Con­ti­nen­tal drifts to­wards Africa

Last year the United King­dom, the United States, Rus­sia and the Euro­pean Union un­veiled their new strate­gies for Africa and China, Ger­many and In­dia tweaked theirs

Mail & Guardian - - News - Alex Vines

There is no doubt that 2019 will see a quick­en­ing of re­newed in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in Africa. China is now Africa’s lead­ing trad­ing part­ner and In­dia, Rus­sia and oth­ers are in­creas­ing their in­volve­ment, whereas the Euro­pean Union is tread­ing wa­ter and the United States is fall­ing be­hind.

A key de­vel­op­ment in 2018 was Rus­sia’s re-en­try into Africa. In 2019 the first Rus­sia-africa sum­mit will add to an al­ready lengthy list of sum­mits. Rus­sia has, for sev­eral years, been qui­etly in­vest­ing in Soviet-era part­ner­ships and forg­ing new al­liances by of­fer­ing se­cu­rity, arms train­ing and elec­tion­eer­ing ser­vices in ex­change for min­ing rights and other op­por­tu­ni­ties.

It was only when the Rus­sians moved into the Cen­tral African Repub­lic with guns and sol­diers in 2018 that the world sud­denly woke up to the real­ity that a new Rus­sian Africa strat­egy was in place. Rus­sia’s re-en­gage­ment in Africa is a re­minder that there will be greater geopo­lit­i­cal ri­valry and in­ter­na­tional ex­per­i­men­ta­tion on the con­ti­nent in fu­ture.

This year there will also be greater in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of parts of the con­ti­nent with de­vel­op­ments hap­pen­ing else­where. In 2019 the Horn and East Africa will pivot fur­ther to­wards Asia and the Mid­dle East as a re­sult of in­vest­ments, pol­i­tics and soft power. A re­cent sur­vey in­di­cated that many well-heeled Africans in­creas­ingly favour Dubai as their pri­mary elite hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion (this in­cludes South Africans).

The spat be­tween Qatar and the United Arab Emi­rates is play­ing out across the re­gion, with di­rect po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences in So­ma­lia. Turkey is con­tin­u­ing to deepen its in­volve­ment, in­clud­ing build­ing a port in Eritrea. Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayip Er­do­gan made the first Turk­ish pres­i­den­tial trip to the Sa­hel in 2018, sig­nalling in­creased Turk­ish am­bi­tions.

The In­dia Union Cabi­net in March last year ap­proved the open­ing of 18 diplo­matic mis­sions in Africa. This roll­out of In­dian em­bassies is un­der way in Burk­ina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC), Dji­bouti, Equa­to­rial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea-bis­sau, Liberia, Mau­ri­ta­nia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, So­ma­lia, Swazi­land and Togo. In­dia will have at least one mis­sion in 47 African coun­tries when this process in com­pleted.

But there was a po­lit­i­cal set­back for New Delhi in 2018 when the Sey­chelles Par­lia­ment re­jected In­dia’s ef­forts to lease a mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity on As­sump­tion Is­land.

The sev­enth Tokyo In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on African De­vel­op­ment will be held in Yoko­hama, Ja­pan, in 2019. Tokyo con­tin­ues to deepen its com­mer­cial, de­vel­op­ment and po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment in Africa and it has also at­tempted to join forces with In­dia to com­pete head-on with China with the Asia-africa Growth Cor­ri­dor ini­tia­tive.

China’s key fo­cus is de­vel­op­ing its Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive in Asia and north­east Africa. The Fo­rum on China-africa Co-op­er­a­tion (Focac) con­cluded its third sum­mit meet­ing in Bei­jing in Septem­ber last year, and many more African heads of state and gov­ern­ment at­tended it than they did the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly an­nual meet­ing in New York.

Focac sig­nals the con­tin­ued im­por­tance of Africa for China and the $60-bil­lion pledged by China at the sum­mit is the same amount as it promised in 2015, though it will be struc­tured dif­fer­ently this time, re­flect­ing China’s shift­ing pri­or­i­ties.

A grow­ing de­bate in 2018 was about whether China’s loans to African coun­tries are sus­tain­able. Three coun­tries — Dji­bouti, the Repub­lic of Congo and Zam­bia — are ex­ces­sively re­liant on Chi­nese loans (in terms of the pro­por­tion of for­eign debt held by China).

Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozam­bique, Su­dan and Zim­babwe are also ex­posed. Crit­ics of heavy Chi­nese lend­ing cite the case of Sri Lanka’s Ham­ban­tota port, which was placed into Chi­nese hands on a 99-year lease in lieu of debt pay­ments. Dji­bouti has made a sim­i­lar con­ces­sion to China, af­ter heavy debt ac­cu­mu­la­tion.

This is wor­ry­ing the Western coun­tries that main­tain mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties in the re­gion, in­clud­ing France, Ja­pan and the US.

The lat­est World In­vest­ment Re­port from the UN Con­fer­ence on Trade and De­vel­op­ment also sug­gests that a sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial change is un­der way. China’s for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment (FDI) stock in Africa has climbed to $40-bil­lion in 2016 from $16-bil­lion in 2011, plac­ing it in fourth po­si­tion be­hind the US ($57-bil­lion), the UK ($55-bil­lion) and France ($49-bil­lion). Africa strat­egy in Oc­to­ber, with angst over African mi­gra­tion into Europe at its core. How Africa’s lead­ers and re­gions re­spond to this re­newed in­ter­na­tional strate­gic in­ter­est will be im­por­tant. The con­ti­nent’s big idea, the African Con­ti­nen­tal Free Trade Area, which aims to build an in­te­grated mar­ket in Africa of over one bil­lion peo­ple with a com­bined GDP of ap­prox­i­mately $3.3- tril­lion, could drive fur­ther growth, but it re­quires greater union and co-op­er­a­tion.

Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions have driven past pan-african vi­sions such as the New Part­ner­ship for Africa’s De­vel­op­ment (Nepad). Three key African states — South Africa, Nige­ria and Al­ge­ria — will hold pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2019.

Pro­gres­sive, trans­for­ma­tive pol­i­tics have re­gional and con­ti­nen­tal im­pli­ca­tions. The big­gest pos­i­tive sur­prise of 2018 was the pace of change in Ethiopia. A year ago no­body dared pre­dict the re­forms now tak­ing place. They are truly seis­mic, and the rap­proche­ment with Eritrea is al­ready al­ter­ing geopo­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions in the Horn of Africa and be­yond.

Sweep­ing po­lit­i­cal changes have sparked in­se­cu­rity in some ar­eas as this tran­si­tion gathers pace un­der the new prime min­is­ter, Abiy Ahmed, who took over in April 2018 af­ter the res­ig­na­tion of Haile­mariam De­salegn.

Not all is rosy, though. Eth­nic vi­o­lence has dis­placed 1.4-mil­lion peo­ple in­ter­nally in Ethiopia, as the au­thor­i­tar­ian grip of pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions loosens.

How African lead­ers re­spond to this new wave of glob­al­i­sa­tion is the key to whether this re­newed at­ten­tion will be di­vi­sive and en­cour­age fur­ther con­ti­nen­tal po­lit­i­cal frag­men­ta­tion, or whether it will help to build bet­ter na­tional and re­gional economies — and de­velop Africa’s in­ter­na­tional voice.

Alex Vines is head of the Africa pro­gramme at Chatham House and a se­nior lec­turer at Coven­try Uni­ver­sity

Scratch my back: China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping walks with South African Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa into the Fo­rum on China-africa Co-op­er­a­tion round ta­ble con­fer­ence in Bei­jing in Septem­ber 2018. China’s in­vest­ment in Africa has risen dra­mat­i­cally. French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron

Photo: Lin­tao ZHANG/POOL/AFP

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