14 Apr 2024
African Think Tank

Association For Strategic Culture and Research Foundation

African Think Tank
Struggle for influence in Africa
2021-05-27 21:51:32
Struggle for influence in Africa
Africa is of natural interest to the leading political forces operating on the world stage. It has a huge territory, more than a billion people and natural resources, which, according to various estimates, make up 30-40% of all mineral reserves of the planet. At the same time, the level of development of the continent itself, at least in the last five hundred years, is significantly lower than the level of development of the surrounding European and Asian countries.

Africa is of natural interest to the leading political forces operating on the world stage. It has a huge territory, more than a billion people and natural resources, which, according to various estimates, make up 30-40% of all mineral reserves of the planet. At the same time, the level of development of the continent itself, at least in the last five hundred years, is significantly lower than the level of development of the surrounding European and Asian countries. The expansion of European powers to Africa began at the end of the Middle Ages, and by the beginning of the 20th century, it was actually divided between the largest colonial powers - England, France, Belgium, Spain and Italy. Therefore, if we talk about the interests of the "outside world" on the African continent, then several stages should be distinguished, with the change of which these interests radically changed.


The first stage - colonial - ended after World War II. By 1960, most African countries had gained independence. After decolonization, two new major players appeared on the African scene - the USA and the USSR. The struggle between them for thirty years led to the differentiation of African states: in some, the United States gradually ousted the old colonial powers, in others, socialist ideology began to dominate. In 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, there was essentially one main player in Africa - the United States, although France and England periodically interfered in the development of African countries. Officially, the former colonial powers, like the United States, sought to help the development of the largest African states, but at the same time did not forget about their own interests in making profit.

In the 1990s, the European Union was formed, which had its own interests in Africa, partially independent of the interests of the states that belong to this union.

In the mid-2000s, a new phase began: another participant, China, joined the struggle for influence in Africa. Using mainly methods of "soft power", he began to oust both the EU countries and the USA from the continent. The fight between the EU, the United States and China was fought without the obvious use of weapons, but in fact provoked numerous conflicts between African countries, seriously aggravating the situation on the continent. Africa still leads the way in the number of the poorest countries. There are systematic crop failures, mass famine, a large percentage of people with AIDS and other serious illnesses.

However, in recent decades, Africa has seen some economic recovery. Growth rates for most countries are 5-6% of GDP per year, which is achieved mainly due to the inflow of investments. As a result, the situation of the population is gradually improving. "Rich" African countries export oil (Nigeria, Angola), gold, diamonds (South Africa). Significant oil reserves have been found in North and South Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries.

Today, the main actors with serious interests in Africa are the EU, the United States and China. As already noted, the interests of the EU and individual European countries are not the same thing. European countries solve in Africa mainly their national problems connected with the interests of national business and, in some cases, with the interests of national security.

The interests of the EU leadership are much broader. One of the main challenges is to reduce migration pressure from Africa. Every year tens of thousands of people try to move from the African continent to Europe, often risking their lives. The main flow goes from Morocco to Spain, from West Africa to the Spanish Canary Islands, from Tunisia and Libya to southern Italy.

Obviously, the key solution to the issue of reducing migration from Africa to Europe lies not in the area of ​​measures applied against migrants. It consists of significantly improving living standards and ensuring sustainable growth for African economies. These goals were stated in 2000 at the Luma meeting and were regularly repeated at subsequent meetings in Lisbon (2007) and Tripoli (2010). In addition, the EU insists on measures to prevent climate change. Ensuring the stable development of African states requires significant investments both in infrastructure and in industry, agriculture, and education. And this is not pure charity. The main goal of the EU policy is to reduce the migration pressure on Europe through the stabilization of the economic situation in Africa.

However, the interests of the European Union are not limited to the problems of the development of African states. The rapidly developing African market is of great importance, which in the context of the crisis in some European countries can contribute to the improvement of the economic situation in Europe. To this end, the EU countries are negotiating tariff cuts and are seeking to expand the influence of TNCs on the continent, providing them with access to newly discovered sources of raw materials (oil, diamonds, copper ore, etc.).

It should be noted that in many cases Europe does not consider African countries as equal partners. She often uses the "power of the market", ie. the existence of developed trading networks that can sharply reduce transaction costs. For example, in Europe, flower market retail chains are concentrated in the Netherlands. The main flow of flower production goes to the rest of the country from Amsterdam. At the same time, the difference in prices is huge: for example, in Kenya they are ten times lower than in Amsterdam, but Kenyan flowers are sold through Dutch firms, as a result of which most of the profits settle in the Netherlands.
On the one hand, Europeans continue to exploit African countries using “market power”. On the other hand, trade partnerships necessitate business investment in these countries, which ultimately leads to economic growth in Africa.

The interests of the United States in Africa differ significantly from those of the EU. Americans are not as interested as Europeans in reducing the level of migration and, as a result, are not so much concerned about ensuring stable economic growth of African states. Security problems and, above all, the problem of combating international terrorism are of much greater importance to them. The spread of Wahhabi Islam in North Africa and the Sahara region poses a serious threat to American interests. The United States is providing tangible military assistance to Egypt, and is opposing the penetration of radical Islam into Africa through the Horn of Africa. The strategic position of Africa is also of great importance to them. Since 2008, the US African Command (AFRICOM) has been operating with its center in Stuttgart (FRG). AFRICOM's area of ​​responsibility includes all African countries, with the exception of Egypt. The activities of this unit of the US armed forces are mainly reduced to the creation of small air bases (Entebbe in Uganda, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso). In the Niger region, in Ethiopia, in the Seychelles, American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are based.

Bases in Ethiopia and Seychelles are used by the Americans mainly to attack anti-government forces in Somalia. In addition to the airbases, there is a military base in Djibouti, where about 3 thousand soldiers are concentrated. As a result, Americans have the ability to track conflicts across virtually the entire African continent and, if necessary, intervene in them.

Another significant component of American interests in Africa is oil production. The United States receives about 8% of its imported oil from Nigeria, and is seeking to control promising oil fields in Sudan and Ethiopia. By 2015, roughly 25% of US oil imports will be of African origin. The main countries with which the vital interests of the United States are connected are Egypt (as a participant in the Middle East conflict), Nigeria, Angola and South Africa (as countries with exceptional reserves of natural resources).

The United States is also interested in establishing and maintaining formal democracy in the countries of the region. It was this motive that justified the participation of the Americans in the humanitarian intervention in Libya, which led to the fall of the Gaddafi regime. During her 2009 visit to Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to emphasize precisely this aspect of American interests. But here the United States constantly faces significant difficulties. Most African regimes, even observing the formal rules of democracy, i.e. holding elections more or less regularly, in reality they remain extremely corrupt, torn apart by tribal contradictions and are very far from real representation of citizens' interests. The recent elections in Egypt, Kenya and several other countries have shown that the population is often divided along religious or tribal lines, the result of which is rejection of any election outcome. In these conditions, American diplomacy finds itself in a trap: either to recognize the choice of the population that is disadvantageous for the United States, or to insist that this choice is “not free” (for example, Egypt).

China's policy in Africa is radically different from that of America. China's interest especially increased in 2006 after the summit of the leaders of the PRC and African states. In 2011, China's trade with African countries reached $ 166 billion, and imports of goods from Africa to China increased over five years from $ 5.6 to $ 93 billion. China has lifted tariff restrictions on more than 400 goods from African countries.

The mainstay of Chinese policy in Africa is to ignore differences in political regimes, and its official goal is to "aid development." Thanks to its “ideologically neutral” position, China successfully penetrates Africa, especially countries with a bad democratic history (examples are Zimbabwe, South Sudan). The Chinese are successfully building roads, schools, and other infrastructure, but the main goal of Chinese penetration is to gain access to the natural resources of the continent. At the same time, China pays little attention to environmental problems arising from the development of natural resources, which has already led to a number of conflicts. Thus, in the oil-producing countries of Africa - Niger, Chad, Gabon - a struggle is being waged to revise the contracts concluded with China. The Gabonese government has canceled a permit issued to the Chinese for the exploitation of a highly promising field and transferred the rights to use it to a national company. The Chadian Ministry of Petroleum has forced the Chinese to partially stop working in the oil fields due to environmental pollution. However, it is possible that such behavior towards Chinese companies may be caused by opposition from Western competitors.

In general, China is implementing a fairly well-thought-out strategy for the development of Africa, investing tens of billions of dollars both in the development of natural resources and in improving the living conditions of the population. Today, the total volume of Chinese investments in Africa, according to UNCTAD, is $ 50 billion.

The plans of the PRC government seem to be very ambitious. Official development assistance alone is $ 1.2 billion, while the World Bank has provided Africa with $ 4.1 billion. At present, China uses almost exclusively “soft power” to penetrate African countries. These policies include referral of health workers, scholarships for African students, infrastructure construction, and the like. However, the question of how the policy of Chinese penetration into Africa will change after its "initial development" remains open. The use of exclusively Chinese labor for work in Africa causes a certain distrust of the assistance provided by the PRC on the part of African governments. The natural desire of the Chinese government is to oust Western companies from the African continent.

This raises the question: what policy should the Russian government pursue with regard to Chinese penetration into Africa? After twenty years of disregard for African politics, our country is beginning to show interest in the continent in connection with the penetration of Russian capital there. The zone of possible Russian influence in Africa, which roughly coincides with the zone of possible influence of China, includes, first of all, countries that are in varying degrees of confrontation with the West.

It seems that Russia should, without entering into direct confrontation with its friendly China, consolidate, if possible, that part of the African elite that has sympathy for our country. At the same time, it is advisable to use such methods of “soft power” as the spread of the Russian language, the organization of non-governmental associations of former students, people who studied in the USSR, etc. penetration into the continent.

The aspiration of the Chinese to Africa has not yet met with forceful opposition from the West. However, it is possible that as China's cooperation with African countries intensifies, it may encounter such opposition in various forms (anti-Chinese mass movements, attacks on Chinese property, organizing coups in those African countries that are especially strongly susceptible to Chinese influence, etc.). ). It is no accident that the United States is creating bases in Africa, mainly of an observation nature, using UAVs. This makes it possible, in particular, to collect information on the extent of Chinese penetration into the continent. In the future, such activities of the Americans will undoubtedly increase, as will the EU's intervention, which is fraught with the transformation of Africa into a potential source of new international conflicts.

By the middle of the 21st century, some African states (primarily South Africa) will be able to turn into real industrial giants. At the same time, they will inevitably face the question: who should they be guided by in world politics?

The colonial role of many EU countries on the continent has not been forgotten. The United States compromised itself after the Second World War by participating in the events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Somalia, as well as an open desire to put a significant part of Africa under financial control. China is behaving rather cautiously, but excessive assertiveness and disregard for environmental standards can negatively affect the development of its relations with African countries.

If, after overcoming the consequences of the world economic crisis, Russian diplomacy displays its characteristic subtlety and flexibility, then certain prospects will open up for our country's penetration into Africa.

This article was originally published on Geopolitics
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