“Between late 19th and early 20th centuries, Africa was apportioned by several European powers— the practice became known as the “Scramble for Africa” or “Race for Africa.”…”
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The increasing foreign military and economic engagement in Africa
By Foday Darboe
Between late 19th and early 20th centuries, Africa was apportioned by several European powers— the practice became known as the “Scramble for Africa” or “Race for Africa.” The rush for resources and territories frequently destroyed the indigenous economic, social and political institutions. Many critics in Africa and elsewhere still blame the immoral structures of colonialism for some of the existing economic and political shortcomings in many of the African countries. In recent years, Africa has become a hotspot for increased economic and military activities; some neocolonial powers and multinational corporations are again usurping African states, extracting rich natural resources in exchange for arms, loans, or infrastructural development.
Debates across the continent over these initiatives are ongoing. While the continent is seeing a significant economic growth rate, the questions we ought to ask are: How is the economic growth improving the lives of average Africans? Should Africans worry about the increasing foreign military engagement across Africa?
The United States, China, United Kingdom, France, India, Saudi Arabia are expanding their economic and military footprints across the continent. For decades, Africa was perceived as a hopeless basket case—and was mostly dealt with in matters of peacekeeping, humanitarian missions, and resource extractions. Now, changing world geo-economics has rapidly changed; Africa has become strategically important.
In the past decades, the United States-Africa relations was mainly focused on militarized national security strategy. The U.S. African Command Center (AFRICOM), based in Djibouti, exemplifies the U.S. “national security” interests in the region. For instance, the U.S. has established several temporary posts, using Special Forces and drones, supporting proxy armies across Africa. US-based corporations are tapping into Africa’s natural resource sectors and have vital interests in key resource-producing regions. The U.S. is also countering Beijing’s growing influence across Africa as China poses a strong challenge to U.S. interests in many countries on the continent, even planting its military there.
China has outperformed the United States economically and politically across Africa—and Beijing is playing a major role in economic development, politics, peace and security matters in general. Nonetheless, critics, argued that China’s noninterference policy and regard for self-determination allow aid to be allocated without conditions—giving authoritarian leaders in countries like Chad, Djibouti, Republic of Congo, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Zimbabwe much-needed funding—often used to continue to oppress their own people. China and the US frame it as contest between the two powers, but what of the people of Africa?
France, too, has boosted its military footprints in some of its former colonies. Given its longstanding history in Francophone Africa, France strengthened its influence by preserving vital economic structure, disbursing economic support and building influential social systems and institutions. Also, deep-rooted French business interests, and close personal dealings between the ruling elites contribute to the continuance of France’s primacy in portions of West Africa and the Congo basin in particular. Such relationship gives leaders like Chad’s Idriss Déby, DRC’s Joseph Kabila, the Republic of Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Djibouti’s Ismaïl Omar Guelleh some security and a pass on their poor human rights record. To a lesser degree, India, Japan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia are also increasingly expanding their economic and military interests in some parts of Africa. For instance, Saudi Arabia is using Djibouti’s waterways between the Arabian Peninsula and northeast Africa to fight Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The war on terror has given the United States, France, and allies a pretext for establishing a strong military presence in Africa—but this could create a backlash and essentially help terrorist groups in their recruitment. What the continent needs least is foreign militarization. While there is an argument to be made about the rise of terrorism in Africa, however, there is no silver bullet in fighting terrorism anywhere in the world as the experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries have shown. From a policy standpoint, if the spread of terrorism in Africa is an utmost concern for the United States, France, United Kingdom et al., a comprehensive economic and social development blueprint must be developed that earnestly addressed long-term objectives, basic human needs, deeply held grievances and root causes of terrorism in Africa. Drone warfare is decidedly unhelpful, alienating hearts and minds every time an African child is collateral damage.
Resource-rich Africa should graduate from foreign aid and its concomitant culture of dependency. Africans must collectively advocate for institutional reforms that hold African leaders and multinational corporations accountable as well as more inclusion of civil society and interest groups in policymaking. The bad old ways of corruption, kleptocracy, exploitation and brutal rule must give way to transparency, human rights, and civil society economic and political empowerment, country by country and insofar as possible, continent-wide.
Foday J. Darboe is a doctoral candidate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Nova Southeastern University.
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