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New Scramble for Africa: It Is Time for Africa-Africa Summit

Why is Africa, the custodian of world’s vast treasure chest, not convening summits on its own soil and inviting other nations to its table?

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In the 1870s, the vast majority of Africa, approximately 90 per cent, remained under the control of its indigenous peoples. European presence was largely confined to coastal enclaves, with minimal penetration into the continent’s interior. 

However, this dynamic shifted as missionaries, explorers, and traders ventured deeper into Africa, revealing a land teeming with natural resources and untapped potential. 

European powers, driven by insatiable industrial appetites, were captivated by the prospect of harnessing these riches. The allure of Africa’s raw materials proved irresistible, setting the stage for intense territorial expansion. 

Eager to secure their share of the African pie, great Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Italy embarked on a relentless land acquisition campaign, carving the continent into spheres of influence.

Berlin Conference

Leaping forward a few years, we arrive at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, orchestrated by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck at the behest of King Leopold II of Belgium. Convening on November 15, 1884, the conference adjourned and reconvened on February 26, 1885. 

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This momentous gathering brought together representatives from Germany, Austria-Hungary, the International Congo Society (Belgium), Spain, Denmark, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Sweden-Norway, and the Ottoman Empire. 

The General Act of Berlin was then signed after the conference. The law, also known as the Congo Act, was a comprehensive agreement between 14 European powers and the United States that established guidelines for the colonisation and governance of Africa. 

This pivotal document laid the foundation for the Scramble for Africa, a period of intense competition among European powers to acquire territories and resources.

The law, while intended to promote cooperation and regulate colonisation, ultimately catalysed the exploitation and fragmentation of Africa, leaving a legacy of challenges that continue to shape the continent’s trajectory. 

New Scramble for Africa

But while colonialism has formally ended in Africa, analysts point to a New Scramble for Africa, warning the continent’s leaders and peoples against the danger that the contemporary conquest will pose to Africa’s future.  

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The original conference sought to establish dominion over African territories through colonisation, intimidation, and blatant military occupation. However, the New Scramble for Africa employs a more nuanced approach. 

For example, it emphasises cultivating economic ties with Africa through treaties and agreements. This contemporary conquest hinges on which superpowers can forge the most intimate economic, diplomatic, and security bonds with Africa.

This shift in strategy reflects the evolving global landscape, where economic influence often carries more weight than overt political control. 

Nations vying for Africa’s favour are not merely seeking territorial expansion but striving to secure access to the continent’s vast natural resources, burgeoning markets, and strategic geopolitical positioning.

Summit diplomacy

In a whirlwind of diplomatic activity spanning a few months, we have witnessed a series of high-level summits between Africa and various global powers, including Saudi Arabia, China, the European Union, Japan, India, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France.

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Now, entangling with economically superior nations, while presenting certain advantages, demands a cautious approach from African countries. 

As the renowned economist Milton Friedman aptly observed, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding leader, astutely remarked, “Small nations are like indecently dressed women. They tempt the evil-minded.”

I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of Africa, and Tanzania specifically, establishing closer ties with more developed nations. While I embrace pragmatism, I also adhere to realism. These economic, trade, and security partnerships should not be perceived as mere boons bestowed upon us, regardless of how our more powerful counterparts may portray them. 

Our partners require us as much as we need them, perhaps even more in today’s world. Their motives stem not from benevolence but from necessity. The same African raw materials and human resources that fueled the European Industrial Revolution will drive the next revolution.

While these engagements can bring tangible benefits to Africa, they raise concerns about potential exploitation and neo-colonialism. African nations must carefully navigate this complex landscape, safeguarding their sovereignty and ensuring that these relationships serve their long-term interests.

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Our governments should equip their experts in terms of negotiations to come out with more favourable conditions. There should be no politics or patronage when discussing international agreements. 

We have seen time and time again that Tanzania loses out in international arbitration cases by signing unfavourable contracts and sending lawyers not equipped to argue for the country in international courts.

A quest to grow

Our continent, Africa, must look inward to foster economic growth rather than relying solely on distant nations. Intra-African trade languishes at a mere 20 per cent, a stark contrast to intra-European and intra-Asian trade, which surpasses 70 per cent. 

To establish vibrant, enduring economies, we must cultivate trade channels within Africa, ensuring that financial resources remain on the continent to fuel African development. 

A 2020 United Nations report alarmingly revealed that Africa loses an astonishing US$88.6 billion annually due to illicit trade and tax evasion. 

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This staggering figure is further compounded by a 2014 study conducted by UK and African NGOs, which estimated that Africa haemorrhages US$192 billion annually to the rest of the world, an amount six times greater than the financial assistance it receives in the form of aid.

With such staggering figures, African leaders venturing beyond the continent to seek development funds is akin to a beggar sitting on a golden throne, pleading for spare change on the streets. 

Africa, literally and figuratively, is perched atop a treasure trove of wealth, yet other continents reap the rewards. Where is the Africa to Africa Summit? Why is Africa, the custodian of this vast treasure chest, not convening summits on its soil and inviting other nations to its table? 

Why do we allow our abundant resources to nourish others while we face hunger and beg for the bare necessities? These are the questions that Africans and their leaders must urgently confront. 

While the international system may be stacked against us, it is time to cease lamenting the players and start playing the game with unwavering determination.

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The New Scramble for Africa is characterised by a subtle yet intense competition for economic influence. As nations vie for access to Africa’s resources and markets, African countries must exercise prudence and negotiate agreements that align with their development goals and aspirations.
Thomas Joel Kibwana is an international relations and business development expert. He can be reached at thomasjkibwana@gmail.com or on X (Twitter) as @thomasjkibwana. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at editor@thechanzo.com.

3 Responses

  1. I second you and thank you for this well-articulated article. Adding up, I suppose investing in human capital is pivotal if we really wish to achieve self-reliance and economic liberation for our African countries. In other words, to improve the education system so we can have well-equipped individuals with modern skills that will assist in driving our economies.

  2. Well said 🤝
    Ila Ingekuwa kwa Kiswahili ingewafikiwa walengwa wengi hasa watanzania na kuzua mjadala kwa ajili ya kujenge nchi na Africa kwa ujumla,
    Napongeza juhudi na mtazamo wa mwandishi kwa kutufungua kifikra juu Hali halisi ya mambo yanavyokwenda kwa mwamvuli wa ushurikiano wa kimataifa na mabadiliko ya tabia ya nchi!

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