Africa is nobody’s prize to win or lose, President Paul Kagame told the World Peace Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco on October 12. His words are a timely reminder to everyone that Africans have their own interests that they must protect.
This is especially so at this time when Africa is the most sought after place on earth.
Africa is and has always been an attractive continent, which is why some tend to see it as a prize to be competed for, where some gain and others lose. However, Africans do not seem to have a say on the prize even though they actually own it.
These words should keep ringing in the ears of African leaders as they gather in Sochi, Russia for the Russia-Africa Summit, yet another meeting with a foreign country whose interest in Africa is growing again.
Gatherings like the one in Sochi that starts on Wednesday, October 23 have become regular in the last two decades or so. The traditional big powers and emerging ones have been in a competition to fete African presidents in order to secure the continent’s natural resources and markets for their products.
The latest in this rivalry for Africa’s favours is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He is following what the Chinese have been doing in the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the Japanese in the Tokyo International Conference for Africa’s Development (TICAD).
The Americans have been doing the same in the US-Africa Summit and the Europeans in the EU-Africa meetings. The Indians, not to be outdone, have their version they call the India-Africa Forum.
So what do the African leaders hope to come with from Russia, and what does President Putin hope to gain from them?
He will offer much of what the other competitors for Africa’s bounty have done: trade deals, promise loans and possibly grants for development projects. There are examples already. He has nuclear energy agreements with several countries, including Rwanda.
Military cooperation, including arms sales, is another area Putin will seek to strengthen. According to a report in The Moscow Times of October 18, 2019, Russia is ahead of its rivals in providing security cooperation.
The paper says, quoting the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, that in the last five years Russia has signed over 23 security cooperation deals with African countries. According to other reports, Russia is the largest arms exporter to Africa.
For Russia, this is all part of a resurgent nation set on reclaiming a prominent role on the world stage. In the case of Africa, the Sochi gathering is one way of getting back into the continent and re-establishing influence it lost with the end of the cold war.
This time however, the presence will be governed less by ideological solidarity, but more by economic and commercial interests.
Russian presence has extended beyond the liberation allies of Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to such places as Egypt, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Guinea.
Some of these may appear unlikely candidates for Russian interest, but they demonstrate its interests have gone past the purely political. It is interested in such minerals as diamonds in CAR, bauxite in Guinea and platinum in Zimbabwe, as well as oil and gas.
Tomorrow, it is Sochi. Previously it has been Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, Brussels, and New Delhi. This is all part of a history of competition for Africa going back centuries and driven by the same things.
In the past, it was the search for raw materials and markets for new industries in Europe. At the time this search was accompanied by territorial grabs by different European countries, later formalised by the Berlin Conference of 1885.
The naked imperialist and economic ambition was presented in more acceptable humanitarian garb as a mission to bring civilisation to Africa.
Today the reasons for renewed interest in Africa are also its natural resources and markets for industrial products. This time there is no need for physical occupation and control of territory.
There are cheaper means of safeguarding their interests. The excuse they advance for this is that they want to be part of the continent’s growth.
As the presidents of many African countries gather in Sochi, they might do well to keep in mind President Kagame’s words about Africa as a prize. It is actually the valuable prize of Africans for us to hold and cherish and develop, not to give away to others whatever the offer.
They do not go to Sochi as supplicants seeking favours but as leaders with deals to offer and gains for their countries to be made,
They do not go there as leaders of their separate countries only but as those representing a united continent, backed by a strong African Union and a continent-wide trading bloc, the AfCFTA. At least that is our prayer.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.