This year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) has re-ignited debate on the perils of The New Scramble for Africa—the idea that the continent is ensnared by a new wave of resource and strategic exploitation by major world powers from the West and East. So, as African leaders brag about growing diplomatic and economic ties with emerging powers such as China and India. Critics argue, Africa is trapped in another epoch of capitulation.
However, Africa’s current engagement with major international actors is defined by unique dynamism—one unseen in history—that could propel the continent to new heights. Rather, we should worry that inept and unpatriotic approaches of African leaders is what will leave the continent downtrodden.
Obviously, like the West, China and other emerging markets are keen on exploiting Africa’s resources to bolster their growing economies. Through bilateral agreements, China is particularly aggressive in seeking to boost its geopolitical position as a great power. Beijing’s contribution to African economies is increasingly recognised even as many fear the continent is being short-changed through shoddy trade and investment deals, the export of Chinese labour as well as the dumping of cheap and low-quality products.
Grants for infrastructural development abound, there is also unease that after the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (Hipc) debt-relief initiative, Africa will be heavily saddled by soft-loans from China, India and other emerging countries.
Some contend the principle of non-interference adopted by these non-Western countries in dealing with Africa’s quasi-democratic regimes will attenuate democratic governance, respect for human rights and also entrench corruption.
But, the so-called New Scramble for Africa should, first and foremost, be seen through the prism of a geopolitical context that has significantly changed-what Chinese President Xi Jinping calls a “world…undergoing profound changes unseen in a century.” The world economy is now almost universally capitalist and undergoing intense economic globalisation.
Prior to this year’s Focac summit, Western leaders again ratcheted their efforts at wooing Africa. In August, British Prime Minister Theresa May visited South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya during which she pledged an additional £4 billion of investment in African economies. French President Emmanuel Macron was in Nigeria in July prior to promising €65 million towards financing African startups.
Notably though, The New Scramble for Africa has also helped redefine Africa’s relationship with external actors all of whom are modifying their engagement with the continent.
In fact, the language of diplomacy is equally changing. China has pitched its ties on ‘win-win’ engagement and despite their often-bullish and sneering attitudes towards Africa, Europe’s leading States and the European Union (EU) are talking about ‘fair partnership’ with the continent.
Without a doubt, the inclination to maintain structures of dominance and exploitation remains, but, the hard-tools of the by-gone era of colonial subjugation have become blunt. In a world more driven by the economic imperative, soft-power is the panacea as trade and investment have become key features of inter-national relations.
This, therefore, is Africa’s golden opportunity—a time the continent should be strategic in maximising its gains. But for this to materialise, our leaders must make bold and sound decisions in the ‘national interest.’ The problem though, which President Peter Mutharika seemed oblivious of on his return from Focac, is that African leaders are not patriotic. Crucially, it will take far more than patriotism platitudes for Malawi (and Africa) to rise.
Our leaders are challenged to develop actionable long-term plans that increase productivity, transform underdeveloped economies and eradicate poverty. n