Scramble for Africa’s resources is the new Cold War
When the Cold War collapsed in 1991, it ended decades of hostility between the two antagonistic global blocks that grouped the capitalist West of America and its allies on one side, and the Communist East comprising the Soviet Union, China and their allies on the other.
After a period of confusion in which the world grappled to redefine the basis of global relationships, a new world order emerged. The new order has two key characteristics.
First, the whole world is now capitalist. America, Russia and China are all on the same side, ideologically speaking, fighting the same battle, and speaking the same language. This is the battle of markets, and economic hegemony. The whole world is in single-minded, hot pursuit of business opportunities both internally and externally.
Their attacks on each other are purely part of a psychological warfare. The weapons are different. The Cold War was a clock and dagger affair, with spies armed with all manner of deadly weapons, as the foot soldiers. They were merchants of death.
The current weapons are trade deals and projects, and foot soldiers are highly educated business experts in suits armed with calculators. The war is being fought in boardrooms. Money is their unit of expression.
The second key characteristic is that democracy is in a disorganised retreat. Countries with strong centralised leadership have shot their way to the top of the global economic pecking order. China is now second, Brazil ninth, Russia 11th, South Korea 12th, Indonesia 16th, Saudi Arabia 18th, and Turkey stands at 19, according to Investopedia. In 2000, China was ranked sixth, Russia 17th , and Turkey 21st.
Further, the corruption, economic and social chaos that has been witnessed in many so-called democracies have spawned a new kind of a leader who has little respect for laid down rules, etiquette and political correctness. This is resonating with people, who are tired of ineffective leaders and the elites who have marginalised their populations.
That is why complete mavericks like Donald Trump in the United States, Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are being elected into office. Indeed, Malaysian strongman, Mahathir Mohammed, has made it back to office at 92. Even in Africa, Rwanda, under strongman Paul Kagame, is streaking up economically, as others continue the race to the bottom through corruption, cronyism, and social and economic collapse.
Tanzania’s autocrat, Pombe Magufuli’s bulldozing style that has seen him cut all the bureaucratic red tape and lethargy has highly excited the masses and shaken up a comatose government ecosystem. This trend will only become more pronounced.
Indeed, these mavericks and strongmen have overseen fast-growing economies. Further, in general, such leaders are disciplined at their own personal levels and have attracted no corruption scandals.
Africa is at the epicentre of the new “Cold War.” All these formations are doing their utmost to woo African countries into their economic orbit.
China was first off the blocks. It has been hosting African leaders in summits dubbed China-Africa Co-operation since 2006. These summits are nothing more than parleys where China ensures that African countries have aligned their economies to serve its needs.
But not for long.
Other formations have now firmly established similar structures. Japan has established the Tokyo International Conference for Africa’s Development which has been meeting since 1993. Sensing the way the wind was blowing, the US held its first US-Africa leaders summit in 2014, and has begun aggressively positioning itself in the continent through trade deals and projects. The Russian-Africa Summit was held last month. Expect more economic powerhouses to join the bandwagon.
After all this globetrotting, what will be the dividend for Africa? Why doesn’t Africa have its own bargaining position when it goes to these parleys? What does Africa have to show for years of summits with China apart from a mounting debt crisis, destruction of their industries from dumping by Chinese firms, and zero penetration of the Chinese market?
The Cold War left Africa destitute, with monsters for leaders, and with most of its institutions destroyed. There is a real risk that the current war will leave Africa drained of its resources, debt-ridden, and with huge white elephants strewn all over the continent.
There is still headroom for Africa to reconstitute its engagement with these new formations to ensure it fully benefits from the new “Cold War.” African leaders must wake up and position their countries appropriately. Otherwise, disaster awaits.