A Transitioning Africa

By Brendan S.

A Russian flag flies in the Burkinabé capital Ouagadougou following the January 23 coup. (Photo: Malin Fezehai)

While Western states have remained fixated on the developments surrounding Ukraine, the past few months on the African continent have been marked by an increasingly fluid political and diplomatic environment. We observed the withdrawal of French personnel from Mali in December 2021, subsequent expulsion of Danish personnel this week, Russian-aligned military coup in Burkina Faso this month, and an African continent with a rapidly transitioning sphere of consensus. Particularly in the Sahel, Russian flags have been spotted flying far more frequently, both in states with new Wagner contracts and states with military blocs that want new Wagner contracts.


Outside of the Sahel, the Somali Armed Forces are now almost entirely dependent on Turkish backing. The Ethiopian National Defense Forces continue to enjoy new arms deals with Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey in their attempts to wipe out the Tigrayan people. The Nigerian state is now thoroughly flooded with Chinese corporations and its ruling class focused on arms deals with Putin. The known expansionist Paul Kagame of Rwanda is now diminishing his own economic power with Belt & Road. Nearly the entirety of Uganda’s energy sector is now run by Chinese corporations. Egypt is now stuck in a $20+ billion debt trap to Xi Jinping. Libya remains split between a Turkish-dependent western bloc and Russian/UAE-dependent eastern bloc. All of the above just a small selection of recent examples.


A Russian flag flies accompanied by a Burkina Faso flag (left) and Mali flag (right) in the Burkinabé capital Ouagadougou following the January 23 coup. (Photo: Olympia de Maismont)

A new post-Fordist Scramble for Africa, complete with new actors and new modes of interference. NATO and AFRICOM are clearly failing to bolster their deteriorating influence against a crashing wave of Russian and Chinese state influence. Ardent pro-Western states like Morocco and Ivory Coast are becoming fewer in number. Coups and election cycles have yielded a swiftly increasing amount of ruling classes swayed by Russian arms deals, Wagner to take over the military plan, and an enticing Belt & Road to take over the economic plan. Former posts of the French Foreign Legion are soon to be inhabited by Wagner or paved over by Chinese corporations, US bases perhaps a similar fate. What is less discussed, however, is the role that semi-periphery states such as Turkey and the UAE play in this new Scramble for Africa.


The Turkish state, although officially a NATO power, often acts unilaterally against the interests of NATO as a separate actor with its own expansionist interests. To expand its political norms and cultural power, the Erdogan regime of Turkey has implanted Turkish schools and cultural centers across the African continent, from Accra to Mogadishu. In Libya, Erdogan has signed internationally illegal agreements with the Government of National Unity bloc to seize economic sectors and extract oil from the Libyan Exclusive Economic Zone. Since May 2020, Turkey has delivered numerous installations of medical aid to 22 African states, pledging in December 2021 to send 15 million more vaccines to Africa. The Turkish state effectively controls the Somali military, and is attempting to grasp onto military power around the Horn by forging the Ethiopian state’s drone war. Its main lines of power in Africa are primarily western Libya, Somalia, and now Ethiopia.


The UAE’s Al Nahyan Dynasty is less normative and more opportunistic in its approach to Africa, spreading power largely through conflict diplomacy. For over a decade, the UAE has persistently ensured the longevity of the Haftar faction in Libya via military aid, keeping its North African power line healthy. In 2015, the Eritrean state agreed to a 30-year contract allowing the UAE to operate a large military base in Assab with the purpose of aiding its proxy faction across the Red Sea in Yemen. The UAE supplied 15 tons of medical equipment to the Ethiopian state in April 2020, six months after the Tigray War began, and sent 36 tons of medical and food supply to the Republic of Mozambique a year later in the midst of Daesh’s attack on Cabo Delgado. All of the above, again, just a small selection of recent Turkish and UAE examples of expanding imperialism in Africa.


Other prolific expansionist states like Saudi Arabia and Israel are more scarcely found in this new scramble, prompting their adversaries to fill potential vacuums. Saudi Arabia is busy sustaining its bloody war in Yemen, Israel busy combatting the Iranian sphere in West Asia. The Iranian state is beginning to take advantage of this distraction. Accompanied by a sizable Iranian Red Crescent presence in West Africa, Khamenei recently supplied the Ethiopian state with drones, indicating an intention to increase Iranian influence in Africa.


One may observe the new Scramble for Africa in its hybrid and multifaceted nature, pulling from all components of smart power including vaccine imperialism. The latest phase of hegemonic interference in Africa is distinct, as hard power is not its sole driver. Africa faces a mixed cocktail of smart power that continues to extract from its resources, civil society, and autonomy. Western military and economic interference is not yet gone by any means, but surely faltering to other powers. African states are separating themselves from their former colonizers, but concurrently enabling new powers to impose their will upon African economies and civil societies.


As NATO sleeps, Wagner pushes NATO out of bed. As the West sleeps, the East eats. However, one must ask, is this truly a dichotomy at all? In the end, the West and the East are perhaps two wings of the nation-state system bird, slowly dying of Covid, dehydration, and cellular rebellion. The future of Africa rests not in the hands of its colonizers nor ruling classes, but in the consciousness of its people.