The New Scramble for Africa

Africa has for a long time been regarded as a corrupt, dysfunctional and hopeless continent. Africa was just not the place to invest in. But in the last few decades, Africa has witnessed an influx of foreign investors.

The New Scramble for Africa

Africa has for a long time been regarded as a corrupt, dysfunctional and hopeless continent. Africa was just not the place to invest in. But in the last few decades, Africa has witnessed an influx of foreign investors. The foreign powers are back. The African narrative is quickly changing from hopeless to hopeful, but the question we must ask ourselves is hopeful for whom? In this documentary, Abubakar Addy, Emmanuel Sampson both from Ghana and Duncan Mpusetsang from Botswana lament that despite the economic growth their governments talk about, the living standards of the masses has remained the same. They decry the sale of public resources such as mines in what they describe as “benefiting only the elite”.
For centuries, Africa was treated like a chase board by competing global powers. Nearly half a century ago, when popular movements across Africa began to win independence, there seemed to be a sliver of hope. Africans were rising up to take matters into their own hands. But the narrator of this documentary explains that the cold war killed the spirit. Moscow and Washington divided the continent into new spheres of influence and the proxy wars plunged the continent into civil war. Two decades after the cold war, it seemed like Africa was rising again. Foreign investors are flowing in. The questions presented to Africans in this documentary is, are they finally taking matters into their own hands or is this just another scramble for Africa?
Nairobi is a colonial city by all African standards. It was built along the railway to the port of Mombasa in Kenya. Today, it is the commercial and financial hub of East Africa. Images in this documentary show cranes and trucks working on infrastructural projects all over the city except, they’re not from the West, they are from the East. China is now Africa’s biggest trading partner. In just 10 years, their investment in Africa has grown from USD 10 billion to USD 200 billion. At least 2500 Chinese companies operate in Africa and there are not less than 1 million Chinese nationals doing business in Africa. In Kenya Chinese developers are present everywhere, but they are remarkably camera shy. The narrator of this documentary explains that they were sent away from a dozen sites before thy finally spoke to Mr. Gao Wei a businessman who has lived in Kenya for 10 years. He says Africa is in its initial stages of takeoff and as such presents numerous trade opportunities. He says Africa now has a choice between the West and the East and according to him; Africa is looking to the East. Kenya like most of the continent is choosing China for most of its business. Pictured in this documentary are 3 East African heads of state witnessing the launch of the Chinese built expansion of the port of Mombasa in August 2015 which is soon to be linked to a Chinese built railway.
Interviewed in this documentary is Howard French, author of China’s Second Continent. He castigates China saying even the rails and ports that exist in the continent today were built by imperial powers. He says imperial powers build ports and infrastructure so as to export their products into Africa and import what they need from the continent. Mr. French says most African countries negotiate the projects on the basis of a kind of burden where China does a piece of infrastructure in exchange for a stable supply of resources from Africa. He is not in doubt that Africa desperately needs infrastructure but decries the terms on which this is happening, saying most other foreign powers are not doing that kind of business with Africa. Mr. French says China further creates feedback loopholes that ensure its own win. The blueprint and engineering is Chinese. The workers are often Chinese and many times the materials as well. He adds that sometimes they bank their workers’ pay in Chinese banks; this he says is anything but a win-win situation for African states. Mr. French says this is imperialism that has evolved to take a different form.
Parselelo Kantai, a Kenyan journalist is skeptical about the Africa arising narrative. According to the narrator of this documentary, there are 3 ways of looking at the African prosperity and growth. One is that it is real and the numbers prove it. 7 of the 10 fastest growing countries are in Africa and the continent is growing 7-10 times faster than any other in the world. The second narrative is that it is false. That Africa’s growth is financed by debt and the mass sale of natural resources. Lastly, one could say that Africa is growing but who is benefitting, Africa and its masses or the few elite? Adan Mohamed, Kenyan Minister for industrialization, interviewed in this documenatry says all tenders done by the Chines are advertised to bidders and China just happens to win. But one cannot expect anything else especially because it is usually the Chinese financing the projects.
As this documentary demonstrates, global powers have long projected their fantasies and fears on Africa. To them, Africa represents expanding markets, cheap labor and a source of natural resources, but at the same time it is the incubator of the worst nightmares; instability, ethnic conflict and global terrorism. In 2015 alone the US-Africa command ran over 400 missions in at least 35 African nations. The US is training, equipping or running joint operations with many militaries on the soil. Speaking to the narrator of this documentary, Prof Jeremy Keenan of the University of London argues that the threat of terrorism in Africa was initially exaggerated by the US military and by African leaders. He says African dictatorial leaders are quick to brand civil society movements that could wrestle power out of their hands as terrorists so as to get money from the West. Prof. Keenan says in the last 2 or 3 years this has become a self-fulfilled prophecy. The war on terror is now pivoted in Africa. It’s like America has recreated a new school of the Americas into a school of the Africans, training African troops to fight America’s war on terror. The big question is, is the military aid helping Africa or its dragging Africa into a war that is not its own. On 21st September 2013 in Nairobi Kenya, Somali gunmen attacked Israeli owned Westgate Mall and Killed 67 Kenyans in what they described as a retaliatory attack for the Kenya-US backed invasion of Somalia. This documentary contains footage of the horrific incident. Parselelo Kantai says Kenyan invasion of Somalia was predicated on the fact that the US was avoiding embarrassment by placing its own boots on the ground so it decided to fund African troops to invade Somalia. He says this has caused a total blow back on Kenya which is now in a state of siege. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is also interviewed in this documentary. He initially backed Kenyan invasion of Somalia but has since changed position in the wake of numerous terrorist attacks on Kenya and is calling for the withdrawal of the troops.
This documentary sheds light on Africans’ opinion about their continent. Jane Byani, a Ugandan says extending military aid to dictatorial African regimes has only helped to keep them in power. She says African dictators have perfected the art of decrying terror in order to get military aid to help them cling on to power. Kitaka Musembi, a Kenyan feels the troops should only have stabilized Somalia for a while after which they should have left. But Duncan Mpusetsang from Botswana thinks Somalia cannot be stabilized by foreign powers.
It is perverse, that Washington would find its way back to Africa on the pretext of helping it fight war on terror. That Africa’s security agenda is set in Washington is appalling, says the narrator of this documentary. Jennifer Cooke, Director for Africa Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies admits America has an economic, security agenda in Africa as well as the competition for political ideas in the continent pitting it against the Chinese and the French. America seeks to remain relevant and influential in Africa in the face of competition for global norms. What is contradictory is how Washington on one hand wants to fight extremism while on the other hand it supports dictatorial or military regimes in the continent.
When France invaded Mali in 2013, many in Paris were not shocked, this documentary reveals. France still thinks of Francophone Africa as their backyard. The corrupting system of patronage that once governed French engagement with Africa was again at play. Time and again in the early days of independence, popular African leaders were assassinated or deposed in coups supported by ex-French military men. From Mali to Togo, and Central African Republic, to Burkina Faso, there have been 16 coups in former French colonies in 50 years. All this violence kept in power governments that were in line with French political interests and were friendly to French oil and mining interests in Africa. This system of interlocking political, economic and military influence is called France-Afrique. Most African countries are still struggling to break free from its stranglehold. Even today France holds the national reserves of 14 African countries in its central bank. It has a web of military bases in West Africa unparalleled by any other foreign power. France exercises deep political and commercial influence on the continent.
This documentary highlights experts’ opinion on the matter. Hellene Quenot Suarez from the French Institute of International Relations agrees that there is need for the terms of France-Afrique to be renegotiated. Douglas Yatez of The American University of Paris says 5-6 years ago, there was Anti-French rhetoric emerging from West Africa. He says this has died down because France has replaced them with friendly leaders. In the documentary, Mr. Yatez points out the French military intervention in Mali and Ivory Coast after which they imposed friendly leaders. Better yet French suppression of a popular indigenous movement in order to impose Mohammedu Issofou in Niger who recently signed a 40 year concession, giving away Niger’s only renewable energy-uranium to France. The Washington post recently reported a text written by Obama and Hollande describing the two countries interests in Africa as deep and strategic. Mr. Yatez says the US-France engagement in Africa is informed by the fact that the US has high tech capacity equipment to offer such a drones and satellite while it needs intelligence from its French partner, something it cannot get in French speaking Africa given the language barrier. Economically speaking, the 2 countries now realize that their biggest threat is China. France and the US are getting involved in Africa to contrast China’s presence in the continent. Hellene Suarez says that Kinshasa in the next 10 years will be the largest French speaking city in the world. As depicted in this documentary, foreign powers are creating areas of influence in Africa the same phenomenon that was witnessed in Africa with the colonialists. It is puzzling that France which was opposed to British-American invasion of Iraq is in denial of its own military interventions in Africa. Michel Rocard, French Former Prime Minister just like the current administration is not able to have a frank discussion on French past and present involvement in Africa as if for France, Africa is the place where the truth goes to sleep. As we see in this documentary, he cannot explain how France intends to increase its trade with Africa from 30 to 60 USD billion when it’s involved in 4 wars in Africa. What is clear is that it would be easy for African countries to prefer France for trade since it’s a force of stability with its ten thousand soldiers in the continent. All religiously motivated murderous terror groups have come as a result of foreign military intervention. The narrator of this documentary submits this to Mr. Rocard. This was the case with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, ISIS in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Al Shaabab in Somalia. The continent waits to see what will come out of Sahel as much as Mitchel Rocard denies.
French, American and Chinese narrative is that they are trying to help Africans to help themselves as we can see in this documentary. The question is, is Africa benefitting from this new scramble or is it being squeezed dry by the foreign powers. James Shikwati, Kenyan economist says after living the western dream for so long, Africans are now living the Chinese dream. He is skeptical about Chinese intentions saying even the colonial imperialist came with infrastructural projects such as Kenya-Uganda railway. Perselelo Kantai, also interviewed in this documentary says African agenda is lost in the entire conversation and it has become fashionable for African government to look east. Kantai is puzzled that there has not been any forum regional or otherwise, where African leaders have met to discuss Africa’s engagement with China. Kantai argues that unless Africa reconsiders its engagement with China it will continue to outsource projects that favor private capital and the privatization of natural resources. Mr Kantai and Mr. Chimwati both agree in this documentary that the privatization of public resources has raised wealthy political elite who hold the country at ransom. Mr. Chimwati argues that Africa is opening doors that could benefit it in the short term and lose out in the long run.
Abubakar Addy, a Ghanaian opines that the challenge with African countries is that they negotiate as single entities rather than a block like it is with the EU and other trading blocs which denies them the bargaining power. Ruth Miyandazi, a Kenyan says African leaders do not negotiate deals in the best interest of the public and opines that what Africa needs is a total change of regimes if anything good is to be achieved. (oddafrica)

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