Sean Rego ’23
Whenever I recall my travels through the bushveld of Western Zimbabwe, I think of the tiny villages, the iconic baobab trees and the foreign wildlife. Yet I also remember passing the towers of black smoke tainting the blue skies. Coal is vital for Zimbabwe, and while I was concerned about the environmental effects, I was more worried by the fact that it was not the locals themselves that oversaw the factories. More often than not, Chinese enterprises and workers owned the means of production there. From what I understand, this is unpopular among rural Zimabweans who feel used by China.
Yet despite my anecdotal encounters, many nations seem more than happy to invite foreign investments and intervention on African soil. Whether infrastructure, economic aid, or even armed forces, global powers are eyeing up Africa. Russia and China are no exceptions, and I worry about their motives on the continent. What are America and her allies doing to counter Eastern grasps for Africa? Should we be doing anything, considering our history with the continent? What is the future of the infamously-called “Dark Continent?” Although they’re tough questions, we must confront them if we want to aid African nations and ultimately enforce liberty.
I’m concerned about Africa’s present state. From the Age of Exploration to the Victorian Era to the World Wars and the subsequent Cold War, the continent has been subject to the behemoths. Leaders have risen up and been toppled, often at the whims of men in Europe, Asia or North America. Today, the situation is more dire. The collective African population has risen precipitously. From Cape Town to Cairo, dilemmas like water scarcity are ever-present problems, which are raising tensions on the continent. Furthermore, ethnic divisions are not helping. In South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia and just very recently in Sudan, governments have lost command of their superficial countries.
Considering the long and controversial history between Europe and Africa, I understand the hesitancy to ask for help from us. For example, France to this day has a large military presence on the continent, somewhat recalling the memory of French domination. Although it is mostly a stabilizing force, Françafrique was conceived to secure French interests in West and Central Africa. As of late though, President Macron has pulled back from strong French oversight, suggesting that France’s control will diminish. In his visits to the former colonies, he said that there will be no more military bases, rather, more cooperation. Though underneath the refined speeches, I believe the reduced presence is coming from a growing spite for France and her allies.
The same may be happening with the United States. Kamala Harris recently went on a charm offensive across Africa, and while I don’t want to muddy the waters, it was quite lackluster and didn’t seem to offer meaningful change for the better. I think this is greatly exacerbated by the fact that American forces are retreating from an unstable Sudan. What does this tell Africans who might want our help?
It tells them that the Western position is weakening, probably in response to growing discontent from African strongmen. For better or worse, these nations will be exposed to less democratic influence, and probably more prone to coups, wars and instability.
And here we see China and Russia swoop in like knights in shining armor, to save Africa from the evil and cowardly West. It seems that many African nations view the East as fellow victims of the West, hence their excitement to wave Russian banners as the French are kicked out. We’re learning that forces like the Wagner group are contributing to the overthrow of Western influence, promoting Russian involvement instead.
Furthermore, many countries prefer to take out Chinese loans and aid over more traditional sources. This is largely due to the fact that Chinese investors care much less about where (and how) that money is used. Across the continent, we see African projects run, funded and managed by Chinese groups through questionable transactions. Considering that many of the involved leaders are corrupt, I can comprehend their appeal. Yet this isn’t building up a solid base for Africa’s future.
In a very idealistic way, I get why Africa is cozying up to the East. Yes, America was the archenemy of the USSR and Europe the cruel mistress of Africa, but does the enemy of your enemy really make him your friend? Don’t forget that the USSR and China didn’t hesitate to shed African blood for their own gain during the Cold War. The countries that are replacing the West aren’t any better, in fact they are far worse. Russia and China are attempting to expand their empires by force, more ruthlessly than any Western nation.
Products like wheat have been severed from reaching Africa due to Russia’s recent aggression. As Africa is already reeling, I can only imagine how much worse things would get if China shattered peace in the Pacific. And while the Chinese investments might actually be beneficial (and not just be used corruptly) to various countries, they often are unfathomably costly and impossible to repay, which gives China the upper hand.
I’ll conclude by emphasizing the need for America and the West to reconcile with Africa. I’m no expert, but we have a long history, and let’s face it, the West can be quite formidable and spooky at times. But I think that’s part of the appeal for some African leaders, often the democratically elected ones. Theodore Roosevelt was very fond of the African proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far,” which justly ecompasses how America should converse with anxious authoritarians on this incredibly important continent. We must act gently and accept the differences between our continents. We can promote democracy and liberty, allowing Africa to measure our merits. Meanwhile we can reassure them that our combined naval prowess will protect the oceans from China, Russia and others, so they don’t need to rely on cheap and loose schemes. Surely, whatever the outcome of our efforts are, we will at least know that the West has done its best to stop any notions of a new scramble in Africa.
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