Introduction: Rich Africa
Africa is undoubtedly the continent best endowed with natural resources. With a surface area of approximately 30.3 million square kilometers, if one includes the island areas, the continent covers about a sixth of the surface of the globe and one-fifth of the world’s land mass. Today, it is home to approximately 1.2 billion people, or 17 percent of the world’s population, unevenly distributed over 55 states. As a whole, it has a population density average, of about 35 people per square kilometer compared to 47 per square kilometer globally. This average is 4 times lower than that of the European Union, for example. However, the average population growth is very high, and according to population projections, the African population is expected to double by 2050. (1)
For the National Geographic Society, (2)
‘’Africa is sometimes nicknamed the “Mother Continent” due to its being the oldest inhabited continent on Earth. Humans and human ancestors have lived in Africa for more than 5 million years.’’
Africa’s wealth lies in its soil. The continent has 24 percent of the world’s arable land, yet it generates only 9 percent of agricultural production. The fertile land is unevenly distributed, with large desert areas in the Sahelian basin and wet, highly fertile areas around water basins and along the major rivers. While some are unable to exploit all of their lands, others struggle to cultivate staple crops, resulting in episodes of extreme famine. (3)
Although the land has not yet unfolded its full potential, it is probably the African subsoil that is the most richly endowed. Africa alone has more than 60 different types of minerals, accounting for a third of the world’s mineral reserves, all minerals combined. For example, it is endowed with 90 percent of the world’s PGM reserves; 80 percent of coltan; 60 percent of cobalt; 70 percent of tantalum; 46 percent of diamond reserves; 40 percent of gold reserves, and 10 percent of the oil reserves. (4)
Finally, let us not forget that the African continent is full of very varied energy sources, distributed in distinct areas: an abundance of fossil fuels (gas in North Africa, oil in the Gulf of Guinea and coal in Southern Africa), water basins in Central Africa, (5) uranium deposits; solar radiation in the Sahelian countries and geothermal capacities in East Africa. The paradox, however, is that although the continent is an energy power due to its resources, it is only an electrical dwarf in terms of consumption. Africa’s population is equivalent to 17 percent of the world’s population, but consumes only 4 percent of the energy produced. However, in order to fill this gap and meet the growing needs of a growing population, its demand is expected to increase by about 75 percent in the next 20 years. A windfall that could well help unlock the potential for industrial growth potential. (6)
On the wealth of Africa, Jorge Ortiz writes in Atalayar: (7)
‘’The research firm New World Wealth, in collaboration with Henley & Partners, has just published a new report on wealth in Africa for 2022. According to the document, there are five countries where 50% of the continent’s wealth is concentrated. These are South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and Kenya.
The content of the report points out some more facts about the reasons why these countries accumulate so much wealth. Firstly, it highlights that South Africans have the greatest combined wealth. They hold more than 651 billion dollars. The list is followed by the Egyptians with 307 billion dollars and the Nigerians, who own around 228 billion dollars in total.
In addition, South Africa has the two richest cities on the entire continent, with Johannesburg, the first, being the richest and having a total private wealth of $239 billion. The second is Cape Town, with a wealth of $131 billion. These are followed by Cairo and Lagos, with $128 billion and $97 billion respectively.’’
Strengthening African unity has long been a sought-after goal that has never been achieved. As the need for regional integration and the reasons for past failures become better understood, new efforts are being made to strengthen economic and political ties among the continent’s many countries.(8)
The main challenges to achieving integration are to expand trade among African countries, build more roads and other infrastructure, reform regional institutions, increase transparency and public participation, and coordinate private and public sector initiatives more closely.
On the concept of African unity, Terence Corrigan writes: (9)
‘’‘African unity’ has been one of the most consistent themes in African political thought. Since independence, the vision of a continental order stretching from Cape Town to Cairo and from Dakar to Dar es Salaam has been an entrancing one. Africa, rather than being a geographical descriptor, would be a geopolitical identity.
Can Africa plausibly find common ground for a common future? Unity requires more than intra-African cooperation or opening borders – it needs a foundation of common values. ‘Africa’ must stand for something.
This has been recognised, implicitly and explicitly, by the African Union (AU) since its founding. In 2011, an AU Summit was dedicated to ‘Greater Unity and Integration through Shared Values’. It pledged to ‘promote and encourage democratic practices, good governance and the rule of law, protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for the sanctity of human life and international humanitarian law, as part of efforts for the prevention of conflicts.’ Unity features prominently in the continent’s current 50-year developmental blueprint, Agenda 2063.’’
Integration has many benefits. Expanding regional markets gives African producers and consumers more opportunities, well beyond the sometimes small markets of their own countries. There are two virtues of regional economic integration. It can reduce the costs of building essential infrastructure, such as transportation, communications, energy, water supply systems, and scientific and technological research, which one country often cannot finance alone. At the same time, integration facilitates large-scale investment by making economies more attractive and reducing risks. (10)
The desire for integration does not come only from the top. At many levels of society, Africans are striving to forge more ties with each other. For some, these relationships already exist. For others, they have yet to be forged.
Regional integration of the continent has been a dream of many African leaders and led to the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. Over the years, many other institutions have been created in different parts of Africa. But on the whole they have done little to increase trade or other exchanges between African countries. In many cases, many countries continue to have the most extensive relationships with their former colonial powers. (11)
The record of regional integration in Africa is so far poor, and many regional alliances are characterized by uncoordinated initiatives, political conflicts, and little intra-regional trade. However, analysts note that some of the external and internal factors that have hindered Africa’s integration in the past have abated somewhat in recent years, and there is therefore reason for cautious optimism.
Africans have also learned from the failure of their previous initiatives. Many integration advocates are now taking a less ambitious and more practical approach. In their view, Africa needs to unite not only to strengthen its presence on the world stage but also to address the practical needs of its people. (12)
Faced with the obstacles to regional integration efforts in Africa, proponents of greater unity identified several conditions to be met:
- More active involvement of civil society associations, professional groups, managers, and other sectors in any integration program;
- Achieving a balance between public and private sector economic initiatives;
- Reconciling the sometimes conflicting interests of countries of different sizes, natural resources, and economic performance;
- Proceeding with integration at a pace that is both ambitious and realistic; and
- Streamlining Africa’s many regional institutions to reduce duplication of effort and inefficiency.
The economic crises that hit much of Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s further undermined integration efforts. They also provided an opportunity for donor countries and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to call for major economic policy reform. The structural adjustment programs that African countries then adopted, under pressure, led to the privatization of hundreds of public enterprises, widespread liberalization of domestic and international trade, and a significant contraction of Africa’s public sectors.
As in other regions of the world, regional integration is primarily constrained by the great diversity of African countries, which differ in size, natural resources, level of development, and linkages to global markets. But, however, on top of that, African unity is hampered by the sluggishness of the African Union (UA), and this was pointed out by Matebe Chisiza: (13)
‘’The objectives of the African Union (AU), which replaced the OAU in July 2002, sought a more comprehensive and less state-centric approach geared towards addressing the needs and aspirations of increasingly globally connected African populations. This included taking a stronger stance against unconstitutional changes of government, as evidenced by the suspension of 12 member states. The most notable suspensions are Libya in 2011, the Central African Republic in 2013, Egypt in 2013 and Burkina Faso in 2014. However, the new continental body has been sluggish in responding to domestic crises, both political and economic, in member states.’’
Big powers and Africa
The relationship between Africa and the West has always been strained, especially because of colonialism, slavery, the Cold War, and now immigration, and on the Russian invasion of Ukraine Africa (as a continent) has taken an ambivalent stance on the war. (14)
The “conquest” of Africa, a continent rich in raw materials (oil, gold, cobalt, coltan, diamonds, wood, uranium), is a major issue at the beginning of the 21st century. It is, moreover, at the heart of an increasingly aggressive game of influence, often to the detriment of the African countries themselves. (15)
From the Baltic to Africa via the Mediterranean. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is back in the world. (16) In Africa, it wants to re-establish the situation it had during the time of the Soviet Union, but also to increase its relations, in ‘’mutual respect.’’
After having been largely absent from Africa since the implosion of the USSR, Russia is still only taking timid steps to intervene in what is the new great game of the 21st century between great powers. Even if it is very far from China, India, the United States and even the former European colonial powers, which are trying to maintain their position. But, to succeed in its comeback, Moscow wants to play its trump card: to put forward its past relations with African countries.
During the Cold War, the USSR appeared in the midst of decolonization as an alternative to Europe and had become one of the main suppliers of arms to African countries. The other strong point of Soviet influence was the university cooperation, which allowed many young Africans to study in Moscow.
At the time, this influence worried Western countries, which even wondered if the Soviet Union was not “taking control of what was called the Third World,” according to specialist journalist Christophe Boisbouvier. (17)
The Russia of the 21st century is far from playing this role on the continent today. Nevertheless, to give a signal of its reengagement, the president, Vladimir Putin, decided last year to cancel some 20 billion dollars of debts of African countries contracted during the time of the USSR. (18) In addition, Moscow has proposed to African countries still in debt a system of exchange “shares for debt”, in particular to invest in energy and natural resources. In industry, particularly in Guinea in bauxite, or in railroads in Ghana, Russian companies are now competing with the Chinese and the French.
Sixty years after independence, the continent remains the object of covetousness among the great powers. Africa represents about 8% of the world’s oil reserves, 7% of the world’s gold, 53% of the world’s diamonds, 75% of the world’s platinum, and at least 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land. If cultivated, it could feed a large part of the world’s population, which by the end of this century could reach 11 billion people, noted economist Dambisa Moyo in an analysis published by Project Syndicate: (19)
‘’But mitigation is not enough. The world needs to engage and help solve Africa’s problems, which, sooner rather than later, will become global problems.1
To be sure, economic theory suggests that Africa should be growing rapidly. The continent is so vast that China, India, the contiguous United States, Japan, and most of Europe could all fit within its borders. Africa also contains 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, making it the region best positioned to feed a burgeoning global population, expected by the United Nations to reach 11 billion by the end of this century.
Moreover, Africa is home to 8% of the world’s oil reserves, 7% of its natural gas, 18% of its gold, 53% of its diamonds, and 75% of its platinum. African countries lead in the production of industrial metals such copper and iron ore. And, all told, Africa controls approximately one-third of the world’s remaining mineral resources.
Finally, with a median age of 19.5, Africa has the world’s youngest and fastest-growing labor force, ahead of even India and China. The continent is already home to 16% of the world’s people, and that number will continue to grow.’’
What has changed profoundly, however, are the players and the geography. The “Great Game” is no longer between Russia and the United Kingdom in Asia, as it was in the 19th century, but between the new emerging countries, America and Europe in Africa. And the spur of the rivalry is China.
The fact remains that, faced with Russian, Indian, European, or American ambitions, China has an advantage. It is ready to largely finance public and private operations in Africa. (20) The difference between China and a country like France is that China provides long-term financing, even if the risk for African countries is to see their debt explode. (21)
On China-Africa relations Paul Nantulya writes in the Africa Center for Strategic Studies: (22)
‘’China’s desire to reshape multilateral institutions and create new ones, rests in part on its ability to enlist Global South support for its global initiatives. Africa is the largest bloc in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly with 28 percent of the votes compared to Asia’s 27 percent, the Americas’ 17 percent, and Western Europe’s 15 percent. Africa also holds more than a quarter of the votes in all UN governing bodies and is the largest bloc in other agencies like the World Trade Organization, the Group of 77, and the Non-Aligned Movement. This makes African votes critically important to Chinese efforts to redesign global institutions.’’
And goes on further to say:
‘’African countries remain key to China’s efforts to isolate Taipei. Presently, only one African state—Eswatini—recognizes Taiwan. Moreover, African leaders frequently condemn high-level engagements with Taiwan. In fact, China’s bilateral and regional agreements in Africa include two standard elements: the “One China Principle” and mutual support on global governance issues. These are spelt out in various memoranda of understanding between the AU and China, and more recently, the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024). “Mutual support in the global governance system,” was part of a four-point agenda of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, during his 5 nation African visit in January 2023.’’
‘’France, dégage de l’Afrique! /France get out of Africa!’’
For the past twenty years, France has seen its economic importance with Africa shrink sharply; this is particularly true for French-speaking Africa, despite the fact that it is a historical partner of French capitalism.
In twenty years, France has lost nearly half of its market share in Africa compared to its competitors, going from 12% to 7%. “French exports have doubled in a market that has quadrupled, hence a division by two of our market share,” says former minister Hervé Gaymard in a report delivered in 2019. (23) Between 2000 and 2017, French exports to the African continent would thus have doubled from 13 to 28 billion dollars but “on a market whose size has quadrupled from about 100 to 400 billion dollars of exports,” continues the report.
Hervé Gaymard goes on to point out quite rightly: (24)
‘’The main message is that there is an urgent need to build Franco-African economic relations for 2050 today. France must have a long-term ambition. Sixty years after independence, I am convinced that we must go beyond the traditional concept of aid and build an investment for development. Such a long-term ambition can only be a collective ambition. It must of course be supported by the public authorities: one of the most urgent tasks is to rebuild, within ten years, a world-class French technical expertise tool, similar to that available in Germany. It must also be supported by private actors: the African continent is not a continent of blows, but of the ability to resist blows. French companies that have succeeded there have been able to build a long-term strategy and diversify their presence to ensure their resilience. Finally, this ambition must not forget that the human factor remains the primary factor: among my proposals is the creation of a system of excellence scholarships for African talent, financed by our companies.’’
Today, one is far from the image of the reserved domain, the French decline is even more pronounced in Francophone Africa. Not only is France losing market share to India and especially China, but in 2017 it also lost its status as the leading European supplier to the African continent, overtaken by Germany. France’s market share in Africa represents 7.35% far behind China (27.75%) and very much behind Germany (6.57%) and the United States (6.5%), which are waging a hidden informational war against France. (25) Indeed, one of the causes of this French decline is an irrational factor that continues to present France, the former colonial power, as “plundering” the continent’s wealth (even if the economic facts partly contradict this reality).
From Rabat to Djibouti, via Niamey, Ouagadougou, Dakar, Bamako, N’Djamena, Yamoussoukro, Yaoundé, Libreville, Bangui, Antananarivo, Tripoli, and adding, in spite of all the window-dressing, Algiers and Tunis, Paris is losing its grip on a large part of Africa. With the year 2022 as the culmination of this divorce, now consummated, between several African countries, once friends and partners of a France, which has shown great feverishness in the management of its bilateral and continental relations with an Africa, which has changed its face, which has evolved, which has decided for at least a good decade to take its destiny into its own hands and reject any form of guardianship whatever the origin, the ins and outs. (26)
A paradigm shift so profound that it has escaped the declining acuity of an old-fashioned and declining French diplomacy. This has given substance to ruptures without return, as is the case with Mali, which sent the French ambassador home following the departure of the last French soldiers present on the soil of the Central African Republic, with, everywhere, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic through the western side of the Mediterranean, the multiplication of signs all displaying a clear and unambiguous message: “France get out!’’
On the issue of the decline of France in Africa, Peter Fabricius writes in the Institute of Security Studies: (27)
‘’On the face of it, France seems to be losing ground in Africa. It was forced out of Mali and appears to be losing popular support elsewhere in the Sahel. And then last week, two Francophonie members, Gabon and Togo, joined the Commonwealth at its biennial summit in Kigali.
They became the first former French colonies with no British ties to join the largely Anglophone 54-member Commonwealth, which comprises mainly former British colonies. More recently, others with no British colonial history, such as Mozambique in 1995 and Rwanda in 2009, have also been admitted.
Some have interpreted this as a setback for Paris. Togolese political scientist Mohamed Madi Djabakate said the move would prove popular in his country as French influence in Togo was often blamed for its economic woes. ‘Togo joining the Commonwealth is better for many people than sharing the French language and culture, which at the end of the day has not promoted development,’ he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).’’
At issue, and without ambiguity, the aggressive and unacceptable policy of President Emmanuel Macron, who blows hot and cold, with regard to a part of this Africa that today has other ambitions, which sees the future of its populations outside the French sights, by concluding partnerships with other powers, notably China and Morocco, which, for 23 years, has made Africa a political, social, cultural and human national priority.
This translates into a simple rejection of the modus operandi of the French policy with its African “partners”, even to the point of irritating to the utmost a state so loyal and so allied as Senegal. Indded, Senegal aligns itself with Mali, with Burkina Faso, with the Central African Republic, with Cameroon, with the Ivory Coast, with Niger, with Chad, with Libya and even with a country such as Djibouti, a favourite of Paris, which is also demanding its independence in the wake of the protest and rejection movements that are spreading from one region to another like a contagious trail, likened to an awakening that many consider to be late. For many, France has been unfair in its relations with its former colonies, which it still intends to direct with its finger and eye by dictating their policies, the favorable business climate for France and its vision of “human rights”, a card that is always brandished when dealing with these “allies” of the South. All of this is mixed with outdated lessons that Africans no longer want to receive from anyone, especially from a France bogged down in endless political and social crises, not to mention the deep and serious economic stagnation that pushes it to want to tap into the African reservoir that has served as an emergency valve and milking cow for over a century and a half.
This rejection on the part of African political leaders today also reflects the dismay of African populations who categorically refuse the interference of Paris in their internal affairs, serving itself as it pleases, giving lessons at every turn, intervening militarily wherever it decides, plunging entire countries into chaos. This raises the specter of a Libyan-style bankruptcy over countries such as Mali, Niger, Burkina, Chad, and the Central African Republic, among other states weakened by decades of exploitation by large French companies that are making huge profits while the populations of these countries are becoming poorer every day. Overexploited raw materials, coveted rare earths, natural resources plundered for very long years, not to mention the millions of Africans subjected, mistreated, made into slaves by a France that gives lessons on the rights of humans to be equal, brothers, and free! Not to mention the fate reserved for all the deportees, for all those who fought by force to liberate France, for all the victims of atomic testing in the Sahel desert…
A very long list of injustices committed by France and inflicted on Africans who have endured enough and who, today, are saying: “Enough!’’. They are legion those who have undergone the same treatment by France. A whole African youth today who says “No”. No to visa blackmail, as if it were an entry ticket to paradise! No to arm wrestling on local markets and on the lion’s share reserved for French companies. No to cultural guardianship with this so outdated Francophonie that looks more and more false and misleading. No to the politics of the twisted hand to bend all those who want to decide for themselves their future and their development. No to double game. No to duplicity. No to profits of any kind. No to privileges. No to exploitation. No to discrimination. No to racism and xenophobia, two scourges that are today taking on a very worrying dimension in a French society that is both divided and weakened.
To counter French decline on the economic front, Hervé Gaymard concludes in his above-mentioned report: (28)
‘’Beyond the pitfalls of agitation or confusion, this new relationship with the African continent, for both public and private actors, could be summed up by a formula: festina lente (hasten slowly). France has the assets to succeed on the African continent in the 21st century. It must cultivate them in a serene manner. Serenity, first of all, in the development of its strengths: our companies are already contributing to the economic and social development of the continent. Secondly, in anticipating what the relations of third countries with the African continent will be, particularly with regard to the probable overtaking of the notion of official development assistance and thus the search for new paradigms in this area (such as the proposed one of investment for development, via the creation of markets). However, these assets can only be developed if the ambition for a greater economic presence on the African continent is not simply a political will but a true collective ambition, shared by French economic decision-makers, carried out at the regional level and based on public policies that are oriented towards the long term rather than announcement effects. It is on this condition that, in a few decades, France will be able to maintain its position as one of the world’s top three investors on the continent.’’
Even more remarkable is the fact that France’s decline can be observed first in French-speaking countries. France’s main African trading partners are now Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, followed by Nigeria and South Africa. The former West African countries now account for only 1% of France’s market share.
It must be said that anti-French sentiment has never been so strong. Starting in Mali, it has spread to the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso, where opinion leaders accuse the former colonial power of wanting to profit from their resources. This anti-French sentiment is largely instrumentalized by Moscow, which for several years has been seeking to increase its influence in Africa and to replace Paris in its former “pré carré’’ (private domain).
Neo-colonialism in Africa
Neo-colonialism is a term that refers to a form of economic, political and cultural domination exercised by developed countries over developing countries, especially those that were colonized by these same countries. It is a form of imperialism characterized by unequal economic relations between rich and poor countries, as well as by policies that aim to keep former colonies in a position of dependence on the colonizing countries. (29)
Neo-colonial practices can include unfair trade policies, foreign investment that favors the interests of Western companies over those of local populations, manipulation of commodity prices, pressure to adopt neo-liberal economic policies that favor the interests of rich countries, and the promotion of Western cultural models at the expense of local cultures.
Neo-colonialism is often seen as a subtler and insidious form of domination than traditional colonialism, which ended with the independence movements of the 1950s and 1960s. However, it continues to have devastating effects on the economies and societies of developing countries, and is a major issue in contemporary international politics.
Kwame Nkrumah introduces neo-colonialism in the following terms: (30)
‘’The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside. The methods and form of this direction can take various shapes. For example, in an extreme case the troops of the imperial power may garrison the territory of the neo-colonial State and control the government of it. More often, however, neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means. The neo-colonial State may be obliged to take the manufactured products of the imperialist power to the exclusion of competing products from elsewhere. Control over government policy in the neo-colonial State may be secured by payments towards the cost of running the State, by the provision of civil servants in positions where they can dictate policy, and by monetary control over foreign exchange through the imposition of a banking system controlled by the imperial power.’’
The use of the term neo-colonialism first became widespread, particularly in reference to Africa, shortly after the decolonization process following the end of World War II, which followed the struggle of several national independence movements in the colonies. (31)
Colonialism is a policy of occupation and economic, political or social exploitation of a territory by a foreign state. Neo-colonialism refers to a situation of dependence of one state on another. This dependence is not official, as is the case between a colony and a metropolis. (32)
The brutal exploitation of the populations as well as the appropriation of the resources of the continent by the countries of the North are at issue. This is what justifies that today, France and other Western countries are implementing actions, notably by helping the development that colonization had slowed down.
To answer the question: what is the difference between colonialism and neo-colonialism? Sadegh Khalili Tehrani writes: (33)
‘’The most straightforward contrast is that colonialism took place in the past and had its peak in Africa in the 19th and 20th century. On the other hand, neo-colonialism in Africa was formed after African colonies were liberated and is still going on today. Additionally, the leading colonial powers in the past were the Europeans. From 1492 to 1914, roughly more than 80% of the world was either conquered or colonized by them. As a consequence of the world wars, the former colonial rulers had been weakened. Consequently, the USA rose and became one of the leading imperial powers, that are active in Africa today. In addition to the Americans, in the course of the time, China became more and more active on the imperial stage. Furthermore, during colonialism, a physical occupation of the territory by the colonizers was needed, whereas in neo-colonialism, the imperialists do not have to be physically present in the neo-colonialist state. Moreover, in the book Neo-Colonialism the Last Stage of Imperialism Nkrumah claims that “for those who practice [neo-colonialism], it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress”. Contrary to that, in the days of colonialism, the colonizers were, at least, responsible for their actions and had to justify them. In the Charter of the United Nations, it says that “Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government […] to ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses […]”.
The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), in its latest reports warned African leaders about Africa being used as pawns by external players for achieving their geopolitical interests. This, however, raises the following questions:
- What should be the Africa’s collective position and their approach towards external players/powers? and
- What should be the role of the African Union?
Neo-colonialism in Africa refers to the indirect and continued domination of African countries by former colonial powers, or by other external powers, through economic, political, and cultural means. Some aspects of neo-colonialism in Africa include:
- Economic exploitation: African countries are often forced to rely on exports of raw materials, while importing manufactured goods at higher prices, leading to a one-sided economic relationship.
- Political interference: External powers often interfere in the political affairs of African countries, supporting leaders who are favorable to their interests, and opposing those who are not.
- Cultural domination: The cultural influence of former colonial powers can still be felt in Africa, as Western cultural values and norms are often seen as superior to traditional African values.
- Debt dependency: Many African countries are burdened by debt, which often originated from loans given by external powers. These debts can lead to dependency and compromise their sovereignty.
- Land and resource grabbing: External powers or corporations often acquire large amounts of land or resources in African countries, often displacing local populations and leading to environmental degradation.
Russia in Africa
The “new” Russian presence in Africa, after a disengagement of nearly 30 years, is evolving rapidly and can confuse several politicians as long as it asserts itself as a counterweight to Chinese ambitions. (34)
From the Baltic to Africa via the Mediterranean. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is back in the world. In Africa, it surely wants to re-establish the situation it had during the Soviet Union, but also to increase its relations, with mutual respect and strong desire for co_development.
But according to Joseph Siegle writing in Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Russia is using other means to get a foothold in Africa: (35)
‘’Russia’s expanding influence in Africa in recent years is mostly a result of Moscow’s use of unofficial means—deploying mercenaries, disinformation campaigns, arms for resources deals, and trafficking of precious metals. These low-cost, high-impact tools are typically employed in support of isolated African leaders with dubious legitimacy. Russian backing of beleaguered leaders in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, and Sudan has been vital to keeping these actors in power.
Russia’s asymmetric approach to gaining influence in Africa is also notable in that these “partnerships” are with the individual leaders Moscow is propping up—and not with the broader public. It’s about elite co-option more than traditional bilateral cooperation.’’
After having been largely absent from Africa since the implosion of the USSR, Russia is still only taking timid steps to interpose itself in what is the new great game of the 21st century between great powers. Even if it is very far from China, India, the United States and even the former European colonial powers, which are trying to maintain their position. But, to succeed in its comeback, Moscow wants to play its trump card: to put forward its past relations with African countries.(36)
During the Cold War, the USSR appeared in the midst of decolonization as an alternative to Europe and had become one of the main suppliers of arms to African countries. The other strong point of the Soviet influence was the university cooperation, which allowed many young Africans to study in Moscow. At the time, this influence worried Western countries, who even wondered whether the Soviet Union was not taking control of what was called the Third World.
According to the specialist journalist Christophe Boisbouvier: (37)
”No, Putin’s is now going back on the offensive. No more socialist solidarity between “brotherly peoples”. It is time for diplomacy of raw materials, for oligarchs determined to exploit Guinean bauxite or Zimbabwean platinum.
But the engine of Russian business in Africa is also the arms market. How many countries bought military equipment from the defunct USSR in the last century and now need spare parts or more modern weapons?
It is less well known, but since the annexation of Crimea and the trade sanctions decided by the European Union, Morocco is Russia’s first partner in the food sector.
That said, Putin is well aware that the breakthroughs made by Gazprom and Rusal in Africa and the Middle East will not be enough to restore Russia’s position as a global power.
In order to exist in the face of the West, he must oppose the foreign policy of the “P3″ – the United States, the United Kingdom and France – which for a long time ruled the UN Security Council. He is standing up in Syria, of course, but also in Libya and the Great Lakes.”
The Russia of the 21st century is far from playing this role on the continent today. Nevertheless, to give a signal of its reengagement, the president, Vladimir Putin, decided in 2019 to cancel some 20 billion dollars of debts of African countries contracted during the time of the USSR. (38) In addition, Moscow has proposed to African countries still in debt, a system of exchange “shares for debt”, especially to invest in energy and natural resources. In industry, particularly in Guinea in bauxite, or in railroads in Ghana, Russian companies are now competing with the Chinese and the French.
Somewhat like a cat out of the bag, the Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 where Putin gathered some 30 African heads of state in Sochi struck the media opinion, overlooking the Soviet roots of this interest. Despite the absence of an overarching ideological rationale as in the days of the USSR, Putin’s Russia can take advantage of this legacy and bring a pragmatic approach to it.
Russia’s re-engagement in Africa began with President Putin’s visits to South Africa (39) and Morocco in 2006, followed by his interim successor Medvedev’s visits to Egypt, Angola, Namibia, and Nigeria in 2008, in both cases accompanied by delegations of businessmen to finalize private deals. This did not go unnoticed by Western analysts of Russian politics, who quickly detected a desire to score economic and symbolic points. Putin set the tone: “Russia notes without jealousy that other countries have established ties in Africa, but it intends to defend its interests on the continent“. (40) However, at the same time, another strategy was at work at the state level.
In 2006, President Putin canceled the Algerian state’s debt (of about $4.5 billion) in exchange for lucrative arms deals. (41) A similar strategy was implemented in Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya: railway and gas contracts to Gazprom in exchange for the cancellation of Libyan debts. (42) The fall of the dictator thwarted the plans somewhat, but Russia tried to remain influential, especially with Commander Haftar and contracts obtained by the Russian security firm Wagner. (43) In Egypt, the former darling of Soviet cooperation during the Nasser era, there will be arms sales contracts (in excess of 3.5 billion dollars) with President Al-Sissi’s regime, coupled with an agreement between the Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom and the Egyptian government for the construction of a power plant in the Dabaa region, as well as the opening up of a market for Russian grain in the context of an embargo.
This give-and-take approach seems to have little ideological content but is certainly not without strategic vision in that the links with the Al-Sissi regime help to maintain a presence with Haftar in eastern Libya and to reaffirm Russian interests that were scorned when Gaddafi fell. It should be remembered that the cancellation of African debt was a policy put forward by the G8, of which Russia was a member at the time, but which Putin’s regime applied to specific partners in exchange for concrete benefits. (44)
During the period 2009-2018, Russian exports to Africa totaled nearly $100 billion. However, 80% of this trade was concentrated in 7 countries: Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria, Sudan, (45) and South Africa. As most of these are long-standing partners, two-thirds of this trade was directed to two countries in particular: Algeria ($25.8 billion) and Egypt ($37.5 billion). In 2019, the majority of all products exported by Russia to African countries could be grouped into five categories: arms, grain, oil products, ferrous metals, and shipbuilding. (46) The preponderance of Soviet interests in North Africa is more than evident. In contrast, with countries on the economic upswing such as Ethiopia, the DRC, and Angola, trade amounts to only tens of millions of dollars annually. Russia is also targeting bauxite mining in Guinea, platinum mining in Zimbabwe, and diamond mining in Angola. The creation of a Russian industrial zone in Egypt could not only ensure the preponderance of Russian firms in the Egyptian market, but would also allow them to carve out a place of choice in the Sub-Saharan economic space.
From a comparative perspective, trade between the Russian Federation and African countries remains modest, with Russia being the 6th largest trading partner of Africa, after Turkey and far behind China. But Moscow is progressing rapidly: 17.2% increase between 2017 and 2018. Also growing rapidly, Russian investments rose to 5 billion in 2018 and Russian trade turnover with African countries was up 17% to US$20 Billion in 2019, (47) but represents very little compared to Chinese investments estimated at 130 billion per year.
As a symbol of the new age of Russian capitalism, economic activities in Africa are carried out by a combination of private actors and large state-owned companies. The giant Gazprom (48) signs most of the cooperation contracts in the oil and gas sector and wants, for example, to connect Nigeria’s gas resources to Europe, while Rosneft is mainly active in North Africa and Lukoil in Nigeria and Ghana. (49) The state agency Rosatom has nuclear cooperation projects with Egypt, Algeria, (50) Nigeria and Zambia.
Although Russia has benefited from some of the ties forged during the Soviet era, the delay created by its disengagement, the aggressiveness of the Chinese offensive, and the context of international sanctions mean that the Eurasian giant has few means to develop its African strategy, and is taking an approach that combines military cooperation and media influence. To its credit, it has no colonial past and relies on anti-French sentiments, for example in Mali or the Central African Republic. In its public relations campaigns it presents itself as the guarantor of the sovereignty of its African partners, with whom it exchanges services without any political or moral interference with regard to democratic norms.
Moreover, an important aspect of Russian soft power in Africa comes from its experience in Syria. It presents this as proof that it can guarantee the sovereignty and economic independence by freeing itself from the effects of Western sanctions and being less hegemonic than Beijing in its appetite for resources. For African leaders wishing to diversify their economic partners, these assets should not be overlooked.
Thus, the Sochi summit in October 2019 brought together representatives from each of the 54 African countries, including 43 heads of state. (51) China, India, Turkey and Brazil are also already holding their African summits, as are the United States, the EU and Japan. We must therefore see in this exercise not a sign of the hegemonic designs of Putin’s geopolitics, but rather the fact that Russia must do like all the major economic partners of Africa itself. The media impact was somehow more important than the economic and diplomatic impact. Some bilateral and multilateral treaties were signed, but no aid programs. The Russia-Africa summit is going to be held every three years and if Russian forecasts come true, there should be a doubling of Russian-African trade by then, aiming to reach the French level.
Because the list of African countries with security agreements with Russia is rather long, because cooperation projects are multiplying quite rapidly, especially in recent years, and because the foreign observer has somewhat forgotten that the USSR has had sustained interests and contacts with Africa for several decades, it is easy to be suspicious of Russian ambitions in contemporary Africa. Some of the implications are in line with the logic of the Soviet presence in Africa (North Africa, Portuguese-speaking Africa, South Africa and Ethiopia), others are born of new circumstances (Central African Republic). However, in economic terms, Russia does not carry much weight compared to players such as China, the United States, or France, but things can change with time in its favour, hopefully.
Africa is home to a growing population, abundant natural resources, and a rapidly expanding economy, so it certainly has the potential to play a significant role in shaping the future of the world.
Yes, Africa is rich in rare earths and minerals that are highly desirable for many industries, including electronics, renewable energy, and defence. As a result, many great powers, including China, the United States, Europe and Russia, are interested in securing access to these resources.
However, it’s important to note that while the presence of valuable resources can be a source of economic opportunity, it can also lead to exploitation, corruption, and political instability. It is essential that African nations have the ability to manage their resources in a sustainable and equitable way, to ensure that the benefits of these resources are shared by all citizens and that their extraction does not come at the expense of the environment or human rights.(52)
How can Africa develop itself away from the greed of some developed nations? There is no easy answer to this question, as it is a complex issue that involves many different factors. (53) However, there are some steps that Africa can take to promote sustainable development and reduce the influence of developed nations:
- Promote good governance: African nations should work to establish transparent and accountable systems of governance that promote the rule of law, protect human rights, and combat corruption.
- Invest in education and human capital: Developing the skills and knowledge of the African people is crucial to building a sustainable and prosperous future for the continent. Investing in education, health care, and other social services can help to build a strong and healthy workforce.
- Support local industries: African nations can promote economic development by investing in local industries, rather than relying solely on exports of raw materials. This can create jobs, generate income, and promote sustainable growth.
- Foster regional integration: African nations can work together to promote regional integration and reduce dependency on external actors. This can involve developing common trade policies, investing in regional infrastructure, and promoting cooperation on issues of mutual interest.
- Encourage foreign investment on African terms: African nations should strive to attract foreign investment on their own terms, by negotiating fair and equitable deals that benefit both the investor and the host country. This can help to promote economic development and reduce dependency on aid.
- The African continent has enormous potential in terms of mining, agricultural and demographic resources. But to take its full place in the global economy, Africa needs massive investment in infrastructure and training.
For a long time, many economists have been saying that Africa will be the continent of the 21st century. The reasons are well known: arable land, unexploited mineral resources, the demographic transition that will increase the population from 1.3 billion in 2019 to 2.5 billion in 2050. (54) These are all assets, but one can legitimately think that all this involves many difficulties. Demography is a source of youth, innovation and energy, but it can also be a brake on social and therefore economic balance. But above all, Africa today, whatever its positive prospects, is cruelly lacking in infrastructure in terms of water, energy, transport and mobility, training, and access to digital technologies. (55) The absolute necessity of massive investment by the rest of the world in this extraordinary group of 54 countries is a must.
On the infrastructure paradox of Africa, Leo Holtz and Chris Heitzig write in Brookings: (56)
‘’Poor infrastructure continues to hinder economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, according to a recent publication by McKinsey and Company, the region’s attempts to address these gaps have often resulted in infrastructure projects that never move beyond the planning stages. More specifically, the McKinsey report finds that, although international investors have sufficient appetite and capital to fund African infrastructure projects, “80 percent of infrastructure projects fail at the feasibility and business-planning stage.” The authors describe this phenomenon as “Africa’s infrastructure paradox,” where, in the midst of high demand for projects, sufficient supply of capital and investors, and voluminous potential projects, there is insufficient investment in infrastructure projects within the region.’’
And they go on to say:
‘’One of the biggest gaps for sub-Saharan Africa is in access to reliable electricity—a more pressing problem than ever due to growing reliance on technology for remote work and learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, McKinsey finds that more than two-thirds of the global population without electricity is in sub-Saharan Africa (Figure 1)—though there is significant heterogeneity within the region, with countries in the south and west better connected than those in central Africa and Somalia. Notably, sub-Saharan Africa is not only behind in access itself, but is also falling behind in closing that gap: For example, despite having roughly similar population sizes, India expanded access to electricity to an additional 100 million people in 2018. In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa only expanded access to 20 million people. Given McKinsey also forecasts that African demand for electricity will quadruple from 2010 to 2040, the need for improved electricity infrastructure will only grow in the coming years.’’
If the global economic slowdown is confirmed, followed by major financial and macroeconomic disruptions, a large part of the solution would be to rely on the African continent. This is in fact what can be seen in the massive investments made by China, India, and Russia, which have understood how important this is for their own future.
Africa is now ready for all these upheavals and many countries are already experiencing a very rapid evolution. One can talk a lot about the great organization of Rwanda, and the strong growth of Ethiopia, Morocco and Kenya … But another country has largely initiated a positive trajectory, and it is Senegal.
In the long term, it will be necessary to, at least, double the amount of investment in infrastructure, to allow the greatest number of people access to energy, drinking water, and training. African countries are fast and efficient in their ability to adopt innovations, as can be seen in the remarkable technological breakthrough in the field of digital banking and in the use of new means of communication. (57) But, in fact, Africa needs to go much further: it needs to launch a truly exceptional plan over a period of fifteen years which, as always, will demonstrate that massive investment, provided it is accompanied by the necessary training for its proper use and maintenance, yields very positive results, in the end.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
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