Phases in the Scramble for Africa: Great Power Struggle for the Control of Africa

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Officializing the Scramble: The Berlin Conference

The scramble for Africa has gone through many phases. It began with colonialism, moved through the cold war and is presently at the stage of Chinese domination of Africa.

Until quite recently, the scramble for Africa has been defined as the struggle among “European” powers for colonies in Africa to meet their economic needs especially during the Industrial Revolution. In the light of current events unfolding in Africa, this definition has lost appeal because of its narrowness. If a finger count is done of Africa’s suitors, then there arises the need to redefine the scramble. In very simple terms, it becomes a process whose end no one can see. The beginning of this process dates back to the establishment of European colonialism in Africa.

Between the end of colonialism and the end of the 20th century, events have moved so fast that several phases in the scramble for Africa can be visibly discerned. Considering the colonial period as the first phase, the second phase would be the cold war when the United States and Russia ignited their own scramble for Africa for ideological reasons. The next phase was the period of American domination following the end of the cold war after the collapse of the Soviet Union. China’s domination of the continent is the present stage.

Evolution of the Scramble: Colonialism and After

Though it finally prevailed, colonialism from its very beginning was greeted with fierce resistance in many parts of Africa. Its triumph was thanks largely to the power of the white man’s firearm which was unknown to Africans. When Africans acquired enough mastery of this firearm, they used it against their colonisers. This is the simplest way to explain the end of colonial rule. The protracted struggles in Algeria and Zimbabwe are historical evidences to support this thesis.

Colonialism however, came to its final halt when internal opposition within Africa received the support of outside forces. It was thanks to pressure from The U.S. and Russia that Europe was able to let go of Africa. This ushered in the second phase of the scramble as both superpowers struggled to sell their ideologies to newly independent African countries. At this phase, war-battered Europe stood behind the U.S as economically weak China stood behind the Soviet Union. Africa was at the centre.

The Period of American Domination or the “New World Order”

The period following the end of the cold war after the demise of the Soviet Union was the period of American domination in world politics. It was in 1990 that President George H. Bush declared a “New World Order.” This period saw the expansion of capitalism at the expense of communism. As far as Africa was concerned, cold war compromises were ended and the U.S directly intervened in African affairs without fear.

The United States cultivated alliances and offered protection to Africa’s worst dictators including Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Omar Bongo of Gabon, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea among others. In the context of U.S. power politics, it was less a scramble and more of intervention. This period of American hegemony in Africa was however short lived as China made its triumphant entry into the continent at the beginning of the 21st century.

The 21st Century Scramble: China’s Era in Africa

The 21st century has been described by observers as China’s era in Africa. China’s massive presence in the continent marks the present stage of the scramble. It is true that China’s ties with the continent date back to its assistance to Africa during the struggle for liberation in the 1960s and 70s. Building upon these gains and exploiting Africa’s apparent frustration with the West, China has established a remarkable economic presence in Africa as seen in its vast scale of trade, aid and infrastructural development in Africa.

This period of Chinese domination in Africa is very significant in many ways. It has generated intense debates and divided world opinion considerably. It has made African leaders bolder, increasing Africa’s stakes in world politics and awakened the West as to the reality o Africa’s true value. The greatest significance, however, is the fact it China’s move into Africa has re-ignited the scramble.

Besides China, there is a long queue of suitors seeking Africa’s hand. Russia has made known its intentions to return to the continent. Japan, Turkey, Brazil, India and many other powers are busy knocking at Africa’s doors. It is difficult to predict the next stage in this process of great power struggle for the soul of Africa.