Africa always was and still is rich



Massimiliano Fanni Cannelles

Africa is not poor, it was always a rich continent. The first ones to understand this were the Europeans who, during the second half of the 19th century, initiated a process that today we define as modern colonialism or imperialism, aimed at exploiting the resources of the colonised countries.

There was a real race to Africa, which saw France, Belgium, Great Britain and Portugal among the main protagonists. Even today, after the numerous wars that have bloodied the African continent, after apartheid and after the difficult processes of decolonization, Africa is once again the object of desire for many nations.

Those who have been keeping an eye on the African continent for a long time are Turkey, India, Brazil, Russia and, above all, China (BRICST). Today like in the past, Africa is a mine of geological resources, and its low position, from an economic and non economic point of view, will allow it to have very strong growth rates. If at that time the only protagonists of the African continent were the Europeans, today we are in the presence of many actors that have led to the creation and  development of a multipolar world, compromising the geopolitical balance at the expense of the medium powers especially.

Turkish president Erdogan has always paid particular attention to Africa. In 2008 the African Union recognized the Ankara government as a strategic partner. In the same year the first Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit was also held, during which regular consultations were established between the high-level representatives of the two states. This and other meetings have further increased trade relationships between the two areas, especially to the benefit of Turkey.

Imports of African products include precious materials such as gold, minerals and some raw materials such as cotton, wood and leather. However, the decision to turn to the African continent is also the result of a religious matter. In fact, President Erdogan has decided to pay particular to all African countries with a strong Sunni presence, since he aspires to become the leader of this Muslim part of world.

India has made important choices in terms of foreign policy. Choices that led the country to invest also in African territories. The Indian presence in Africa, in fact, is increasingly growing, but despite everything, it is discreet. Moreover the Indian government, thanks to the agreements with the African states, is trying to obtain greater relevance within the field of international relations.

For what regards Brazil, it could be argued that already during Lula’s presidency the center of gravity of the Brazilian international relations shifted towards Africa. The president saw in the black continent the perfect ground for his policy of diversification of exports and internationalization of companies. Relations between the two continents continued even during Rousseff’s presidency. It was, in fact, during the years of its mandate that Brazil cancelled $ 900m worth of debts that it owed to twelve African countries. Since this is not a matter of pure philanthropy, this was followed up by new and substantial investments in the African continent, especially in the infrastructure and oil industry.

A county that certainly did not waste time is China. Since 2009, the “Middle Kingdom” has invested 125 billion euros in Africa. Unlike Western countries that invest mainly in cooperation and development, the Beijing government prefers tangible projects such as roads, railways and buildings.
These works are all financed with Chinese loans and in the event of a non-payment the country is forced to give away the infrastructure. Here is how the so-called “debt trap” is triggered, a vicious circle that if managed in the wrong way risks generating a real political crisis. In this regard, the case of Sri Lanka, which had to give control of the port of Hambantota to Beijing due to non-payment of the debt, is significant.
The Chinese economy is booming, which is why it needs raw materials. The Middle Kingdom has built a gas pipeline in Ethiopia, 700km long, which reaches the port of Djibouti where Beijing already has a military base. In addition, the Chinese government has decided to take over the national Zesco electricity company in Zambia, as the country is unable to pay off the $ 8 billion debt to China.
Sino-African relations are rapidly developing thanks to the strong Chinese demand for raw materials and also thanks to the need for infrastructure by African states. Chinese trade and investment, in Africa, focuses more on timber, agriculture, copper, cobalt, textiles, fishing, platinum, iron, the military sector and energy.

However, Beijing’s interest in the African continent is, above all, geo-strategic. In fact, Africa represents for China an opening towards new markets and, consequently, a great opportunity to expand the Silk Road, not only on land but also on sea. The ambitious project of the Chinese president Xi Jinping includes the connection between the southern ports of China and the port of Djibouti, thanks to which, through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, China would land in the Mediterranean.

There is another reason that explains China’s geopolitical interest in Africa. African states represent one-third of the UN members, and if Beijing were able to bring them into its sphere of influence it would acquire enormous political power worldwide.

Putin’s Russia has focused its attention on Central Africa, the Horn and North Africa. Moscow has decided, after having the Soviet-era debts with Africa cancelled, to supply arms and military support in order to obtain contracts to explore and exploit mineral-rich deposits. The Russian public company Rosatom (whose activities cover all nuclear fields) has long been exploiting uranium mines in Tanzania and Namibia. Moscow has also made its way into the exploitation of the platinum mine in Zimbabwe.

Furthermore, Russia’s growing interest in the African continent comes from the desire to play a leading role in the territories of North Africa and the Middle East, in order to increase its power and influence in the Mediterranean.

Saudi Arabia also wanted a part in this multipolar scenario, and recently announced investments up to 10 billion dollars, mainly in the hydrocarbons sector of South Africa. Saudi Energy Minister said Saudi Arabia will build an oil refinery and a petrochemical plant. Furthermore, the Riyadh government is also interested in the country’s main oil storage facilities and wants to invest in the new renewable energy program.
Saudi Arabia also looks with particular attention to the Horn of Africa. After having played a key role in the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Riyadh, like other countries, aims at controlling an area where one of the most important maritime routes in the world is located.

The Mediterranean, resources, and global power: these are the three key words around which the interests of the states that have invested and are investing in Africa focus and develop. The multiplicity of actors who have turned their attention to the continent makes the geopolitical scenario extremely complex. The interests of states, accompanied by power games, corruption and exploitation, risk destroying the future of Africa.

The shadow of what we can define as a new form of colonialism looms more than ever on the African continent, whose destiny has been tied up with that of other states through various agreements. Africa has become the promised land for all those countries that see this continent as the launch pad in the race of global power. And even today, like in the past, we can say that the race for Africa is open again.

Massimiliano Fanni Cannelles is a Professor at Bologna University, Emergency First Aid Deputy Head, Director SocialNews Magazine and President of the Auxilia Foundation