Why it may take a third world war by the West to dislodge China from Africa

Currently there is a simmering debate in the west over the influence of China in Africa. US and Europe are concerned of Chinese footprint on the continent’s economic and political and now military tenterhooks straddling the continent. The main reason China’s influence in Africa has been growing is both historical and philosophical in nature. First, the west has long considered Africa as a lost continent ravaged by wars, disease and debilitating poverty. The portrayal of Africa by media in the west was and sometimes is still driven by the need to continue this narrative. Some may say it has a racial tinge projecting black people as incapable of organizing themselves and socially changing their circumstances. As a result, the western media created an atmosphere which could not be attractive to long term western private capital to flow into the continent. Apart from mining and select tourism industry, Most of the western capital investors long considered Africa a high risk low return investment market.

The Chinese naturally took advantage of this misinformation to gradually expand their investment, operations and political relationships within the continent. Whereas the western approach to Africa had been development via aid and IMF loans that came with stringent conditions some of which were practically not in the best interest of the African countries, China’s approach was much more flexible, concentrating mainly in high impact visible infrastructure projects that propelled their status in Africa as the ultimate partners in growth. The deep connection of these relationships for some countries with China is such that a simple change in policy by the west will not be enough to undo the relationships.

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Secondly, the west now considers Africa the last frontier for growth. This is  because:

  1. Africa has a lot of minerals and other natural resources worth billions in the international markets,
  2. It has the youngest and fastest growing population in the world offering the best market for many investors.
  3.  The continent has adapted technology relatively well making it easier to penetrate with carefully designed products, and finally,
  4. Finally, the continent now has a robust fairly literate and skilled labour force capable of driving the growth agenda.

With the new perception of Africa changing, there is bound to be an influx of foreign direct investment. As is likely to be the case, continuous influx of foreign investments will inevitably lead to competition and completion will lead to scramble and ultimately conflict. However it is important to understand the position likely to be taken by Africans themselves.

To understand international relations between Africa and the west as opposed to China, one has to study closely the growing independence of African states. China, it appears is now providing huge leverage for African countries against the west in negotiations for economic opportunities. Some African countries are even going as far as blackmailing the west to support unpopular policy positions in the west due to effort to nurture these relations. Case in point is the ongoing debate for expropriation of land without compensation in South Africa. While the move is obviously unpopular in the west, ANC and EFF are likely to force through this policy riding on the threat of shifting their cooperation to the East. The west would not like that. So they may strike a compromise that facilitates the compensation of the white farmers directly by the west while allowing the white capital to continue flowing within the economy in South Africa.

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The introduction of military component into this mix
While all the above postulations are short term projections of what the relations between Africa and the west as opposed to China portends, the long term picture may actually be more complex. Recently the US senate expressed serious concerns about a possibility of Djibouti reneging on its current Military agreement with US to host US forces in the country. While there may be no direct threat to US in the immediate term, US and the west by extension are likely to consider this as an act of aggression by China and increase their military footprint elsewhere in Africa. China, which has considerable investment in the continent, may in turn consider such action as the west’s attempt to upstage it in the continent and increase its military footprint as well. This could trigger an arms race within African countries sponsored by both parties which could ultimately lead to an accidental or intentional war.

Why the West will lose
Unlike during the cold war, unity of the west is not so much guaranteed. Proliferation of Alt right movements in America, Britain, Germany and recently Italy has pitifully divided the alliance from within and without. The west is increasingly looking towards itself and actively trying to demonize globalization as the biggest threat to their culture. Immigration and trade is shaping up to be the biggest political issues in the west. As the west closes its borders especially to Africa and scales back on international trade, China is slowly opening up massive leads in both commercial and diplomatic relations with Africa. The constant media coverage of growing hostilities towards Africans in the west mainly propagated by anti-globalists is playing right into the hands of Chinese expansionists
Secondly the consolidation of Africa as geopolitical player which is one strategy being propped by China through massive funding of the African Union may strengthen African independence and make it difficult to sabotage from outside. African regional cooperation organizations are slowly becoming stronger. Organizations like ECOWAS, SADDC and EAC are slowly breaking the physical barriers between countries and bringing citizens much closer hence strengthening the economic and political bargaining power of African nations. If this trajectory is sustained, a united Africa is not so much of a pipe dream.

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Third, unlike the USSR which lost the cold war to the west, China’s engagement in Africa is backed up with even stronger engagements elsewhere in Asia and South America. Countries like Pakistan, Philippines, Brazil etc which were very strong US allies less than a decade ago are slowly pivoting towards China. While the west’s policy seems to be constant attempt to sabotage countries that do not cooperate with them (Venezuela for instance), China has a more tolerant and persuasive approach.

This article first appeared on Fox Omondi’s Facebook Timeline.

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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