The new “Scramble for Africa”?

The Scramble for Africa. Something for the history books right? Maybe not.

The Scramble for Africa is a term any modern historian, certainly any Empire historian is familiar with. It refers to the rapid colonisation of Africa by European countries in the 1800s. The Berlin Conference of 1865 regulated the “scramble” to an extent and made it a more systematic process.

Each European country was effectively competing with each other for influence over African countries. Whether it be direct or indirect influence it was a competition nonetheless.

A portrayal of the division of the Continent amongst European powers at the Berlin Conference.

A portrayal of the division of the Continent amongst European powers at the Berlin Conference.

The rest is history. All of Africa was colonised and the impact of this can be seen all across Africa today. The most obvious pointer of the old European colonisers is the languages in different African colonies. English in Egypt, Sudan and Kenya, to name a few. Whereas, French in Algeria and Tunisia.

Of course, colonisation all effectively came to an end with the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980. Decolonisation had been rife across Africa since the Second World War as nationalist movements came into their own, and European countries realised the cost of colonies probably outweighed the benefits. The development of the European Union and its own trade bloc and economic advantages played a large role in this.

So you think that colonisation and control in Africa is over. Not quite.

America and China now seem to compete across Africa for control and influence. Part of this stems back from the Cold War, when many proxy wars were fought across Africa from the two sides. The USSR, China, Cuba and the USA were all involved in proxy wars through independence movements across the continent. This was just another way for the superpowers to exert their strength and compete.

Now, however, influence in the Continent seems to be taking a another turn. This time it is the story of China and America, and not in proxy wars this time. Take for instance Lesotho. Many Chinese have settled and established businesses, and this is just one example of many African countries where Chinese have settled. There are also many Chinese settlers in Kenya and Tanzania. Nonetheless, there does seem to be a circular pattern to this new player on the Continent. The settlement and the “development” of the country that Chinese nationals are instigating through their businesses and livelihoods does seem to harp back to the old days of European colonialism. Images of Brits in Kenya are conjured up in my mind for certain.

Here is a very thought provoking cartoon of China's impact upon Africa.

Here is a very thought provoking cartoon of China’s impact upon Africa.

America on the other hand has a different input in Lesotho, and across Africa. It provides aid, education and in particular helps to fight AIDs and provides clinics across the country. This is a far less direct approach than the Chinese have, and a far more centralised approach. America’s influence in African countries seems to be state directed, rather than the individuals who come across from China to settle and grow a business for their families. The business that America does provide Lesotho seems to be undertaken at arms length, through factories run by others rather than directly by American nationals. This manufacturing in Lesotho is a result of America’s African Growth and Opportunities Act, which offers tax breaks to support manufacturing in a group of African countries

Some commentators on this process in East Africa argue that this is a new Cold War between two superpowers, and a new “scramble” for influence in Africa. However, it would appear to me that these two nations are undertaking a very different process of influence in East Africa. In fact, the growth of business in the area, naturally growing the economic opportunities of the area, and the provision of resources and services, seem to complement each other. Chinese nationals are undertaking a direct role in the country, they are men on the ground. Whereas, the American state prefers to undertake its role from home, providing the resources for others on the ground. It would seem to me that these two approaches do not directly conflict, but work together in harmony.

Which approach is better? I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as the two countries bring some good to where the are exerting their influence. Will it turn into a more direct competition for resources between the two States? Only time will tell.

So the question is, will history repeat itself? Or will the 21st century bring a new era of collaboration between countries for the development of both East African countries and global superpowers?


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