Africa: An Emerging Geopolitical Theater
Many geopolitical observers ask: Will Africa define the 21st century as the next competing ground among major powers? The answer varies. But it is evident that the ideological race toward dominance and influence in Africa is in full swing. Russia and China, in particular, have intensified not only their economic incentives and activities, but also military strategies.
While Russia and China, along with Turkey and other countries intensity activities in Africa, the United States’ involvement in Africa, and other countries, is waning.
It is interesting that Russia, recently signed an agreement with the Sudanese government to build a naval base on the country's Red Sea coast. This should come as no surprise given Russia’s push in Africa to reestablish its former geopolitical influence. Of note: The agreement between Russia and Sudan is valid for 25 years and renewed automatically for 10-year periods if neither party objects.
The Russia-Sudan agreement came on the heels of two main events: First, Russia and Sudan’s seven years agreement signed in May 2019 by which Moscow offers Khartoum military and civilian nuclear cooperation. Second, Sudan’s recent overture to Israel, a staunch U.S. ally, in return for the U.S. formally removing Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list.
Equally important, China, which has been increasing its investments over the last few decades, is another key player in the continent. Beijing’s strategy in Africa is tied to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the launch of its digital currency (The Yuan), and economic growth with access to key sectors (technology, financial markets, and space, among others).
It is clear that both Russia and China want to secure, beyond what they already have, access to growing markets, natural resources including gold, diamond, uranium, silver, petroleum, and more. Both countries also want to establish political alliance in support of their ideologies and governance style.
Russia continues to expand its presence through mercenaries including, the Wagner Group, now operating across Africa in Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic, and Mozambique. Similarly, China has been increasing its military footprints on the continent. Besides its naval base in Djibouti, China is also active in Mali.
The ideological competition between two different political systems, Democracy and Communism, is at full display in Africa. This time around the competition is not limited to only the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but rather between the U.S. and Russia/China.
My reference is to how China’s involvement in Africa goes back few years ago when China decided to invest heavy in infrastructure projects including railway projects, Nigeria's Edo State Oil refinery, Angola's Caculo Cubaca Hydropower plant, Egypt's new city, and Zimbabwe's new parliament, and more. As China pumped millions of dollars into the continent, it became Africa’s largest and strongest ally.
China is also focusing on promoting its "authoritarian bureaucracy" governance style as a model for African leaders who are seeking to expand their economies without allowing democratic reforms. China offers lending practices and a policy of non-interference with human rights. Market liberalization and corruption give China additional influence in weak and ill-structured African governments.
Against this backdrop, both Russia and China’s increased activities, military and otherwise, are turning Africa into a theatre of competition with the United States. It is now very similar to the post WWII era. Is history repeating itself? I’ll say so!
What caused this outcome? These are some of the questions we ought to ask: Is the ambiguous US foreign policy to blame? Is it the declining American global leadership? Are China, Russia, and the U.S. on a collision course in Africa?
With the Russia-Sudan agreement to establish a naval base and China’s growing economic ventures, I wonder whether the current dynamics with turmoil in the Middle East, China’s military buildup, the U.S. global leadership decline, and the weakening of the US dollar pave the way for a military confrontation.
One thing seems certain: With Russia and China’s activities in Africa on the rise, it is urgent for the U.S. to figure out a strategy to counter both countries’ growing influence. Yet, how could we expect the U.S. to promote stability and good governance when its domestic affairs are overwhelmed with political squabbling, a dysfunctional Congress, fragmented intelligence community increased national debt, and inability to control the pandemic. Make no mistake; Africa now represents the theater where opportunities and risks will continue to increase in the coming years.
There are those who argue the U.S. should position itself as the preferred partner of African countries in an era of emerging multipolar system and superpower competition. However, how could the U.S. achieve such status when its global leadership is waning, credibility is chattered, and influence is diminishing?
It is time for Washington to quit its squabbling and focus on what lies ahead regarding China and Russia’s growing activities in Africa and elsewhere.
Policymakers in Washington need to stop serving their personal interests that eclipse their duty to govern. If our leaders are not careful, we could all discover a military conflict with China and Russia or both is no small matter.
David Oualaalou is a Geopolitical Consultant, Award Winning Educator, Veteran, Author, and former International Security analyst in Washington, D.C.