By Timothy Kalyegira
Africa has become important not just as an intelligence listening post and army and naval base for counterterrorism originating in the Middle East, but also as a haven and breeding ground for home-grown terrorism ranging from the Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb that acts to destabilise North Africa, to Tuareg secessionist activity in the Sahel states of Niger and Mali.
Since the emergence of the militant Somali group, the Union of Islamic Courts, in 2006 and the rise of its successor, Al-Shabab, Somalia has come to be regarded as the greatest threat to western and ‘moderate’ pro-western regimes in the Horn of Africa.
The president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, told the Qatar-based satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera on March 26, 2010 that ‘[T]he extremist groups in [Somalia] do not want a government or an authority but want a base for launching an Islamic terrorist revolution that would destabilise the entire region’¦ They have made this position very clear. They want to wage a war against the neighbouring governments and they want Somalia to be a base to launch the war of Takfir [an Islamic referenceÂ to lukewarm or sinning Muslims as infidels] against neighbouring states and the entire Islamic world.’
Recent successful attacks on international ships in the Red Sea by Somali pirates have not only stressed the importance to western nations of stationing deterrent forces offshore in the Red Sea and the western Indian Ocean, but also provided a glimpse into the nightmarish situation described by Djibouti’s Guelleh should Al-Shabab ever get to control state power in Mogadishu.
Being crystal mineral-rich, oil-rich and now with millions of acres of uncultivated land and the East-Central interior with an abundance of fresh water, has made Africa a place of vital importance to the world economy in the most unexpected way and this is where the major world powers come in, as they did in 1884.
Gone are the days of invasion by armed imperial companies. Now it is being done by the appearance of diplomacy, a sudden, new-found appreciation of cultural diversity and multiculturalism.
Two U.S. Presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, visited Africa over the last ten years. The two most recent Roman Catholic popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited Africa. The 1991, 1999, 2003, and 2007 British Commonwealth heads of state and government summit meetings were held in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, and Uganda respectively. Two non-British colonies, Mozambique and Rwanda, applied to join and were eagerly admitted into the Commonwealth.
The 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2001, 2008 and 2009 Miss World beauty contests were hosted by South Africa, the 1997 and 1998 Miss World pageant in the Seychelles, the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 football World Cup finals in South Africa.
Most analysts and the ordinary African view with pride this growing attention to Africa by the major world powers and interpret it to mean that the long-suffering and much-neglected continent is about to witness a ‘renaissance’ and weighty presence on the world stage.
Countries like Uganda that are in clich termed ‘the Pearl of Africa’ are about to become precious pieces of real estate in more ways than the future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill could have envisioned when he made that observation about the future republic called Uganda in 1908.
When the Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported that Uganda had purchased two Russian-made SU-30 MK2 fighter planes, there was an outcry in Uganda at the waste in buying advanced military jets yet Uganda cannot afford basic healthcare for its citizens.
In fact, the reported purchase of these jets is only part of a developing arms race across the continent in recent years.
‘External actors’¦retain significant influence on developments in Africa as they continue to provide assistance that [is] reflective of their economic and political interests,’ reported Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on January 14, 2010.
Noteworthy here is the above report that states that ‘external actors’¦retain significant influence on developments in Africa’¦’
Stated the U.S geopolitical firm Forecast International in a report on December 2, 2007:’The African arms market is currently a fraction of the value of any other regional market, but looking at the confluence of burgeoning security requirements and vast oil and gas reserves in the context of high energy prices and it becomes readily apparent that there are Africa nations demonstrating procurement characteristics reminiscent of the Middle East three decades ago.’
Rather than the strategic value of this continent leading to a new era of economic growth and advancement, in the medium term there is every possibility that it will result in internal turmoil and great human misery. Hundreds of thousands could be displaced as their idle farmland is sold to foreign powers.
It will almost inevitably lead to the death of African industry as the dominance of China’s merchandise is starting to show, with Chinese consumer goods like electronics, tops, clothes, and accessories to be found in nearly every corner of sub-Saharan Africa.
With the arms build up in Africa will come the dangers that marked the immediate post-independence era: coups, assassinations, civil wars and border conflicts.
Increased threats to regimes by armed secessionist groups or coups sponsored by foreign powers will in turn lead to a heavy investment in military and intelligence equipment and training, derailing any plans that had been drawn up for education, health or public infrastructure.
With such importance to the global strategic equation, as happened in the Middle East, the foreign powers will view political and regime stability as more vital to their interests than internal democracy and so democracy can be expected to drop down the list of priorities over the coming decade.
Several African leaders such as in Uganda, Libya, Egypt, Rwanda are either enrolling their sons in elite U.S. and British military academies or preparing them for leadership, all of this done with an eye on the reality that these sons will have to deal directly with the western powers that have sustained their parents in power.
The picture of the next ten years, then, will not be that of a rapidly developing continent but rather one of rapid foreign investment that will make Africa resemble the Middle East: permanent American or European military bases; a lot of infrastructure most of which is foreign-owned, and a resentful population.
The second Scramble for Africa is just getting underway.