The truth is, Africa is still a land to conquer

25.02.2019 - Angelo Ferrari

This post is also available in: Italian

The truth is, Africa is still a land to conquer
(Image by Toundea, Wikimedia Commons)

Other states pretty much do what they like, partly because there are new factors in play that have added to the daily squabbling and which, taken on their own, have nothing to do with the migrant phenomenon. Africa possesses 30% of the world’s natural resources, and yet it accounts for 3% of global GDP.

Despite African countries winning independence, the rest of the world still sees it as a land to conquer. Today more than ever. This is no longer about colonialism or cold war-era influences, but neo-colonialism. From an economic, political and military point of view, it is a case of all against all. In the background are the countries and the populations of Africa. The migrant question has become a crucial part of the global political debate; or more precisely, the policies that the various countries fighting for control of Africa put in place to tackle or stop a phenomenon that cannot be halted by a simple show of strength. Without wishing to be disrespectful, global migration policies, even those of the European Union, can be summarised in two words – ‘anything goes.’

Every country does pretty much what it likes in Africa, partly because there are new factors in play that have added to the daily squabbling and which, taken on their own, have nothing to do with the migrant phenomenon. One statistic is revealing: due to war, hunger, famine, climate change and a lack of prospects, around 50m people move from state to state within Africa. Those that arrive on the shores of the European Union are just the tip of the iceberg.

The franc question

Now there is a new entrant to the political turmoil – the CFA franc, the colonial currency used by 14 African countries. There is no doubt that France has remained anchored to its principles; it is perhaps the only world power that hasn’t significantly changed its policies in relation to French-speaking Africa.

During the age of colonialism Africa was controlled by the occupying powers who shared out the continent between them. From the 1960s onwards, and with its countries having won independence, Africa, like the rest of the world, was subject to cold war logic and influence in the region was determined by the two blocs. To use a forceful expression, these days it is China which has Africa over a barrel; thanks to investments worth billions, it holds the debt of dozens of countries. No country in African is unaffected by China’s influence, a situation facilitated by rulers and dictators for their own ends.

China

Peking’s investment plan is part of its strategic “new silk road” diplomatic-economic plan. One figure alone tells you everything you need to know: in the past 15 years commercial trade between China and Africa has risen annually by 20%. The last summit held between China and Africa saw Peking decide to allocate a further 60bn to the continent. China is Africa’s largest trading partner with annual transaction volumes equivalent to 180bn dollars. None of this is down to any charitable instinct on the part of Peking. African rulers are well aware that they are selling off their countries to the superpower – they have entrusted their debt to China. The Chinese government offers deals that seem too good to be true, which they frequently are. Sooner or later Africa will pay the price.

The United States

America, like other players on the world scene, has decided to counter this Chinese dominance. The US Senate has approved the creation of a finance agency to fund development: the United States International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC). Its target is 60bn dollars of direct investment. Taking a leading role in Africa once again will also mean reinforcing its military presence, given that China already has ‘boots on the ground’ in the form of a base in Djibouti, where the American and French are stationed. The US currently has 34 military bases throughout the Horn of Africa, Sahel and Libya.

Russia

Moscow’s intentions in Africa cannot be ignored. It has struck co-operation deals in mining, agreed on military collaboration and established free trade areas with Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. Although Russia, unlike China, cannot offer consumer products, it can guarantee a plentiful supply of arms. Currently Moscow’s strategic military base is Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Russia’s intention however, according to its Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, is to set up an Eritrean logistics base in the strategically important area of the Horn of Africa, where there is already a strong overseas presence. The largest Turkish embassy, for example, is in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, and the Horn of Africa is of great interest to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Saudi Arabia

Riad is also paying attention to what is going on in the Horn of Africa. Saudi Arabia played a crucial role in the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Its interest is linked to its anti-Iranian position, and is strategically important to Saudi Arabia’s activities in Yemen. That’s not the full story however. Riad is building up investments in many other African countries, especially Muslim ones, and sometimes in specific areas, such as Kenya. For many years it has also been engaged in buying up farmland in Africa in what has been described as a land grab.

France

Paris has maintained solid links to its former colonies – no less important in geopolitical and mining terms than other countries in Africa. One of the ways it has done this is through the CFA franc, which has been put under the microscope by some Italian politicians. 14 countries use this currency which is printed in Paris. The CFA franc is guaranteed by the French Treasury where countries are obliged to deposit 50% of their currency reserves. The Economist explains that “Over the past 50 years inflation has averaged 6% in Ivory Coast, which uses the CFA franc, and 29% in neighbouring Ghana, which does not. It eases trade with Europe, the region’s biggest partner, and frees foreign investors from the risks of exchange-rate fluctuations.” It has also been adapted by Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, former Spanish and Portuguese colonies respectively.

Many more countries around the world have invested in Africa including Canada, Brazil, Japan, Italy and India. These countries (as well as the EU through its emergency trust fund) are attempting to invest in the most critical areas and tackle the root causes of the humanitarian crises.

Africa arouses such extraordinary interest because of its raw materials. It possesses 30% of the world’s natural resources, and yet it accounts for 3% of global GDP. With investments on an enormous scale, there is plenty of money sloshing around. African countries’ GDP is growing at a great rate but living standards are flat, so much so that in sub-Saharan Africa 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. Inter-African commercial transaction volumes were equal to 128bn dollars in 2017. In the same year trade within the continent dropped below 15% of total trade levels, while transactions with the rest of the world are significantly higher, at over 900bn dollars. In short, the reality is much more complex than what people would have us believe.

Translation from Italian by Malcolm Gilmour

Original article: https://www.agi.it/blog-italia/africa

 

Categories: Economics, International, Opinions, Politics
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