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The Great Courtship of the African Continent – Pierre Haski

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The Great Courtship of the African Continent – Pierre Haski

January 13, 2023 10:17 am

There was a time when great powers vied to conquer large swathes of the African continent. Today, however, the powers compete to seduce, convince and sometimes buy the support of countries that have never been so courted.

The 55 African states have a great global attraction, regardless of the evaluation criterion: economic, political, demographic, security. No one is indifferent to this game. In the past two decades, China has become the main partner of the continent, supplanting the old colonial powers. Russia, for its part, is rediscovering old influences by exploiting the attractiveness of the mercenaries of the Wagner group. The Americans are back in the game, while Turkey, India, Japan and Brazil have big ambitions.

The war in Ukraine exacerbates this race for Africa due to the reluctance of many countries of the continent to condemn the Russian invasion. By now it is clear that the Africans do not intend to be considered as allies acquired by the West and above all that they feel badly about the massive support granted to Ukraine where their problems are often ignored.

A clever speech
During the week, China’s new foreign minister Qin Gang made his first visit abroad, choosing Africa. In Addis Ababa, headquarters of the African Union, Qin brought a flattering message to the continent’s leaders: “Our world is changing in ways never seen before. The collective growth of developing countries is irreversible,” the minister said. “The advent of an Asian century and an African century is no longer a distant dream. We must increase the presence and voice of developing countries within the UN, especially those in Africa”.

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The Chinese minister’s statements echo a similar speech recently heard in Washington

Qin’s speech is astute, because he presents China, the world‘s second largest economy and often criticized for the predatory nature of its initiatives and for the debt it generates, as a developing country, equal to that of the African continent. A “we” addressed to the southern countries that seems a bit forced.

In any case, the minister’s statements echo a similar speech heard last month in Washington. “We need more African voices in international dialogues,” US representatives announced at a summit with African countries organized by Joe Biden. On that occasion, China was rarely mentioned, but it was certainly very present in the minds of the participants.

In this “great game” Europe suffers the obstacle of its colonial past and its passivity, but also that of having moved away from Africa in recent decades, only to wake up late. France, in particular, faces a hostile climate fueled by young people from French-speaking countries, as French Secretary of State for Development Chrysalys Zacharopoulou was able to verify this week in Ouagadougou.

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Last year, during the French presidency, a summit was organized in Brussels between the European Union and Africa, a few days before the invasion of Ukraine. The 27 have presented a fund, the Global gateway, to compete with the new Chinese silk road, but the Union today has neither the flexibility nor the resources of Beijing.

The dance of suitors in Africa should push Europe to reinvent its relationship with the continent to which it is closest and to which it is inextricably linked. But there is still a long way to go before Africa truly considers France and Europe as natural allies. The problem is that time is running out.

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(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)

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