Why the West still gains in the new Africa scramble

Saturday December 24 2022
US-Africa Leaders Summit

US President Joe Biden talks to leaders during the group photo at the US-Africa Leaders Summit on December 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. PHOTO | KEVIN DIETSCH |GETTY IMAGES |AFP


The discussions between the Biden administration and African leaders during the latest US-Africa Summit held on December 13-15 mirrors other summits between African leaders and world powers like China, Russia and the European Union.

Some people see these summits as a rehashing of the 1885 Scramble for Africa. In the Berlin Conference of 1885, European powers divided up Africa among themselves. At that conference, there were no African representatives. The scramble back then was to gain territorial control and the wealth lying underneath. Today’s scramble is more sophisticated. The ostensible aim of these summits is for mutual gain of Africa and the host nations.

While these summits might not be informed by racial supremacy ideologies that characterised the Berlin Conference, they will, in effect, end up benefiting the hosts. This is because the hosting powers know exactly what they want. Their representatives are committed to doing everything possible to see that their countries get maximum benefits from the summits.

Long-term strategy

In fact, the summits are not random acts of philanthropy; they are part of a national development strategy.  For instance, China’s Silk Road Initiative, a network of partnerships with various countries, including those in Africa, is central to its long-term economic and geopolitical strategy.

Do African leaders know what they want from these summits? They say they want better trading terms, and assistance to combat the effects of climate change. Fair enough. But have they put in place policies that promote production of goods for which they want markets? Have they appointed competent, committed people of integrity to carry out those policies?


Do they have the will to eliminate bribery when much of their personal wealth comes from bribes and kickbacks? Can a country such as Kenya, which loses a significant part of its budget to people in government, really gain from any kind of assistance? Are leaders who form corrupt alliances with cartels and big business really interested in national development?

In an interview on Al Jazeera, Arikana Chihombori, former African Union representative to the US, warned that the West would lose ground to China in Africa. China, she huffed, respects African leaders.

Respect African leaders

If America wants a partnership with Africa, she continued histrionically, it must respect African leaders. She went on to say that America’s policies towards Africa are an externalisation of its racist domestic policies.

Yet she did not utter a single word about Africa’s responsibility in her own development. In her tirade, Ms Chihombori failed to distinguish between African leaders and African people. She failed to see that Africa’s crisis of development is underpinned by a crisis of leadership.

Ironically, her pan-African ideology saw Africa’s development as being the responsibility of either the West or China. She scored a few ideological points with West-based pan-African ideologues. But, clearly, pan-Africanist orthodoxy is way past its expiry date.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator