September 6, 2023 | The Washington Times

Imperialism returns to Africa

The new colonialists are Chinese, Russian, and Islamist
September 6, 2023 | The Washington Times

Imperialism returns to Africa

The new colonialists are Chinese, Russian, and Islamist

It was called the “scramble for Africa.” In the 19th century, European empires carved the continent into colonies they could exploit. A 21st century scramble for Africa is now underway – and it’s no less exploitative. The neo-imperialists are Chinese Communists, Russian nationalists, and Islamists.

Increasing instability in too many African countries is making it easy for them. Since 2017, there have been 17 military coups in the sub-Saharan region.

The most recent occurred last week in Gabon, a country that had been ruled – or, more precisely, misruled – by one family since 1967.

A month earlier in Niger, which possesses 7.5 percent of the world’s uranium, President Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown by the head of his presidential guard.

Mr. Bazoum had been democratically elected and was partnering with the U.S. and France to combat groups affiliated with al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Islamic Republic of Iran – rivals with the same goal: establishing a new Islamic empire.

About 1,000 elite U.S. troops are in Niger. They operate a $110 million drone base. The future of that deployment is now in doubt. 

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Tehran’s supporters and proxies are “celebrating” Africa’s coups, interpreting them as evidence of waning Western influence in favor of Moscow and Beijing, allies of the Iranian regime.

A Telegram channel representing Shia militias in Iraq claimed that the “blessed military coup by the people and army of Gabon” demonstrates that the West is “exhausted” and being “expelled” from Africa, even as “Russia is crushing the NATO alliance” in Ukraine.

French troops were indeed expelled from Mali after a 2021 coup. They were soon replaced by paramilitaries of the Wagner Group, designated this past January by the U.S. government as a “significant transnational criminal organization.”

Battling jihadis is apparently not Wagner’s strong suit. Fighters linked to the Islamic State have doubled the size of the territory they control in central Mali, according to a U.N. Report.

Wagner troops have been a major force in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2018. Among their alleged crimes: raping and trafficking women and children and killing three Russian journalists who were attempting to report on the group’s exploitation of “blood diamonds.” 

In more than a dozen African countries, Wagner’s deal is straightforward: They provide the dictator with security (no need to worry about your palace guards) and, in exchange, they help themselves to the country’s natural resources.

Regimes hosting Wagner also are obliged to side with Russia at the U.N. and other international forums.

In Sudan, where a grueling civil war has been underway since April, Wagnerians are reportedly assisting the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo against Sudan’s military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Gold is one of the resources Wagner takes from Sudan.

The most successful imperialist in Africa would appear to be Xi Jinping, the powerful ruler of the People’s Republic of China. Mr. Xi is less interested in exporting Communism to Africa than in importing mineral wealth from Africa.

Consider the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 70 percent of the world’s cobalt is produced. Roughly 90 percent of that valuable metal (extracted from mines either by bare hands or machinery fueled by hydrocarbons) is sent by trucks and then ships (both powered by hydrocarbons) to China where it’s processed and refined (largely utilizing coal as an energy source). The cobalt ends up in the batteries that propel electric vehicles solid in China, Europe, and the U.S.

Research by Siddharth Kara of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, reveals that cobalt mining in the Congo involves “slavery, child labor, forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking, hazardous and toxic working conditions, pathetic wages, injury and death, and incalculable environmental harm.”

How did Beijing manage to achieve its commanding position in the Congo and a long list of other African countries? Largely by rewarding the host countries’ elites in ways Americans are not permitted under American law.

Beijing’s apologists point out that roads, bridges, ports, government buildings, and other infrastructure are being built in Africa under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. True, but these projects are overseen by Chinese managers using Chinese engineers and even Chinese labor. Rarely are skills transferred to the locals.

Financing often involves large loans that can be difficult for host countries to repay. Beijing may then make demands to settle the account. Control of far-flung ports is particularly useful given that China now has the world’s largest navy (as a new report from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies details).

These and other manifestations of contemporary colonialism have not received the attention they deserve from international organizations, the major media, or university departments of “postcolonial studies.”

As recently as 2019, the Economist saw the “new scramble for Africa” as a positive development. “This time, the winner could be Africans themselves,” the British weekly newspaper enthused.

How so? Because “the new scramblers want more than just a share of what Africa has; they want a stake in what it is now trying to build – in the economies and growing global stature of the world’s second-most-populous continent, poised between two of its three great oceans.”

The Economist added: “This year Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is set to host the first Russia-Africa summit, a tribute act to the triennial Forum on Africa-China Co-operation in Beijing. Hosted by President Xi Jinping, last year’s attracted more African leaders than the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.”

Many Europeans and Americans still fail to see the “scramblers” for what they are: rapacious neo-colonialists. Western policy makers should now assign themselves the task of developing new strategies to help Africans become free and independent of these evil empires.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times. Follow him on X @CliffordDMay. FDD is a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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