Suddenly, Africa has become a global diplomatic arena where the U.S., Russia, China and the European Union (EU) are scrambling for attention and influence. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, began a five-day three-nation “charm offensive” trip to the African nations of South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. This was just as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was rounding up her trip, which took her to Uganda, Ghana and Cape Verde. Her trip began on Thursday, August 4, 2022, with Uganda as the first stop. And Blinken’s visit this week will be his third to Africa, including his “virtual trip” to Africa and a three-nation tour of Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal in April and November last year respectively.
And at each stop, both U.S. envoys were quick to say the timing of the trips was not to compete with China and Russia, even though both nations were lurking at every step. The trips came on the heels of Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Africa penultimate week. Lavrov paid a four-nation visit to Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo. And China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, began 2022 with a four-day visit to Eritrea, Kenya and the Comoros, keeping a 32-year tradition that the country’s top diplomat makes his first trip of the year to Africa.
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Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield laid claim to being the original friend of Africa, saying: “We’re not catching up. They are catching up. We have been engaging with this continent for decades, and even my own career is very much evidence of that.” Not to be left out, France joined the fray. At the same time that Lavrov was in Africa, French President, Emmanuel Macron, was on his own African safari, visiting Cameroon, Benin Republic and Guinea-Bissau. Macron fired the salvo to remind all that the visit was for their own power game, calling Russia “one of the last remaining imperial, colonial powers”, a description that many would argue also fits France’s relations with its ex-colonies in Africa.
In addition, U.S. President Joe Biden will hold his long-awaited African leaders’ summit in December 2022, while Lavrov announced in Cairo during his visit that the 2nd Russia-Africa summit, originally scheduled for October-November 2022, would now hold early next year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Both the U.S and Russian summits would come on the heels of the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Dakar, Senegal, in late November last year, and the EU-Africa Summit, which held in mid-February this year.
Amid all of these summits and visits to Africa by the great powers, Daily Trust will like African leaders to remember an epochal period in our history. When European powers arrived in Africa in the 1880s and parceled out the continent into their own ‘protectorates’, ‘colonies’ and ‘free-trade areas’, in what is now known as “The scramble for Africa”, the primary objective was to advance European economic self-interest without going to war with each other. Africa, for European powers throughout this period and beyond, was just a “market” to be carved out into spheres of influence for African raw materials and European processed goods.
As African leaders receive their American, European, Chinese and Russian counterparts, or jet out to yet more summits, we urge them to be reminded of a past that is still present in many ways. Indeed, the visits and summits and rhetoric from them are reminiscent of Cold War posturing and propaganda, which risks making Africa a proxy battleground arena. Though Lavrov insisted his African safari was a routine visit, many commentators believe it was aimed at winning support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, while similar actions by the U.S, EU and France are aimed at countering the Russian moves and narratives in Africa.
Ultimately, there appears a renewed scramble to gain new spheres of influence in Africa as high-stakes international politics look to change on the global scene. And African leaders must get it as it is because, already, tensions between Russia, China and the West are right now manifesting in Mali and Burkina Faso. Being easy prey to flattery by foreign dignitaries, African leaders must learn to put their own self and mutual interests first. As they welcome the visitors, they must be cautious. Individual Heads of State and Governments, the AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other regional groups must not fall for the same trick again.
Each country, regional or continental group must work out what they stand to gain. They must give conditions for each concession they give out. It should be a win-win situation, not the business-as-usual approach. We urge African leaders to build strong and well-informed negotiation and discussion teams and to focus on areas of mutual benefits, such as the development of regional and continental infrastructure that will vastly improve trade and social intercourse within Africa itself. Africa can no longer remain a dumping ground for foreign arms and ammunition, nor for tokenistic aid and punitive debts, but a place where trade and investment for mutual gain rule.