The US-led Western Mainstream Media (MSM) used to hardly mention Africa, except from spreading concern about its ostensible perpetual instability. Yet the seeds of this perpetual instability were sown by the European colonial settlers in this rich continent. The colonial powers of Europe robbed Africa of its resources and divided it into artificial republics, resulting in the vicious cycles of authoritarianism, poverty, and bloodshed that still exist today.
However, in recent years, the focus has shifted to a discourse of Africa’s engagement in what many have come to point to as the New Cold War. The US-led West’s Golden Billion is clinging to unipolarity in the face of the BRICS-led Global South who are advocating multipolarity in this hybrid global conflict.
How Africa was robbed
The Scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the continent was arbitrarily divided among colonial powers. The transatlantic slave trade was started by Europeans not long after Christopher Columbus’ so-called “discovery” of the Americas. At succeeding years, at least 12 million Africans were taken captive, sold as slaves to Europeans in West African ports (usually by other Africans), and then transported inhumanely to the sugar and cotton plantations of the Caribbean, Brazil, and the American South. The trans-Saharan and East African slave trades, which supplied labor for North Africa, the Middle East, and the sugar islands of Reunion and Mauritius, were also going to take eight million more Africans.
Although the slave trade started to decline when slavery was abolished in Europe in the early and middle 19th century, the ills plaguing Africa quickly took on a new shape. Africa changed from being a source of labor for American colonies to being a supply of minerals and other raw commodities essential to Western manufacturing.
Europeans divided the mostly uncharted continent into protectorates and colonies in meetings like the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 to satisfy their appetite for commodities like gold, silver, rubber, palm oil, groundnuts, and – after the start of World War I – cotton. European officials did not even wait for explorers to report their findings because they were so eager to divide the continent.
Because most of the lines created in Berlin became borders that persisted after independence, the artificial design of colonial institutions had long-lasting effects. A quick glance at the map of Africa demonstrates this legacy. More tightly than any other continent, African borders follow latitudinal and longitudinal contours, dividing hundreds of ethnic groups, leaving the Hausa in Nigeria and Niger, the Maasai in Tanzania and Kenya, the Jolas in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, and so on.
Re-emergence of Africa in geopolitics amidst a New Cold War
Africa suddenly came to the attention of the Western public as their governments plotted to obliterate Libya in 2011, but it quickly slipped their minds as the MSM concentrated more on the Syrian Conflict, which started that same year, and then the Ukrainian Conflict, which began in 2014. However, the most recent stage of the Ukrainian Conflict, which was brought about by a particular military operation by Russia, has once more led the West to pay closer attention to Africa, which was long under the shadow with the presence of European military under the garb of maintaining stability.
While the West was engaged in dubious ploy of keeping Africa restive and maintain supply of minerals for Western industrial inputs, new entrants softly began unsettling Western designs. China, which is systematically carrying out a vast, 21st-century Marshall Plan for the region through its Belt and Road Initiative, has pushed Western policy in Africa off course. Beijing is also hardly at fault. Africa has emerged as the most significant piece on the geopolitical chessboard since it is home to a sizable portion of the world’s water supplies, untapped arable land, and by the year 2050, roughly 25% of the world’s population. The West is on the verge of spending the next several decades on the outside looking in unless a significant change in strategy is made.
China is strategically investing in infrastructure projects in Africa such as railroads, ports, dams, and hydropower plants as part of its long-term strategy there. However, these investments might only be a prelude to China’s foray into two sectors that have historically been dominated by the United States: technology and banking, where it hopes to rival American titans like Microsoft, Boeing, Google, and General Electric. China is banking on getting access to African mineral resources through investments for rivalling these US giants. Such game-changing actions would help China achieve its greater goal of dethroning the US dollar. Using the clout of finance, China is strategically poised to exert control of African ports.
Russia began to pull resources in Africa after it actively became involved in hybrid wars against the West in Asia and Europe. Russia has been attempting to earn support in Africa under President Vladimir Putin for a number of years, rekindling relations that date back more than 50 years, when the Soviet Union supported numerous African movements seeking to remove colonial control.
Despite having modest trading ties with Africa, Russia has recently increased its influence there by playing its cards wisely. Russia has skillfully used a combination of diplomacy, military and espionage initiatives to promote leaders or proxies in the countries where it has gained the most influence, including Libya, the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Mali with Arab nod. The junta of Mali, actively aided by Russian Private Military Contractor Wagner, forced France to withdraw troops from its territory. This is the pointed spear in a more normal series of interactions meant to boost Russian elite diplomacy while fostering a favorable image of the country. In March, when the U.N. voted to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the influence of Moscow in Africa was on full show. 28 African countries supported the resolution, but 25 abstained or did not vote, constituting a sizable minority of the continent’s nations.
The fact that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has recently returned from a trip there as well has led many observers to the conclusion that the Old Cold War-style fierce war for influence is currently taking place throughout the continent. Instead of competing over ideologies as it did before, one axis, led by the US and the West, favors unipolarity, while the Global South, represented by the Russia and China, favors multipolarity.
A number of countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa are emerging as major countries which will have far reaching influence globally. Over the course of the next century, Africa is predicted to see tremendous population growth, which could result in enormous market potential. These 50 countries together constitute a major voting bloc in the United Nations; therefore, it follows that the West and its adversaries want them to back up their interpretations of whatever it may be in order to demonstrate to the rest of the world that a certain number of governments accept their positions.
Henceforth, it may be argued that the relevance of the continent in the New Cold War lies in its role as the focal point like the Old Cold War.