dividing interests and a number of proxy wars from the slave trade to outright colonialism and the cold war where countries like Angola were split in two by opposing superpowers.
In 2014 not much is different. There are new faces and new players. The Asian Tigers, having spent the latter half of the last century gaining prominence like many before them, have arrived at African ports eager to see what the motherland has to offer. They are not alone of course. Countries like Turkey and Brazil are also upping their stake on the continent. And then there are the usual suspects – the United States, Russia and the EU, which, on paper, makes a continent with teeming populations seem all the more crowded. But Africans, for better or worse, have always been accommodating.

The continent seems to inspire people to rush towards it in frenzied anticipation – hence the tagline Scramble for Africa. During the slave trade and the age of empire it was the European powers – Great Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium and admittedly even the Arabs. Post-colonialism and independence saw the courting of Russia and the United States. And now, after the fall of communism and the rise of the Asian Tigers, it seems there is a supposed new scramble between the United States and the Peoples Republic of China.



Since the beginning of the noughties (the years 2000–2010) global foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region has increased dramatically, from over $33.5 billion to $246.4 billion in 2012 and, according to a 2010 report by Mckinsey & Company, the rate of return on FDI in Africa was higher than any other region in the first decade of the 21st century. Additionally the International Monetary Fund projected what has since become an oft-cited refrain in the international finance and development sector which is that Africa was growing faster than Asia.
China reportedly surpassed America in trade with Africa in 2009 and has since consistently matched its ambition with investment in various projects. The stock of FDI in SSA from the EU, China, Japan and the US grew by nearly five times between 2001 and 2012 from $27.2 billion to about $132.8 billion; growth that was primarily driven by China whose FDI grew at an annual rate of 53 percent compared to 14 percent of the US. This growth in investment is also reflected in Sino-African trade volumes, which have skyrocketed since their tepid numbers in 2000 – Sino-Africa trade hit $198.5 billion in 2012 compared to 108.9 billion between the US and Africa. Standard Charted estimates that trade between China and Africa will hit $385 billion in 2015.

In all this it is noteworthy that the EU, Africa’s traditional trading partner, still retains the highest volume of trade, doubling its volume of trade inside the last decade and recording over $200 billion in trade in 2013. Given its colonial history the United Kingdom was the clear leader, totalling 104 projects in the SSA region.



From all relevant data available it would seem China has made inroads into the continent and are in pole position to benefit from their relationships and investments and while there is no agreed final figure on the sum of direct investments in Africa, it is estimated anywhere between $20 billion and $40 billion at any point. On record is the fact that China is now Africa’s top business partner with trade exceeding $166 billion. It is anticipated that China will continue to further its interest on the continent as it expands its presence on the world stage, moving comfortably into the role of superpower it has long been destined for.
The US has recently seen a decline in trade, which many have attributed to the near collapse of financial markets and the economy in the twilight years of the last decade along with a foreign policy that has shifted to resetting relations with Russia, ending wars and conflicts in the Middle East and courting Asia.

The two sides have also cast suspicion on the other motives. America labels China’s interest on the continent as neo-colonialist and China accuses America of double-standards and neglect; all reminiscent of two suitors quick to point out the other’s flaws, while ignoring the flaws in themselves.



Noticing China’s growing influence some African countries have taken protectionist stances, as is their right. Whereas some like Nigeria and South Africa, who have benefitted from the Chinese largesse and who have been guilty of the same behaviour in some African countries, have increased the rhetoric against their once benevolent Asian counterparts.
This speaks to an assumed and convenient naiveté that Africans employ whenever the world system doesn’t work to their advantage – the Chinese are not coming to Africa because they are enthralled by our landscapes, warm personalities and wildlife, they come to Africa because we have something they want and that must be our entry point in all negotiations: what can we get back in return and at what cost?

We haven’t been very successful in the past at stopping those who arrived at our ports looking to take advantage, now we are in better control of the relationships and as such we should move to several points of realisation, some of which are that Africa does not need benevolence; we need development.

The Chinese are the latest in a long line of explorers who have reached the hinterland and they won’t be the last. However, what matters is Africa remains in control of that relationship and there are encouraging signs that that is beginning to happen. In South Sudan a Chinese citizen was expelled in connection with alleged misappropriation; Congo kicked out two rogue commodity traders and Algerian courts have banned two Chinese firms from participating in a public tender.

One can only hope that such circumspection and swift movement will be applied to erring and corrupt indigenous officials but that is another topic.



In all this talk of a Sino-American scramble for Africa commentators often neglect to mention the paltry one percent and 3.4 percent of the total percentage of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) by the US and China respectively; numbers that barely constitute a skip let alone a scramble for Africa.
This adheres to a basic truth that many Afro-optimists have known for a while that, despite our natural resources and in spite of all the aid sent our way, Africa must own its own development process, it must set its own standards and find the most efficient way to marshal its own resources.

No matter their best intentions, no matter the depth of their forays, the Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese, Martians from Mars, the host of heavens cannot do this for us. The scramble for Africa, such as it is, may never really end but it is about time the search for African solutions began.


by Babatunde (Tundé) Oyateru from here with links

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