For different reasons, Africa features prominently on key strategic foreign policy documents of major powers and is fast becoming a centre of global strategic rivalry.
A close look at this renewed focus and interest in Africa by global powers shows the increasing importance of the continent in world politics, economy and security.
The emerging competition between these powers in Africa is centred on three major issues: Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), future technologies and security.
While the AU does make periodic pronouncements on the prevailing global order, this often lacks the focus it deserves. For instance, there has been no serious study on the impact of the US-China trade war on the continent.
The world is changing. It is important for Africa to speak with one voice on how it stays neutral on the emerging rivalry between big powers. More importantly, it must state its lack of interest in becoming the battleground of big powers in their competition for influence.
The rivalry among global powers in Africa goes beyond simply the case of the West and China.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has accused France of impoverishing Africa. He said clearly what most African leaders often avoid saying in public: “If today people are leaving Africa, is it because some European countries, with France taking the lead, have never stopped colonising tens of African states?”
Despite the US’s annoyance and irritation, Italy appears ready to join the China-led BRI.
President Emmanuel Macron of France, on the other hand, paid a four-day visit to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya last week. This trip’s main aim was to “open a new partnership in economy” in Africa.
In Kenya, Macron said: “Now what we want to do, especially with our delegation of companies, is to be part of your new growth agenda This is how France could be a long-term, credible economic partner.”
Africa has the fastest-growing population, estimated to reach 2.2billion by 2050. The continent is also urbanising fast, with a notable rise of the middle class. It is abundantly clear, therefore, that the continent will be the second-largest consumer market after Asia for future technologies.
The tense competition, especially between the US and China, for such a huge market in Africa should be a major concern for African leaders. The US has embarked on an aggressive drive to stop the roll-out of Huawei’s 5G technologies in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Europe. Numerous studies have pointed to the fact that Africans use cellphones more than landlines. It is just a matter of time before the big power battles over future technologies enter Africa.
Africa has had a terrible experience of extra-regional military interventions.
The Nato-led bombardment of Libya in 2011 and the assassination of President Muammar Gaddafi stands out as a ghastly illustration of how Africa’s agency can be ignored by foreign forces in dealing with African affairs. From this background, the convergence of foreign military forces in Djibouti must be a major concern.
Just so that we do not totally absolve Africa of all that has gone wrong on the continent, it is prudent to admit Africa’s seemingly manifest ineptitude in strengthening the various dimensions of the continent, including human capital, political rectitude and economic progress.
Africa’s weakness is its most formidable enemy and biggest hurdle in reinforcing African agency. African governments might protest against foreign intervention but, left on its own, Africa does not have the capacity, political will and moral example needed to solve the continent’s complex and multifaceted affairs.
Monyae is the co-director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Johannesburg