FEATURE ARTICLE

Wednesday, December 19, 2018
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THE RETURN OF THE ELEPHANTS

here is a saying that when elephants fight, the grass bears the brunt, and when the same elephants make love, the grass still suffers. I am alluding to the cold war era when Africa was a fertile ground for superpowers’ hegemonic policies. For example, Africa’s early urge for independence was stalled by the super powers ideological competition. Two main reasons could be advanced for this unfair treatment meted out to Africa.

First, in pursuit of its geopolitical and geostrategic interest, the Unite States felt that supporting the anti-colonial rhetoric could generate friction in the cohesive NATO alliance, and/or alienate important allies such Britain, Portugal, France, all being NATO members with enormous overseas territories, particularly in Africa.

Second, the US harboured great fear that abrupt decolonization of Africa might generate post-decolonization disorder, which Soviet Union could exploit to penetrate into Africa and sell its Communist ideology. It was against this background that the US sacrificed the freedom of Africa for what it perceived as the overriding necessity to offer its full, unflinching support to its NATO partners and their colonial policies in Africa.

It could be argued that had it not been for the possibility that the Soviets might impose itself on the newly independent African states, and of revolutionary nationalists, fascinate by political and economic experience, the US would not have offered Africa the attention it did after decolonization. However, in response to what the US perceived as Communist threat to Africa, the US policy makers were quick to formulate a special establishment for African Affairs and enhanced its National Security apparatus with the sole motive of securing the loyalty of the newly emerging independent African states. This was how geopolitics was born in Africa.

Throughout the entire period of the cold war, Africa’s relationship with superpowers was based on zero-sum basis. This type of political reality transformed Africa into a mere suffering grassland where huge elephants engaged in a duel. The importance of Africa was tied to superpowers interest. The superpowers acted as the ‘godfather’ of this or that Africa country, and these powers conspicuously determined events on the continent through direct or indirect activities.

THE POLITICAL REINCARNATION. The destructive cold war competition between the superpowers, which had been judged moribund or passé in the aftermath of the cold is reborn and has suddenly taken a new vitality. The US is puzzled, perplex, and pique by the way Russia and China have penetrated Africa; dealing with African leaders, getting what they want and rapidly expanding their financial and political influence. John Bolton, the US Regional Security Adviser has unleashed a verbal salvo. He has accused China and Russia of aggressively executing their investments on the African continent thereby gaining what it terms, ‘comparative advantage over the United States’.

In his withering criticism, Bolton accuses China of employing the use of bribes and strategic use of debt to maneuver poor African nations into a trap, and hold African states ‘captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands’. Russia. Bolton asserts, has advanced its economic interest on the continent, circumventing the rule of law. Russia has also been accused of ‘selling arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations’. Such votes, he argues, ‘keep African strong men in power, thereby undermining peace and security’. I share the US fear in this regard, and it is a healthy fear. But the analysis is also an intelligent fiasco because the US is a victim of the same political sin as retrospective glance at the cold war has shown.

For example, the US policy makers turned official blind eyes or maintained the attitude of indifference to the domestic excesses and shortcomings of her African allies, and focused more on those allies importance as bulwark against communism. Such cold war allies include, but not limited to leaders such as Ja’aafar al Nimeri of Sudan, Sadat of Egypt, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie, Siad Barre of Somalia, and Afrikaner regime of South Africa. However, Africa’s history has shown that whenever the motivating factors for their hegemonic interests evaporate their interest in the sphere diminish. The interest of superpowers takes ascendancy over that of Africa.

I will use Warren Christopher’s statement to buttress my point. Christopher was the former American foreign secretary. He has this to say: ‘During the cold war period, policies towards Africa were often determine not by how they affected Africa, but by whether they brought advantage or disadvantage to Moscow or Washington’.

Furthermore, President Ronald Reagan, in one of his radio address to the Americans revealed his perception of Africa within the East/West competition. He said; ‘Many Americans have interpreted our interest in Africa as an extension of our desire to achieve radical equality and elimination of injustice based on race, I am afraid that is naïve oversimplification of what really at issue. The basic issue is a power struggle between the US and the Soviet Union’, ‘The African problem’ concluded Reagan ‘is Russian weapon pointed at us’.

One can easily grasp the fact that in both cold war and post cold war superpowers competitions, Africa had remained the grassland. In order to keep China and Russia’s influence in Africa at bay, President Trump has designed a strategy that would counter or dwarf the influence of the two powers in Africa. He has recently overhauled the US lending pattern to foreign countries wishing to borrow development project loans. He created a ‘$60 billion agency’ authorized to reduce Russia and China’s influence in Africa.

Africa is waking to the dawn of another superpower competition. Would it not be wise for African leaders to overthrow those policies which are calculated to degrade the continent; replace personal fiat with institutional decision making, formulate policies that people-oriented and control, command and dictate the outcome of the continent’s affairs.


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