The current state of African political players and ideological leanings

The current state of African political players and ideological leanings

Africa is rich in "resources" and with the resources come various interests.
Russia and South Africa have great relationship/ Photo: AP

By Elsie Eyakuze

As the War in Ukraine rages on for the second year, a few debates have regularly appeared in my social circles.

These online arguments are quite vigorous about which side is 'right' in this conflict, which is terribly wrong, and why.

The term' proxy war' is increasingly being used more than in 2022. The economist Jeffrey Sachs is trending this month of March as he shares his views on America's aims and China's political nature.

Closer to home, South Africa drew a little bit of attention when it participated in joint naval exercises with Russia, having the public state its support.

China's non-neutral neutrality gets brought up, and India's too, though much less frequently.

The conversations I am referring to are all happening amongst Africans, even though the War in Ukraine is very far to the North of us.

Far enough to the North that some people joke quite darkly that we should be safe should things escalate to a nuclear level.

This is untrue, but it reveals some worries about the dangers of the ongoing conflict.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has been raging for more than a year. Photo: AFP

And all this talk is taking place because Africa and her people have the sad experience of proxy warfare.

The question of what the War in Ukraine means for us is why we are still discussing it more than Afghanistan, Iran, and perhaps even the Congo.

Interests in Africa's resources

When it comes to International Relations, there have always been two Africas. There is the Africa I call home, a vast body of land quilted with an intricate pattern of cultures and ecosystems and languages and experiences.

It comprises family and friends and football obsessions and worries over the cost of petrol- the day-to-day business of life.

Then there is the Africa of the news and economic and "strategic relationships," which is presented primarily in numbers.

My country is rendered in terms of GDP per capita, deposits of tanzanite or gold, acreage of arable lands, and beautiful coasts' real estate value. 'Resources' is the word that gets used.

Africa is rich in "resources", and with resources come interests. When I hear too much talk about African resources and its companion word, "potential", without hearing about Africans themselves, an adage comes to mind: nations do not have friends; they have interests.

Oil and gas are some of the resources Africa is blessed which attract huge foreign interests. Photo: Getty

African history has been exemplary of this reality for centuries, and underneath the Africa Rising rhetoric, I think we are quite aware that interests still trump friendships and that control over resources by foreign investment- or foreign interference- is a part of the modern reality for nations whose riches are routinely extracted.

So the above-mentioned focus on the War in Ukraine is about understanding what interests to look out for in terms of African well-being. Certain relationships, such as with Europe and the United States, are well understood.

Even if sovereign nationhood is the norm in the modern era, this was built on an imperialist past.

China has shown itself to be an expansionist differently. In exchange for alarmingly generous loans, they have appropriated land and critical infrastructure in countries, directly undermining those states' sovereignty.

China's handling of territories it considers its own also puts into question assertions of its lack of imperial ambitions.

India, though significant in every way, seems to be satisfied with economic relations based primarily on trade and services, presenting little or no threat.

Earlier this year, it announced deals to trade in Rupees and local currency with several nations, weakening the monopoly of the US Dollar in the global economy.

In 2023 it is apparent that something is moving regarding the global axes of power. It is apparent that Pax Americana is being quietly challenged in favour of a world where other countries that want to become powers are emerging.

This has corresponded with the rise of non-traditional 'Partners in Development' in Africa.

Kamala Harris recently visited some African countries apparently in attempts to counter other powers. Photo: Kamala Harris/Twitter

Aside from Chinese and Indian investment, there has been a bit of a trend of countries from the Middle East investing in African states where there is an affinity based on shared Islamic religion and culture for example, or simply for trade.

Other countries in Asia may be more circumspect about the pragmatic economic nature of relationships such as Japan.

These opportunities are of course welcomed as any country worth its salt knows that a diverse set of trading opportunities is good.

However there is always a slight doubt that underlies the entering of new relationships and this is because of a fact that is seldom said out loud.

Africa is considered to be the poorest and most pitiable continent on the planet in terms of geopolitics while also being resource rich with a young and vigorous population that is growing rapidly.

We are aware of this problematic situation: being at the bottom of the totem pole. Such an awareness is leading to younger generations of Africans being more informed and healthily wary of new as well as old relationships.

There is an increasing move towards self-interest as countries and as a continent on the whole, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In fact, the separation of Africa in Sub-Saharan Africa and Sahelian Africa itself brings to light some challenges that go up to the African Union level.

Beyond the rhetoric

In the event, looking at the complex network of ties that African nations have with the rest of the world, ideology isn't necessarily an important factor anymore.

It may even be debatable whether the ideologies of left vs right, liberal vs conservative ever fully made sense in the African context or whether they were simply adopted as part of the lexicon of existing international relations.

Factors to be used as needed rather than deep beliefs rooted in African thought systems.

As a result, demands that Africa pick sides, especially in apparently ideological conflicts may yield surprising results.

When Africa chooses Africa first, the intentions may rise above the rhetoric of ideology to put Africa's interest first in a world that has rarely been kind.

This is something that President Zelensky of Ukraine found out the hard way when his request to address African Union heads of state was denied.

It is apparent in African countries scattered voting on UN resolutions against Russia, with abstention being a common tactic. It flavors the conversations that I referred to at the beginning of the article.

When it comes to the landscape of ideological leanings, international shifts in power axes, conflict and trade, Africa has learned after 50 years of Independence that caution and self-interest are the only reliable policies for continued, sure-footed engagement.

The author, Elsie Eyakuze is an independent media consultant and blogger based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.

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