Africa: Pawn in a new world dis-order


A new cold war is emerging, characterised by a new arms race, space race, cyber-technology race, and an age-old race for land, resources, and influence. Once again Africa finds herself a pawn…this time in an emerging new world dis-order.

A new cold war is emerging, characterised by a new arms race, space race, cyber-technology race, and an age-old race for land, resources, and influence. Once again Africa finds herself a pawn…this time in an emerging new world dis-order.

Military officers who are emboldened to conduct coups do so in the full knowledge that they will be supported by those who have an interest in regime change at the time.

Africa’s evolution from a pre-industrial, agrarian society into a twenty first century agrarian, industrial, services, and fourth industrial society has not yet materialised, in large part due to  exploitation by foreign interests preventing her from beneficiating her endowment of natural and human resources. However, we Africans must also shoulder our share of blame for the plight that we find ourselves in today. 

The population of Africa is growing exponentially and urbanising rapidly. Neither exponential population growth nor rapid urbanisation should be challenges for Africa due to its abundant natural resources and land mass, which can accommodate its growing population. Africa is also home to sixty percent of all arable land in the world and, consequently, food security should not be a challenge. However, the inability of the majority of African countries to transform their economies from subsistence to commercial agriculture, and to beneficiate their natural resources through industrialisation, has resulted in persistent poverty, growing unemployment and widening inequality. This is what is driving instability, conflict and war, threatening the future of Africa and the world. 

Between 1800 and 1960, colonialism and imperialism coincided with the industrialisation of Europe, which led to the systematic exploitation of Africa’s natural resources through a process of subjugation and extraction. In the 1960’s, on gaining independence  Africa’s liberators found themselves inheriting states fashioned along colonial patterns of domination and exploitation. This provided fertile ground for the germination of a corrupt, kleptocratic, and predatory elite alongside the birth of Africa’s iconic liberators. The liberators and kleptocrats of Africa also found themselves in the middle of a global Cold War characterised by ideological clientelism, and tied to a global economic order that was difficult to extricate from. Consequently, Africa was not shaped by its indigenous governance systems, but by its inherited colonial legacy and its cold war ideological patronage paradigm.

The end of the Cold War in 1989 coincided with the dismantling of the dominant one-party system and its replacement overnight with multi-party democracy. History will judge whether, and under what socio-economic conditions, such a rapid transformation could succeed. However, for three decades Africa swung between success and failure in this transformation. Apart from the emergence of some genuine democrats, many autocrats and kleptocrats succeeded in remaining in power through “democratic means”, urged on by their allies whose interests they were willing to serve. 

Africa has since made huge progress in many areas. It transformed the Organisation of African Unity, the body that oversaw the liberation of Africa, into the African Union (AU). The AU, together with the Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms, have been tasked with ensuring peace and stability, good governance, and the economic transformation of the Continent. Three decades of building these institutions, and implementing their programmes to attain their respective mandates, have yielded satisfactory success. However, the transformation of the economies of most African countries, from subsistence to commercial agriculture, and the beneficiation of Africa’s natural resources through industrialisation is still a work in progress. Consequently, in the absence of this transformation, an exponentially growing population that is rapidly urbanising presents a threat to peace and stability.

Today, Africa is in the midst of a global pandemic that has created a health and economic crisis, and is exacerbating a security and humanitarian crisis. Social and political conflict is on the rise throughout Africa. Several countries that are unable to fully control their sovereign territories are witnessing a rise in radicalised insurgencies and human, drug and arms traffickers. 

The intersection of these forces, together with weak security establishments in these countries, have seen a rapid resort to private military and security companies to assist governments to deal with these challenges These private military and security companies are an extension of their host country’s political and economic interest in Africa, and they are actively competing for space and influence. In addition, protagonists to conflict in Africa understand the global divide, and do not hesitate to exploit the divide to meet their interests. External powers are also competing to resolve Africa’s challenges, or backing a particular side with political, military, and economic support. It is no coincidence that we have witnessed a resurgence of military coups in Africa. Military officers, who are emboldened to conduct coups, do so in the full knowledge that they will be supported by those who have an interest in regime change at the time. Consequently, a new global war is again being fought on African soil.

This new global war, characterised by a new arms, space and cyber race is happening in the midst of a global health pandemic, a global climate crisis, a rise in terrorism, and rising xenophobia across the world. We are at an historic juncture in the evolution of our civilisation, when our very survival as a species is threatened. It is precisely at this time, when the super-powers of the world should be leading the world in pooling the intellectual and financial capital of the world, and our collective natural resources, to build a new world order based, not on a philosophy of Mutually Assured Destruction, but on a philosophy of Mutually Assured Development!

However, the growing crisis around Ukraine, tension in the South China Sea, and the recently published America Competes Act of 2022, point to a deepening division between China and the United States and their respective allies. It is hoped that the threat to our common future by the health, climate and social crises will create a platform for greater cooperation and less competition. In the meanwhile, of concern to the African people and their leaders must be the danger of Africa being dragged into this emerging global cold war, and being denied the opportunity to stay on its current development trajectory, albeit a slow and unsteady one. An interruption of Africa’s development today will have lasting and devastating consequences for Africa and her people.    

African leaders owe it to their people, and have a responsibility to act in their best interests and not to acquiesce to the overtures of external interests for their own narrow political or personal interests. We need to retain our dignity and shape our destiny through African solutions to African challenges. Neither Africa’s people, nor its leaders, should become pawns in this new world dis-order!

Dr. Vasu Gounden is the Founder and Executive Director of ACCORD.

Article by:

Vasu Gounden
Vasu Gounden
Founder & Executive Director

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