Circa October 1884, leading European powers of the day in the company of the US, met in Berlin Germany to divide among themselves the continent of Africa. The decision was arrived at after Europe realised Africa’s vast potential for generating raw materials for their blossoming industries and the need to avoid an extended conflict in the expansive continent on the eve of the World War 1.
Consequently, the continent was shared among Britain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, and France. Naturally, the English and the French got the lion’s share of it, given their vast wealth at the time.
The process saw full colonisation of the whole continent with the exception of Liberia, the State of former slaves and Ethiopia that managed to wade off Italy for a while but later on succumbed.
In the 1950s, on the backdrop of the struggle for independence among Africans, Europe started to let go of the continent politically. However, the Cold War was just starting and the new weak African States suffered the brunt of it.
Firebrand leaders who were seen to support communism were toppled, imprisoned, killed or deported as Africa became a victim of a faraway war. The most recognised victims of this struggle were Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, and Thomas Sankara.
On the flip side, leaders that supported the US and capitalism were rewarded with aid, scholarships, debt financing for choice projects.
Their leadership capabilities, poor human rights records and economic mismanagement didn’t matter. Among this group were, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta and later on, Daniel Moi and Yakubu Gowon during the Nigerian Biafra wars. Perhaps the African leader who optimised gains for his country then was Guinea’s Ahmed Sekou Toure who played both the US and USSR - warming up to the Soviet Union for aid and military aid but later working with the Kennedy administration.
He refused the Soviet Union landing rights during the Cuban missile crisis but later on allowed them during the Angolan conflict. All the while, Guinea had deflected the French’s neo colonialist‘s overtures and refused to join the association of former colonies.
In return, Guinea received no aid from France. Post the cold war however, the US through the Bretton Woods institutions insisted on structural adjustment programmes in the African economies.
Finally, American leaders started noticing human rights abuses, financial embezzlements, and mismanagement. Tellingly, aid to the continent was reduced significantly. This was exacerbated by the economic recession of 2009, as western countries struggled to stay afloat economically, the aid flows to developing counties dried up.
African leaders spoilt with opaque aid were orphaned by Uncle Sam who walked away after winning the Cold War. As a consequence, emerging economic powers in the east began courting the African leaders. Ahead of the pack was China, whose investment to Africa between 2005 and 2018 was Sh30 trillion ($300 billion.) Last year, the Chinese President announced a new fund of $60 billion (Sh6 trillion) for Africa. Clearly, orphaned African leaders found a new patron in oriental dragon and perfected Sekou Toure’s strategy.
But China is not coming to Africa merely to offer political patronage - neither are they interested in votes at the United Nations. China is interested in natural resources in Africa.
With overpopulation and a growing industrial economy, they need a new resource base and Africa is the only place they can get it. They give unsustainable loans so that when the host country defaults, they can take over key installations and resources as they did in Sri Lanka.
China’s key interests are in Angola and Nigeria, the leading oil-producing countries. Aid goes in tandem with resource capacity. In response to the predatory tendencies of the Eastern Dragon, the US announced a more active strategy in Africa in late 2018.
They have set aside Sh6 trillion to be invested in Africa strategically over the next five years. Naturally, they are opposed to the new foreign policy in Africa of dancing with the highest bidder.
They still hope for exclusive support like in the cold war. The announcement by the US of their renewed interest in Africa means it is on the table again, to be auctioned.
-Mr Odhiambo is an independent analyst
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