Winning Africa Requires More than Force
Commercial investments are needed to win the new scramble for Africa
Africa is home to the 10 fastest growing cities on earth. Roughly 60 percent of people who live on the continent are under the age of 25, and older people account for less than seven percent of the population in most African countries. Compare this to the 28 percent of Japanese or 16 percent of Americans who are over the age of 65, and it becomes clear why Africa and its people will play a central role in global politics over the coming century.
In the age of renewed great power competition, few arenas of international struggle will be so vital as that currently opening throughout the African continent. The US, Russia, China, and dozens of others have flocked to the bustling cradle of civilization to secure mineral rights, open trade routes, and form commercial bonds. From 2010–2016 alone, 320 embassies were opened throughout Africa, and that trend will not stop anytime soon.
To the detriment of the West, however, US involvement in the new scramble for Africa has hobbled along on a relatively small commitment to providing military training and has offered up precious little diplomatic or commercial incentive to secure new alliances in the region.
The US has between seven to nine thousand troops on the ground in Africa at any given time and the nation’s involvement is largely based around efforts to root out and destroy burgeoning terror cells and to train local security forces in counterinsurgency operations.
While the US sends in Special Forces to counter Islamism, however, China and Russia are helping African nations build and secure the megacities that will shape global diplomacy in the next century, up to and including securing COVID-19 vaccinations and bankrolling the major ports that will control trade in the near future.
From 2014–2018 China both outspent the US in Africa and created more jobs on the continent at a rate of more than two-to-one. The Chinese hold more than 21 percent of all African debt and are pursuing Construction projects in 50 of the 54 African nations.
Importantly, many of these contracts contain stark anti-competition agreements aimed at cutting out US influence, such as one attempt to coerce Tanzania into accepting a 99-year lease that would forbid the nation from building any other ports.
Similarly, Russia is investing heavily in security operations and mineral extraction throughout Africa. The Wagner Group, a Russian private military company widely believed to be in the employ of the Russian Ministry of Defence now maintains ventures in mining and cybersecurity throughout the region, and has been accused of using the force to launch pro-Kremlin sabotage efforts.
Moreover, Russia has signed military deals with at least 19 African countries since 2014, largely in an effort to safeguard its expansion into the extraction of precious minerals. These deals, and the working of The Wagner Group, have worked to essentially prop up formely powerless governments against the violent coups endemic to the continent, and to swing political situations in favor of Russian strategic interests.
So great have Sino-Russian efforts in Africa been that Chinese state-backed media are championing the idea of levering commercial developments throughout Africa to undermine the value of the dollar, and fear has already been expressed about long term attempts to float the Yuan as the global reserve currency rather than the dollar.
Clearly, the US strategy of half-heartedly sending military aid is not a long-term solution to developing a stable and friendly Africa. While American troops have been stuck fighting whichever Islamist cult popped up most recently, its greatest adversaries have been investing the resources necessary to create nations without the endemic problems that most often lead to insurgencies.
Africa will, in no uncertain terms, play a monumental role in shaping international diplomacy over the next hundred years. If America hopes to have any influence in the region, her leaders ought to consider sending in the businessmen before the generals and the diplomats.
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