Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Power Struggle And The Grand Chessboard of Africa

The struggle for global or regional supremacy in the past has led major powers to fight in and for Africa certainly not for Africans. In the very first age, Europeans colonized sub-Saharan Africa because of its vast reserves of natural resources and manpower which was used in slavery by the great powers of that time, and Africa was pillaged and massacred with all the might of the Industrial revolution occurring at that time. In the second age of Scramble for Africa, the ideological Cold war engulfed the region into an uneasy situation in which both the United States and the Soviet Union were struggling very hard to win against each other and they needed a battleground. They used many African states to fight the Cold war. This resulted in Africa becoming rogue and war-torn due to sponsored guerilla fighting against each other. When the Cold war ended Africa was ancient, and hopeless but it all got reversed when the world scrambled for Africa for the 3rd time due to several mixes of new and old interests.

Africa remained a chessboard for the competing powers across its history. It is also pretty evident why Africa is still relevant to the contemporary world powers because current major powers have a deep interest in this region. Africa is still getting plundered but in a different way. The third age is described as non-threatening or benign by “The Economist” age because it is not derived from the reason to plunder but due to trade and development in the African continent. And this is happening right now and it is more voluntary than in the previous ages because the African continent is working independently. Each state is sovereign and trying to work for its people. It is termed a new kind of scramble for Africa, which can lead all 54 African states to a win-win situation if managed in the right way.

Indeed Africa is a huge market for investment due to large mineral reserves, a growing population, and dwindling conflict zones. That is why many competitors scrambled for Africa in the past. The United States, France, United Kingdom, Belgium, Soviet Union, etc. are some traditional states that exploited Africa. New competitors like China and Turkiye are also establishing a foothold in Africa and the globe, so traditional powers are worried about their diminishing influence. This is due to the huge investment of China in Africa that the west is failing to counter.

Several Major Powers scrambling for Africa are the US, Russia, and China. Each state is trying to scramble for Africa for global dominance or countering its adversary. These powers are somewhat working in Africa in the name of humanitarian aid but the issue of food insecurity persists in the African continent. Major Powers manipulate these issues of food security and deplete the resources. Arms, drug, and blood diamond smuggling are also supported by some of these powers to deplete the resources of Africa.

The United States used to be one of the main scramblers for Africa but during Trump Administration that interest in Africa went below zero. The United State’s commitment to Africa has been primarily political and humanitarian. There is very less involvement of the US in terms of development and trade with Africa. Camp Lemonnier is the largest US base in Africa hosting at least 5000 troops in Djibouti. This base was formed after the 9/11 attacks to monitor the Horn of Africa Region. Major General William Zana Commander of Joint Task Force said in an interview with BBC that “This Base is for Ground, Air & Maritime operations” He also showed his concerns regarding the Chinese base and its unknown intentions. In August 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited three African nations on an official visit and tried to fight the case of the Ukraine Crisis. This is because almost half of the nations supported the Russian stance on the Ukraine crisis or abstained from voting in the UN. The Secretary of State visited DRC, Rwanda, and South Africa to strengthen United States’ partnership with these countries. These states are also resource-rich in many chemical compounds. These regions were previously neglected by the US because of some notable conflicts in the region. In 2021, The New York Times reported that the US failed to secure its investment in Africa and now Chinese companies are controlling these resources. As mentioned previously the US is also concerned about the influence of Russia as well as China on the African continent.

Russian Foreign Minister visited African Continent to counter the western narrative of the Ukrainian Crisis. He reaffirmed Russian support for the African Continent. Although Russia is a weaker state economically than China and the US, Russia has 19 Military bases on the African continent and is reported to support many states in fighting conflicts. Like the US, Russia is also scrambling for Africa to gain something for itself.

Since the Advent of the 21st century, investment is coming from the West as well as from the East i.e. China. Africa using China, instead of the US, for its big infrastructure projects and China’s influence in Africa is worrying the policymakers in Washington. China is immensely investing in the African continent through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation or FOCAC. According to ABDAS China’s trade volume in 2000 with the whole of Africa was almost 10 Billion Dollars but in just 21 years it multiplied several folds to 254.3 Billion Dollars. The west terms China’s investment in Africa as new colonialism but Professor Peter Kagwanja of the African Policy Institute said “China is funding what Africans have asked to be funded, not what it wants to fund”. He further argues that Western Allegations are of Debt Burden on Africa but the West is also hampered by debt but they lack worrying. The US is one of the holders of China but that news does not come in Western media. China seems to be different from other powers as it is investing in economy and culture instead of politics.

All these powers have renewed interests in African Continent and are coming back. It also shows that imperialism never stops instead it evolves. One way or another these powers are utilizing Africa as a chessboard to pursue their great power competition. African Union is composed of 55 economies with huge natural resources which makes it the world’s largest trading block, coupled with economic growth in Africa. This all makes this continent mise en scène for the 3rd Scramble for Africa.


About Author:

Mr. Abdul Wassay is a student at National Defense University, Islamabad. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Studies. His areas of interest include traditional and non-traditional security issues, national security, international politics, Arms Control & Disarmament, & Military Weapons Analysis. He can be contacted at

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