The african continent and its various countries received special attention from international powers following the outbreak of the russian-ukrainian war, as it appeared that international powers were seeking to transfer some of their struggle to control the international system to the african continent, In addition to the attempts of these powers to compensate for the losses they suffered as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the sanctions imposed on Russia, particularly in economic terms, these powers envisaged a rapprochement with the countries of the continent as one of the tools of victory in this conflict. International competition for Africa one year after the Russian-Ukrainian war:
One year after the Russian-Ukrainian war, the question arises as to the dimensions of international competition on the continent: whether the continent is still elevated among the priorities of international powers in achieving their goals related to political and resource domination, and how these powers see the countries of the continent in the final stage, and the tools and issues that these forces rely on to foster rapprochement with the countries of the continent, and to what extent these tools reflect the interests of these forces.
Many tools and issues
International competition for Africa one year after the Russian-Ukrainian war: The great powers have relied in their movements on the African continent to achieve their interests after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war on many tools, the most important of which are:
1- Simultaneous visits and economic promises
With the acceleration of events following the outbreak of the war, the international powers tended to make more efforts to get closer to the countries of the African continent, and officials in the United States of America, France, Russia and Germany began to make visits to African countries during the months of July and August 2022. And that ended. In 2022, the U.S.-Africa summit will be held, so China’s new Foreign Minister Chen Gang, followed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, will begin African tours in December 2022.
China’s new foreign minister, Chen Gang, followed a 33-year-old tradition of making Africa the first official visit of the new year. His visit to five African countries – Ethiopia, Gabon, Benin, Angola and Egypt – was an opportunity to get to know the continent at a time when Chinese lending to Africa is declining and great power competition is intensifying. Beijing’s new foreign policy team is quick to assert that China does not see Africa as an arena for competition with great powers, but as a “great stage for international cooperation.” The visit also follows crucial developments such as the successful conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2022; and the end of the eighth session of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum held in Dakar in November 2022, during which the Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024) was adopted.
Interestingly, in recent times, speculation has spread about the possibility of reducing Chinese lending for large infrastructure projects on the continent, as the economic fallout from the Corona epidemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war has undermined the ability of African countries to service their sovereign debts. Indeed, Beijing is struggling to get its money back while maintaining its image as a “supporter” of developing countries.
But the reality seems completely different. January 2023 saw the inauguration of several Sino-African cooperation projects by some African leaders in their countries. In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the construction of the new Lekki deepwater port in Lagos. The port is now the largest in West Africa. A 27-kilometer light rail system – the Blue Line – financed and built by China, was also inaugurated this month.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni commissioned the Kingfisher oil drilling platform on Lake Albert, which should help Uganda produce more crude oil. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a new center for Central African culture and arts is currently under construction in Kinshasa.
On the other hand, u.s. officials were keen to emphasize the economic stakes of rapprochement with the countries of the african continent, while their russian counterparts tended to stress the importance of military cooperation and arms agreements with the countries of the continent.
Janet Yellen’s African tour, which included three countries: Senegal, Zambia and South Africa, was presented as an attempt to build trade and investment relationships with the continent, accompanied by discussions on sustainable energy initiatives, food security and debt relief. Yellen also noted that Africa “will shape the future of the global economy,” revealing the U.S. willingness to reinterest in expanding relations with countries on the continent with a population of 1.4 billion. He also said he discussed compliance with Russian sanctions in each of the first two countries.
In South Africa, where the U.S. is the third-largest trading partner, Yellen pledged to increase trade and investment, and praised the country for its goal of addressing the current energy crisis and coal dependency through a “Just Energy Transition” partnership with the U.S.
As for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he has visited South Africa, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Angola and Eritrea, and the veteran foreign minister’s latest trip was a visit to Mali, Mauritania and Sudan alongside Iraq, where the Russian Foreign Ministry The Minister returned to Africa for the second time in the same year in An attempt to present Russia as a partner in the development of Africa, especially in the security sector and energy.
He also announced in South Africa a joint multilateral naval exercise between South Africa, Russia and China, called “Operation Mozi”, to be held from 17 to 27 February 2023 off the port of Durban. And the Russian foreign minister in Luanda announced a possible agreement to help Angola develop its nuclear energy program.
2- Mutual accusations
International competition for Africa one year after the Russian-Ukrainian war: Brooks Spector, deputy editor of the South African newspaper Daily Maverick and retired American diplomat, confirmed that the competition now on the African continent between Russia, the United States of America and China has become much clearer and much more important than it was a decade ago. For Russia, the issue is geopolitical and security, while for China the issue is economic and commercial.
In October 2022, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield accused Russia’s Wagner Group of exploiting natural resources in Africa and using the illegal gains from those resources to fund Russia’s war machine in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine. 3].
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also criticized Beijing and Moscow during her recent trip to the continent, as her comments in Zambia about China being a “barrier” to restructuring the heavily indebted country’s debt angered Beijing. He also blamed Russia’s “brutal war” for raising energy prices and causing food insecurity in Africa, creating an unnecessary burden on the continent’s economy.
The Chinese embassy in Zambia responded on January 25, 2023 to the U.S. Treasury Secretary’s remarks, and the statement from the Chinese embassy said that “the greatest contribution the United States of America can make to overseas debt problems is to operate within the framework of responsible monetary policies, deal with its own debt problem and stop blocking the active efforts of sovereign countries to solve their debt problems, while the United States of America is witnessing a battle between Republican lawmakers and President Joe Biden’s administration over raising the U.S. debt limit to allow more borrowing to stay the government running, while China has made some progress as co-chair of the creditors’ committee in Zambia, which is seeking a lasting solution.
The statement added that “China looks forward to Washington playing a constructive role in this process, and that while the United States of America may one day solve its debt problem, it is not qualified to make baseless accusations against other countries motivated by selfish interests. .”
3- Joint military cooperation and training
International competition for Africa one year after the Russian-Ukrainian war: Russia was among the first international powers that sought to confirm its continued military cooperation with the countries of the African continent and its support for allied political regimes without regard to the standards of democracy and human rights, as it sought through this approach to circumvent the blockade imposed by Western countries after its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia supplies nearly half of the military equipment in Africa, as Russia builds on its history of arming African countries during their liberation struggles in the 1950s and 1960s of the last century, and the Wagner Group also plays military and security roles in a number of African countries. countries, for example, when the United States of America withdrew The United States of America – alleging human rights violations – from the 2014 agreement to supply attack helicopters to Nigeria, the latter turned to Russia.
However, African countries’ dependence on Russian weaponry puts their defense systems at risk in the aftermath of the Russian-Ukrainian war, as it is difficult to repair and maintain military equipment or provide spare parts and cooperate with Russian experts, especially as it increases the possibility of exposure to Western sanctions.
Russian – Algerian – South African Axis
Russia has also relied on joint exercises with African countries (Algeria and South Africa) as a kind of show of force and to gain support from allies on the continent, and this approach carries risks related to Russia’s difficulties in developing its military systems in light of the war, as well as its reliance on the use of Wagnerian mercenaries to implement its objectives and increase its influence over countries on the African continent.
Algeria and Russia participated in joint military exercises three times after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, while Russian warships docked in Algerian waters to conduct a joint naval exercise in October 2022, while Algerian forces participated in the massive Russian military exercises “Vostok. ” in September 2022 as The only country in Africa. In November 2022, Algerian lands witnessed joint military maneuvers between the two countries in a desert region in northwest Algeria. With the participation of about 80 Russian special forces soldiers, the forces simulated the detection and elimination of terrorist groups during the exercises, as it was the first time soldiers from both countries trained together on Algerian soil. South Africa also announced joint military exercises with Russia and China this month, coinciding with the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, which caused great concern in the United States.
4- Africa’s representation in the Security Council and the G20
African countries are seeking to achieve a major objective in promoting rapprochement with international powers, which is to achieve permanent representation in the Security Council that expresses their weight in international relations and looks after their interests (54 countries represent a quarter of the world’s population). In the aftermath of the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Western pledges were made to the countries of the continent to support Africa’s right to permanent representation on the UN Security Council. Both countries accuse Europe and the United States of obstructing them, which has led to a decrease in the legitimacy of the world system and opened the way to promote an alternative represented by the gathering of the “BRICS.
At the US-Africa summit in December 2022, US President Joe Biden announced Washington’s support for permanent African representation in the Security Council, as well as for African membership in the G20 .
Support for permanent African representation on the UN Security Council may become the real test of partnerships on the continent, casting a shadow over the Russia-Africa summit to be held in July 2023.
The stakes of partnership with African countries
International competition for Africa one year after the Russian-Ukrainian war: Despite the efforts of various international powers to integrate African countries into their alliances in the aftermath of the Russian-Ukrainian war, led by the United States of America, Russia and China, these powers ignore the African interests and the history of rapprochement and cooperation between the two parties, which poses challenges. Ideal for partnership and the realization of foreign interests on the African continent.
On the one hand, African countries have not moved away from the climate of the Cold War and the conflict between the two superpowers that led to the destruction of countries and the spread of chaos in large parts of the continent. As a result, many African countries do not want to engage in the bargaining that the Russian-Ukrainian war is pushing them into, and African leaders justify their attempts to remain neutral in the war by referring to the devastation caused by the Cold War on their continent. However, the bid for G-20 membership and permanent representation on the Security Council indicates that the fierce international competition among the great powers is not now imposing negative repercussions only on Africa.
United States of America’s position
On the other hand, it seems that the United States of America has not succeeded in isolating Russia through rapprochement with the countries of the African continent, and the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in December 2022 to four countries of the continent reflected that In fact, as much as President Joe Biden would like African countries to join the Western coalition to isolate Russia during the war, Russia is making offers to strengthen relations with some of the major countries of the continent. Instead of treating Russia as a “global pariah” as the U.S. would like, the leaders of South Africa, Eritrea, Angola and Eswatini welcomed Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.
On the other hand, Russian influence and African support for Russia’s international position are not without internal criticism: Popular trends have emerged in South Africa opposing Russian influence on the continent, for example, there is a trend that sees the rapprochement of South Africa under the rule of the National Congress Party with Russia Disagreements with Western countries At a time when South Africa cooperates with Western countries to deal with the problem of power outages and is experiencing a serious energy crisis, then the partnership with Russia in the aftermath of the war will impose a high diplomatic cost.
In January 2023, the Foundation of the late South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu criticized the planned naval exercises between Russia, South Africa and China, calling them “shameful” and “tantamount to a declaration that South Africa will join the war.” against Ukraine.”
The Democratic Alliance – the country’s main opposition party – also expressed opposition to the government’s neutral stance, calling on South Africa to stand with Kiev. “We are already involved in this war. Our government cannot be seen to be supporting Russian aggression,” party leader John Steinhausen told parliament in March 2022. He added: “Let’s put state before party politics and think about what this war will mean for us and how it will impact our economy. Steinhausen traveled to Ukraine in May 2022 on a fact-finding mission.
International competition for Africa one year after the Russian-Ukrainian war: In the end, it can be said that one year after the Russian-Ukrainian war, the international powers are still trying to reach out to the countries of the continent and make up for their losses from the war by signing cooperation agreements in energy and weapons, and trying to attract more countries to one side rather than the other, as the losses are still ongoing. The war is draining a large part of the resources of the international powers at a time when these countries realize that Africa represents the future of the world. economically and that it will shape this future through the alliances of its countries at the international level.
On the other hand, the Russian-Ukrainian war offers real opportunities for the countries of the African continent to highlight the role of the African continent as well as to strengthen its position and realize its interests, the most important of which is to obtain a seat or two in the Security Council and to join a number of major international organizations such as the Group of Twenty, because Africa has become an important part in the management of the international system, and it is a major partner for the various international powers in various issues.
Author: Dr. Amira Mohamed Abdel Halim
Expert on African affairs in the Africa Program of the International Studies Unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. – Editor-in-Chief of Regional Issues magazine.
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