Africa: The Next Stage of the Neo-Cold War



There has been a growing interest in the Sub-Saharan Africa for several reasons: it has plenty of natural resources (e.g. oil, gas and over 30% of world's mineral reserves), it's a growing consumption market, a potential manufacturing power (a future replacement for China); and it represents circa a third of the UN memberships.
Thus, it's not surprising that the rivalry between the US and Russia has been moving towards the African Continent; but which of these two powers presents the most suitable characteristics to assist in Africa's stability and security?

Russia
Some analysts say that Russia is now turning to Africa as a way of mitigating the damages caused by western economic sanctions; but this cannot be true because even before the Ukrainian Crisis (that resulted in the mentioned coercive measure), the Russian Federation was already stretching its arm to the African continent as Steven Blank wrote a couple of years ago “African resources attract Russian elites because they are relatively unexplored and can contribute to Russia’s wealth, political influence and ability to affect European natural gas policy”. Having said this, the marketed Russian interest in the Sub-Saharan Africa is to be interpreted as being in step with the Russian Federation's long planned Foreign Policy.

It's easy for Russia to reach African countries, since many of them insist on using old communist rhetoric (e.g. blaming former imperialists for all their woes) therefore President Putin takes advantage of it to reach his goals. A good example of this, is one of Russia's main partners: Angola. This country has been on the spotlight for having incarcerated 15 political activists, including a Luso-Angolan (Luaty Beirão) who until last week was on a hunger strike, and was visited by the Portuguese Ambassador to Angola – as always, the reaction was "They think Angola is still a slave, that we are slaves of the Portuguese (...) that we don't have a voice and that Portugal is in charge, that Portugal talks and we all know what walks. The Portuguese need to realise that Angola is a sovereign state" (source, in Portuguese); which is exactly the kind of thing that Russia thrives on (as President Putin's speech, delivered at UNGA, showed us).

Grabbing opportunities is what politics is all about. However, Russia not only grabs opportunities but it also creates them; and thus Africans should be asking themselves how far is Russia willing to go in order to expand its sphere of influence and wealth?
If African leaders really mean it when, standing every year before the UNGA, they say they are fighting for the human development of their respective nations, then they must be reminded that assisting Russia with its strategic interests may bear a heavy cost, since Russia focuses on the expansion of its military industry first – meaning that we could expect to see an increase in civil wars, or regional conflicts, in Sub-Saharan Africa to plenish Russian coffers. $13.3 billion in weapon sales revenues in 2014, and an estimated +$13 Bn in 2015 (in Russia's 'Charm Offensive' In Africa: The Case of Angola; October 19, 2015), is enough an incentive to promote bloodshed in order to sell more weapons.

US
America took long to turn to Africa, after a series of blunders in its role during the independence wars. But given America's profile, it should be inferred that the US – in an attempt to balance tensions during the Cold War period – granted a lot of leverage to the Soviets; but the truth is this quid pro quo not only arrested the development of Africans but it also delayed US penetration in Africa (beyond the usual CIA operations). Notwithstanding, Presidents Bush and Obama turned that dark page and re-directed their country's gaze towards that strategic continent.

While Russia wants to use Africa to control oil and gas prices, to benefit its cartel; the US actually sees it for what it really is: a foreign policy game changer. By investing in Africa's oil, gas and mining industries, the US decreases the excessive relevance bestowed on troublemaking nations (that sponsor terrorism) being, thus, able to negotiate with those countries from a stronger position. Notwithstanding, the US is not entirely oblivious to the fact that this new reality will cause those oil-rich countries to react by sponsoring conflicts in Africa in order to keep investors at bay; therefore, the American leadership's preferred method of penetrating Africa is to make partnerships to quell security issues (as opposed to feeding them, like Russia).

One example of such partnerships is the National Guard State Program. According to Scott Morgan, the “National Guard is considered to be able to offer unique skill sets that other Branches of the US Military are not able to provide” and therefore, two new partnerships have been created:
  • Kentucky will partner with Djibouti 
  • Massachusetts Guard will partner with the Kenyan Defence Forces (the agreement was formalized on June 2nd of this year)
Security generates investment. Investment generates human development. Human development, in the long run, generates a more democratic posture (at least in theory). Therefore, America's bet in Africa makes much more sense.

Conclusion
Two powers racing for the same continent. Two different approaches.
If African leaders truly wish to put the interests of their people first, they should consider solving any existing tensions with the US (a symbol of the West) because in spite of the its imperfections (obsession with democracy, human rights, occasional ambiguity etc), America remains the most reliable partner to build stable and secure societies – although it takes two to Tango. Russia's profile suggests that it's not the best partner to guarantee stability in the African continent, because when Russians express willingness to contribute to Africa's security needs we must remember that, unfortunately, they are a two-edged knife.

Comments

  1. Russia is now having a taste of what's like to get involved in the Middle East. Africans will get the weapons from the Ruskies and turn to America for money, that's the vicious cycle Africa is in. Until they're not, you know?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carl :D!

      If confirmed that ISIS really downed the plane...
      All I know, after reading the usual African political platitudes (as exemplified by Angola), is that Africa has a long way to go. There's a lot of work to be done there.

      Carl, my man, thank you for your comment :D. You were missed.

      Cheers

      Delete
  2. India has thrown its hat into the ring too! http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/india-africa-summit-opened-up-space-to-reinvent-an-old-relationship/

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    Replies
    1. Hello Rummy :D!

      Thank you for the link. Yes, I had already seen it last week on PM Modi's G+ page. India understood the importance of Africa way before China, but I'm glad that it's reinforcing the relationship with the continent. As we all know, it is a strategic one; although there's still a lot of work to be done there.

      My friend, thank you for your comment :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
    2. Olá, Rummuser!
      Indians/India have been in Mozambique like forever and never left, since the Portuguese king (XVIII century) started nominating Goan officials to represent the kingdom in Mozambique.
      My great-father was from Goa and I still have family in Mozambique who came from India.
      India/Indian presence in Africa is very strong and somehow influential due trading; although lately the trade Indian community had suffer a major discredit due to AIDS medication forgery.
      By the way from all former Portuguese colonies Mozambique is the only one which fully have accepted Indians ( Hindus and Muslims) as citizens and equals.
      Anyway is good to reset relationships: I guess!

      Delete
  3. I was under the impression that China was dominating things in much of Africa.

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    1. China has diminished her global investments.

      Delete
    2. Hi Looney :D!

      China was dominating the scene in Africa, but then Presidents Bush and Obama decided to counter that. Besides, as Pietr so well said, China has been decreasing its investments abroad ever since it started experiencing some economic troubles (thought that didn't stop the Chinese military from expanding).

      Looney, thank you for your comment :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
    3. Olá, Looney!

      In Mozambique, the Chinese/China were in timber business; they were cutting down ancient trees without re-planting and to avoid transforming the timber in Mozambique as the law requires, the Chinese smuggled the logs during the night through Beira's sea port.
      China's domination is about quid pro quo: China does not interfere in your policies and you let China do whatever its wants inclusively breaking the law, for after all it's Africa.

      Delete
  4. Major powers are racing to Africa after decades of neglect! I think that is good to see all of them there, their presence will benefit the African people like in the case of China that built airports, roads, buildings. Russia's involvement will be more militarised and space related but I see advantages even there. But of course these things are a knife of two edges, it's true.

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    1. Hey Pietr :D!

      In a way, you're right. All political affairs are a two-edged knife but if countries conduct themselves properly (i.e. keep the welfare of their people in mind at all times), things can be well managed.

      Pietr, thank you for your comment :D. It was great to see you back *bowing*.

      Cheers

      Delete
  5. I'm not surprised that Africans still repeat the same stale rhetoric cause what does the world teach them? It teaches them that Africans don't matter. Look at the present migrant assault in Europe: left wingers and stupid human rights activists claim this is good cause we helping Syrians finish their education and we'll have cheap labor, what a joke! When Congo was at war, when Central African Republic was, ha still is, at war, when Mali started her war, did we go there to pick up girls in mass to finish their education in the west? No, we didn't. And we all know how hard it's like for girls in Africa to go to school! Where was Michelle Obama then? Oh, she's in the Middle East lecturing the Arabs on girl education, by the way!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous :D!

      I have observed that same thing. However, how helpful, how productive, is it for Africans to maintain the hostility towards Europe/West? It's not.
      Obviously, I agree with you that the treatment bestowed upon African refugees is not the same being granted to the ME migrants, and that is something that we all need to talk about. We need a serious debate on it.

      Michelle Obama is in the ME, is she? How interesting...

      Anonymous, thank you so much for your comment :D.

      Cheers

      Delete

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