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The New Scamble for Africa

The In-tray for the new President of the United States is already heaving. How far up the pile is the file marked “Africa Policy”? Will the new Administration see the continent as a opportunity or a threat? Friend or foe?

The US has deep security concerns about Africa. It has already pledged extra money to strengthening its military presence in the Sahel to the south of the Sahara after mounting fears that radical Islamist groups like Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansare Dine and Al-Qaeda In the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) are mustering in the region. It already has eleven military bases to help it respond to what it fears is an arc of radicalisation which stretches from Mali in the west to Djibouti in the east.

In addition further fears are compounded by Boko Haram attacks spilling over from Nigeria to destabilise Cameroon, Chad and Niger, and conflicts in CAR and South Sudan which appear intractable.

Yet if this is a two-term Presidency it will witness a dramatic growth in Africa as a continent of opportunity. By the end of the eight years Nigeria’s population will be edging close to overtaking the population of the United States to create Africa’s largest market of almost 300 million people. In addition the coming demographic revolution will see the continent’s population double to 2 billion. The world’s largest workforce will be in Africa rather than China or India.

The question is will the new Administration be prepared for this transformation or will it continue to view Africa as simply a new front in its ongoing war on terror? The arms race in Africa continues to grow in what some call the “New Scramble for Africa” as the US and China competes to dominate the resource rich Sahel.

For their part China and Japan now have a significant naval build-up in Djibouti, while the US is using drones from its base in Niger to police and gather information across the entire area. Add to this some 3,000 French troops spread across the region and we have the capacity for Africa to once again become an international flashpoint.

The new President’s In-Tray may be very heavy but we must make sure that the contents of the Africa file contain green lights and opportunities and not just the dangerous threats of military action.

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