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Africa’s Continental Dilemma—Geopolitics at a Time of Upheaval By Otobong Inieke

African UnionAfrica’s Continental Dilemma—Geopolitics at a Time of Upheaval By Otobong Inieke

Aside from the relatively positive developments in terms of economic cooperation through China-Africa relations, much of the continent is under multidimensional pressure, diplomatically, militarily, and socio-politically. While South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa led a peace delegation to Ukraine and Russia seeking a path to peace, the move has mostly been criticized as a face-saving move or an ineffective attempt to deal with issues outside the control of Africans. With both countries rejecting the proposal, the South African leader also saw his Polish protection detail prevent smooth passage in that country, an incident that can be considered as a diplomatic cold shoulder to the delegation.

At the same time, the argument of misplaced priorities has a place because when one considers the situation in Sudan and the insecurity across the Sahel, it can be said that Africa’s diplomatic heft and talent would be better spent bolstering the African Union’s ability to mediate and assist in conflict resolution. Moreover, the unbalanced system of global trade means that African countries are dangerously dependent on foreign regions for what has become critical food sources like wheat, while local agricultural systems are chronically underdeveloped. Research by Development Reimagined showed not only that the European Union was responsible for one-quarter of Africa’s total agricultural imports as of 2021, but also that African countries spent roughly $67.6 billion with the majority of that expenditure coming from Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, and Ethiopia. The report further suggests that while Africa can feed itself, problems with infrastructure, underdeveloped agricultural sectors, and unbalanced trade patterns means that achieving self-sustenance and development goals will remain challenging.

While South Africa is confronting diplomatic challenges head-on, Algeria has stepped up overt activities signaling a willingness to strengthen cooperation with Russia. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune paid a three-day visit to Moscow during his meeting with Russian President Putin, both leaders signed a declaration on a so-called deep strategic partnership. The Algerian leader was quoted as saying that “foreign countries may put pressure on us today but this will never affect our ties.” The Russian leader also highlighted Algeria as a key partner in Africa and expressed the hope to increase energy and military cooperation. These diplomatic developments will not be without geopolitical repercussions, in the form of a reaction from Morocco which is a key ally to the United States and Western Europe which are in deep geopolitical rivalry with Russia and China, it must be noted that these are ripe conditions for proxy confrontations as was the order of the day during the Cold War that never really thawed. Another tension point is the issue of the Algerian support for the Polisario Front of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR); Morocco claims territorial sovereignty over Western Sahara with Euro-Atlantic support, while Algeria supports the independence struggle of the SADR. These are among the developments to be closely observed, how will an unfolding of these tensions affect matters in the region?

West Africa in recent times has witnessed a rise in anti-French sentiment, both as a reaction against the legacies of colonialism as well as fatigue with the European country’s military interventions that have not yielded favorable results in the many years that Operation Barkhane has been active. The main societies reacting in this regard are Mali and Burkina Faso who have evicted diplomats and called for the termination of military cooperation deals to be followed by the withdrawal of French forces as soon as possible. As one imagines, Paris leaves the situation highly disappointed but fails to acknowledge the parallels its military operations have with the United States and its failed missions of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, of which the United States’ Afghan mission lasted 19 years ending in May 2021. On the other hand, the problem of violent attacks by non-state actors continued, an issue the military operations were intended to solve. The situation was further incensed after Malian leadership in Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga spoke to Al-Jazeera saying France has been providing training to terrorist groups in Kidal town of which the government has no access.

Aside from the changes Mali has made in its relations with France, internally the country has organized a referendum on a new constitution, and the population has largely mobilized to vote on the decision to build a new constitution. This is an important signal of good faith that the military leadership is sending not only to the wider population but to the international community as well.

Toward the horn of Africa, tensions have not reduced; after another failed ceasefire agreement, reports suggested that the governor of West Darfur region had been killed apparently after making critical comments against the paramilitary Rapid Security Forces (RSF). Conflict resolution attempts have also not fared properly, with the latest move being rejected by Sudan, on the ground that Kenya’s chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Authority and Development (IGAD) mediation effort is unacceptable because Kenya is not neutral in the Sudan crisis. And in evidence of spillover from the conflict, health care centers in neighboring Chad are becoming overwhelmed as a result of hundreds of wounded arriving from Sudan, this is according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

The chaos that has sprung from competing power centers has already put the region in a dire state of uncertainty and it is yet to be seen the response from regional governing bodies like the IGAD, East African Community, or the African Union. In a shift in regional geopolitics also, Eritrea has rejoined the IGAD and resumed its activities after 16 years since it suspended its membership in 2007. This was a move that was made in protest of Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, and in complaint that the organization was being manipulated by external interests. Conversely, Tigray and Amhara leaders in Ethiopia have met and agreed on a path to peace through dialogue, a much sought-after silver lining in continental developments, the two sides that were involved in a brutal war that erupted in 2020 shared their commitment to reopen road transport between the two regions and also work toward resolving differences for lasting stability.

The many developments around Africa and their impact on global trade, security, and politics show that scholars, analysts, policymakers, and the peoples of the continent must adjust to a more active position in terms of expressing unity in purpose and development. A geopolitically fractured Africa does not serve the interests or growth potential of Africans, but as a matter of fact, keeps the various countries in a vulnerable position where international relations do not serve as channels for development. The turn toward global multipolarity is an opportunity that must not be squandered.

Author Bio: This article was produced by Globetrotter. Otobong Inieke is an independent researcher with a strong focus on Pan-Africanism, geopolitics, and media literacy. He is based in Nigeria, and his writings have been published with Cosmonaut magazine, Black Agenda Report, and Orinoco Tribune.

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