Friday, March 20, 2015

Africa's Geo-Politics

For centuries, beginning with the slave trade, the West has ruthlessly exploited the African continent, plundered and pillaged its resources. In the late nineteenth century, in what became known as the “scramble for Africa,” the continent was arbitrarily carved up into colonies by the leading European powers, which violently subjected its people and plundered the continent of its rich natural resources. In the post-independence eras, African states became weak pawns in the world economy, subject to Cold War rivalries, their path to development largely blocked by their debilitating colonial past. The legacy of Western domination has left Africa devastated with crippling rates of poverty, hunger, and disease. The continent today has a gross national per-capita yearly below that of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in most African countries, and an average life expectancy of only fifty years. Africa throughout the Cold War until the mid-2000s, played only an insignificant role on the world’s stage in the context of international relations and diplomacy most often pulled by the nose as surrogate force and launching path as appeasement to the will and pleasure of self-styled global policemen. During the Cold War period, most of Africa remained within the spheres of influence of the former colonial powers, which made use of the relative freedom they were given by the Great Powers to materialize their interests in Africa, but with the end of the Cold War, things somehow turns the other way in the interest of the continent.

More recently, the West has choked Africa with an onerous debt regime, forcing many nations to pay more in interest on debts to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) than on health care, education, infrastructure, and other vital services combined. Today the geopolitics of Africa makes oil a core causes for conflict around the African continent and the US–Chinese race for Africa’s rich natural resources is especially focused on oil.   

 This new scramble for Africa’s resources is already engendering conflicts across the region. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where copper and diamonds have inspired wars and mayhem, there is currently intense competition and militia rivalries over the mining and sale, a critical raw material used in mobile phones and electronic devices. The battle over oil and uranium, used in feeding nuclear reactors, according to French diplomat, Mathieu de Lesseps, continues to be at the root of conflicts in Niger and Nigeria. The connection between conflict and foreign exploitation of mineral resources can be drawn with respect to other countries, including Nigeria where Boko Haram is committing gross human rights violations. It has become clear that the discovery of significant oil and gas reserves in Nigeria’s northeastern Lake Chad Basin, the zone of the Boko Haram insurgency, is a major factor contributing to instability in the region according to Nicolas Matthieu. The recent discovery has attracted the interest of neighboring countries, such as Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and international powers, including the United States, Britain and France. This also includes Sudan, Libya and Angola, while political crisis over lack of proper accountability over the use of natural resources especially oil is creating serious tension several other countries including Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Zimbabwe.

Both the American and the Chinese Governments were important in paving the way for American and Chinese oil interests in expanding in Africa. The US government used diplomatic instruments such economic incentives and military aid (Lionel de Moustier). China has proven more supportive and has provided loans, debt relief, scholarships, training, and provision of military hardware without political or economic conditionalities, in exchange for a foothold in the oil business. In turn, incumbent African leaders have identified Chinese unconditional financial resources, cheap products, and know-how as an important tool to fend off pressure for political and economic reform from international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Western governments. China is the new ‘superstar’ and newest sensation on the African continent when it comes to new diplomatic ties, trade expansion and investments in large-scale development projects. Widely believed to become the world's largest economy, China is successfully seeking its place under the African sun. Starting out with pariah nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, excellent relations are now held with almost all of Africa's 53 states.

China's new interest mostly has been a blessing, partly a tipping point and now gradually becoming a game changer in the geo-political landscape. Diplomatically, their dependence on Western countries is eased, allowing new diplomatic competition as in the Cold War era, and giving pariah leaders an alternative backing. Chinese aid be it funds are also popular, because Beijing asks no questions on good governance and is fond of prestigious grand projects. However, the Chinese advance has been a mixed-blessing for Africa. With China's admittance to the World Trade Organization (WTO), it has boomed into an economic superpower of cheap mass produced exports, giving no room for African competition. But Beijing is not only interested in gaining African export markets. Studies shows that the growing and soon to be economic superpower is not endowed with many natural resources, making Beijing dependent on mass imports of crude materials.

There is evidence that greater involvement of the United States and China in Africa, in terms of both commercial interests and political engagement replays the colonialist divide and conquer tactics." Conflicts need money. From Sudan to Congo and Libya to Nigeria, natural resources such as timber, oil, diamonds and other most needed precious minerals have helped fund armies and militias who murdered, raped and committed other horrendous human rights abuses against civilians. Currently, there is an amazing infrastructure race taking place within East and West Africa, while on the other hand, the West especially powerful nations look on as Boko Haram continue to  perpetrate gross human rights violations in Nigeria.

China is taking a very broad approach and accessing the region whole heartily, erecting infrastructural, building roads in Southern Sudan, Ghana, Liberia, and Ethiopia, just to name few. We are also seeing the French role in Mali, Ivory Coast and Congo while Japan’s involvement in Liberia and the British involvement in Sierra Leone. In recent time the US has strengthened its relations across the continent especially in Southern and West Africa including the north. The recent outbreak of Ebola disease gives the U.S. the advantage to enforce its relations in West Africa; the Britain and the French also enforced their presence in Sierra Leone and Guinea, while Beijing has also been active in combating the deadly disease from Liberia.

The continent in recent time has been repositioning in the international system as far as international relations and politics are concerned. Owing to the continent’s recent advancement on the world’s stage to occupy some major positions in the international system, there have been calls for the continent to occupy a seat on the Security Council with an equal veto, but the  politically suppressed lingering question that arises is which of the three African countries to occupy the dedicated seat ? Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco are all vying. But greed for power and wealth, and undermined by bad governance, are some of the major problems that are affecting growth and development of the continent on the stage of transparency and accountability. In the words of a French diplomat, Paul Claudel, most African diplomats lack a true representation of their countries, arguing that their presence bring no benefits to the sending state. Russian diplomat, Gustavic Édupukiv writes that most African diplomats are politically strangers to the international system.

According to latest UN report, seventy-six percent of Africans have no access to standard pipe borne water, good healthcare delivery system, constant electricity, social security benefits, sanitation facilities and good meals a day. The report further indicates that 25.8 million people of the two-thirds of the total world population suffering from HIV/AIDS live in Africa. Africa remains a continent abundant in human and natural resources, but are managed to enrich only a handful of African leaders, corrupt bureaucrats, certain individuals and  foreign capitalists who continue to exploit the continent.

The Congo crisis, the secessions of Katanga and Kasai were symptoms of the malady of the continent. At the beginning of the 1960s it was fashionable then to look upon the Congo tragedy as the unique example of Belgian colonial ineptitude. Now with years of bitter experience behind us, we can say that the Congo’s situation pointed to all the issues which would afflict Africa from the ‘60s to 2000s. Since the Congo-Brazzaville war in the 1960s, the continent experienced dozen of brutal wars in several countries including the Nigeria’s Biafra war, the rebels’ war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formally Zaire), Angola, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopian-Eritrea war, Rwanda war between the Hutu and the Tutsi, Senegal-Casamance Region, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Northern and Southern Sudan’s wars, Kenya post-election violence, Libyan, and now Mali, just to name few. All these wars were direct results of abused of state resources and national wealth, bad governance, corruption, class system and abused of state power and authority by handful of African leaders and foreign capitalists.

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