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The New Scramble for Africa

The Scramble for Africa was the twenty year period from 1880 to 1899 during which the European powers divided Africa into colonial empires. Decolonization came with equal if not greater rapidity a few decades later, as these colonical possessions were for the most part judged more trouble than they were worth, acquired in haste, and regretted in leisure.

During the Cold War, the long-term impact of Soviet/Cuban involvement in Africa was the subject of vigorous debate. At one end of the range of opinion was the view that the Soviets and Cubans could not be dislodged once they had acquired a position of dominance. As a consequence, the division of position and influence in Africa between East and West could be changed to Western disadvantage, and the global balance shifted in favor of the Soviets, depending on the strategic importance of the African nation taken over.

Other observers, however, believed that the Soviets had demonstrated they could maintain a position of dominance only where they were able to station substantial military forces and had shown repeatedly that they were unable to maintain a close relationship with an African nation, in part because of their heavy-handed behavior, but more fundamentally because, as they attempted to utilize a position of influence to pursue their own objectives, they eroded and ultimately lost their position of dominance. Most observers believed that the history of Africa since 1945 clearly demonstrated the strength of African nationalism, and the skill and will of African leaders to prevent the Soviets from achieving a dominant position.

With the new millenium, there was a new scramble for Africa, pitting America against China. Beijing’s African Policy White Paper of January 2006 clearly delineates a requirement to promote exchanges and training programs with African militaries, and to more closely cooperate in such areas as intelligence exchange, counterterrorism, and counterdrug and small arms proliferation activities. China’s peacekeeping operations in Africa are indicative of the importance it places on the region. Beijing’s ability to work with African governments whose policies constrain Western involvement allows China to intertwine financial, military, and commercial components into negotiations on energy access and developmental aid. The Sudan provides the best example as Khartoum provides about 5 percent of China’s oil imports.

China generally does not discuss its "hard" interests in Africa. Rather, it emphasizes "soft" themes such as respect for African countries’ sovereignty and development policies, support for African development, and cooperation with Africa in the United Nations and multilateral forums. China's "hard" interests in Africa are the same as those of the United States: access to energy, minerals, timber, and agricultural products; good relations with African countries that can provide support in regional and international fora; and increasing exports to Africa. China also seeks, and the US opposes, ending Taiwan’s official diplomatic presence in Africa.

American interests that are not shared by China include military aircraft overflight and landing in African countries and access to their ports by US naval vessels. The United States also places high priority on a series of values-driven issues — terrorism, piracy, drug trafficking, money laundering, etc. — that pose a threat to American interests. China may undermine or even counter values-driven US goals in the region. The Obama Administration has recognized the urgent need to accelerate and deepen economic engagement in sub-Saharan Africa. In a June 2012 policy document entitled "U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa", the Administration laid out a series of policies to meet this objective.

America is losing ground and ceding economic opportunities in Africa to China, which has made dramatic inroads across the continent in recent years. By the end of 2013, trade between Africa and China was about $200 billion. Ten years earlier, it was about $15 billion. Foreign direct investment was close to $50 billion in 2013, up from $15 billion a decade earlier, and only a very small proportion of that came from the United States.

Both the United States and China have seen sharp growth in trade with sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade, with China’s total trade in goods increasing faster and surpassing U.S. trade in 2009. Petroleum imports constitute the majority of U.S. and Chinese imports from sub-Saharan Africa, with China also importing a large amount of other natural resources. China’s exports of goods to the region have grown and far exceed U.S. exports of goods. Information on other key aspects of China’s engagement in sub-Saharan Africa is limited in some cases, since China does not publish comprehensive data on its foreign assistance or government-sponsored loans to the region.

The low-profit margin business model in Africa is not for every business. For example, Chinese low-end manufacturers may be content with a 5-10 percent thin profit margin if they migrate into Africa. But that will present less of a lure to high-end businesses from many Western countries, which often enjoy a margin level of up to 30 percent.

China’s state media disparaged US President Barack Obama’s July 2015 travels in Africa as motivated by concern over Beijing’s broadening clout on the continent, a critique the White House discounted. The United States "obviously lacks a consistent Africa policy" and sees China as a rival for influence and economic opportunities "instead of another constructive power to bring welfare to the land," opinion reporter Liu Zhun wrote in an op-ed published 26 July 2015 in the English-language Global Times. "The U.S. used to be a dominant power in Africa," Liu wrote.

The Chinese competitors are securing long-term contracts that could lock American companies and interests out of fast-growing African markets for decades to come. In March 2013, Scott Eisner, vice president of African affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the United States "probably has a small window in the next couple of years before China, India and Brazil take over all the ownership on the continent and trade relations are theirs to own."

In the USA vs. China contest for influence in Africa, China was the clear winner at the 03 June 2013 celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang spoke to heads of state at the African Union’s bright new (Chinese-built) $200-million headquarters: “not only a new landmark in Addis Ababa but also the latest landmark in the long friendship between China and Africa,” declared China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. Beneath the 20-story tower now topping the skyline of the Ethiopian capital, Wang entered the paneled conference hall to hearty applause, praising the alliance for political self-determination and for pushing forward Africa’s fight against imperialism, racism, and colonialism. Vice Premier Wang talked about the past decade’s six-fold increase in China-Africa trade to more than $120 billion.

There is a scramble for Africa and Turkey is very much part of this. It has opened quite a large number of embassies across Africa. So its clear that Turkey does see itself as a potent power. In the past few years Turkey has opened 31 embassies across Africa, including one in Mali in 2010. The Turkish government has declared the continent as an economic priority. Since its initiation of the policy back in 2003 it has more than quadrupled its exports to the continent to more than $10 billion. Ankara has also been increasing voicing concerns regarding the intervention by French forces against an Islamic insurgency in Mali.

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Page last modified: 04-09-2019 19:18:15 ZULU