The new scramble for Africa
This time, the winners could be Africans themselves
The first great surge of foreign interest in Africa, dubbed the “scramble”, was when 19th-century European colonists carved up the continent and seized Africans’ land. The second was during the cold war, when East and West vied for the allegiance of newly independent African states; the Soviet Union backed Marxist tyrants while America propped up despots who claimed to believe in capitalism. A third surge, now under way, is more benign. Outsiders have noticed that the continent is important and becoming more so, not least because of its growing share of the global population (by 2025 the UN predicts that there will be more Africans than Chinese people). Governments and businesses from all around the world are rushing to strengthen diplomatic, strategic and commercial ties. This creates vast opportunities. If Africa handles the new scramble wisely, the main winners will be Africans themselves.
The extent of foreign engagement is unprecedented. Start with diplomacy. From 2010 to 2016 more than 320 embassies were opened in Africa, probably the biggest embassy building boom anywhere, ever. Turkey alone opened 26. Last year India announced it would open 18. Military ties are deepening, too. America and France are lending muscle and technology to the struggle against jihadism in the Sahel. China is now the biggest arms seller to sub-Saharan Africa and has defence-technology ties with 45 countries. Russia has signed 19 military deals with African states since 2014. Oil-rich Arab states are building bases on the Horn of Africa and hiring African mercenaries.