Africa in the Turpitude of the Global Order

Africa in the Turpitude of the Global Order

Tuesday, August 1, 2023 9:01 am

Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye

The ongoing realignments of elite powers in the process of restructuring the strategic planetary order, epitomized, among others, by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, the turmoil in the South China Sea, and the tensions in the South Pacific as well as the BRICS-led dollarization of international transactions, present historic opportunities for Africa to recalibrate its status and move from the tangents to the mainstream of systemic currents. This is understood as an imperative however turbulent these currents may be. The main strategic objectives of the continent in the evolving post-Soviet planetary strategic dispensation are the retrenchment of its historic subordinate locus and its tangential role in the global system. Associated with this objective is Africa’sdemand for the abandonment of the contempt of Europe for Africa and general perceptions of the beggarly place of the continent in the evaluation of elite powers as the basis of interaction of the continent with other forces in the global system. This beggarly status seems entrenched especially in the fossilized dependence fostered by neo-colonial relations that have subsisted since the forceful passive injection of Africa into the global system. Consequent to the beggarly status and continental dependence are externally inspired policy impositions arising from historic control of the continent by hegemonic state actors superintending the affairs of the continent in relation to the world. In the Third millennium, Africa aspires to ensure that the continent is never to be seen as needing generosity as the basis of its interaction in the global system even if the equities it brings to the table are at a low ebb. Against this background is Africa’s vigorous search for a respectable place in the global strategic firmament. Unlike its historical passivity during the scramble for it as a real estate of powerful forces in the nineteenth century, Africa today is forcefully articulating its conditions to engage any within the range of possible partnerships across the global system. The tables have turned but with attendant consequences given the context of the contemporaneous turpitude of the unstable international structure.

The actualization of the vision of the recalibration of Africa’s place in the global system is at the heart of the postulations on “the end of Western hegemony in Africa.” As a result of this, the position of France, the most tenacious of neo-colonial hegemons on the African continent, is seen as having deteriorated significantly in recent years. France is observed to have lost control of many of the territories it colonized there for many years, even as Western countries use security and instability to maintain their military presence on the continent and patronize terrorists and armed groups against democratically elected governments that don’t meet France’s opportunistic demands. To maintain a continued stranglehold, neo-colonial elite states instigate instability to provide excuses for their long-term stay to install or protect their cronies in power. This accounts for the successive emergence of radical pan-African forces in the Francophone universe through democratic channels in the last decades as in Cote d’Ivoire under Laurent Gbagbo and Gabon under Ali Bongo. These radical forces were quashed by France through the instrumentality of force and the deployment of its vast leverage to control the narratives and policies of invariably compromised international institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). The radical forces in Africa led by South Africa, and including Eritrea, Rwanda, Angola, Tanzania, Libya, among a few others, understood the game of the neo-colonial hegemon in Abidjan. Understandably, they challenged Nigeria’s embarrassingly naïve and ahistorical status quo posture in the Ivorian crisis. Nigeria’s ridiculous anti-progressive policy, unhinged from the specific context of Cote d’Ivoire, was driven by the nebulous personal political agenda of its top leadership. In recent times, revolutionary actors in the military have intruded into the political space in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

These forces have been mobilized, in the context of their peculiar national circumstances, by a common agenda of extricating their countries from the neo-colonial yoke of France. It is instructive that these radical regimes always find sympathy with forces outside the orbit of Western Europe. These forces outside of the hegemonic circuits of Western Europe are often determined to ensure the consolidation of the revolutionary visions of the so-called institutional interlopers in the political realm. As Russia’s Wagner mercenary boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who hailed Niger Republic’s military coup as “good news” and offered his fighters’ service to bring the country to order, observed about radical forces in Africa, what happened in Niger is nothing other than the struggle of the people of Niger to oust their colonizers who are trying to foist their rules of life on them and their conditions and keep them in the state that Africa was in hundreds of years ago. Events in these places are better understood as responses to the double instrumentality of democracy. First, democracy has been transmogrified by a powerful elite to validate odiously contrived civilian administrations of thoroughly de-consolidated states in Africa. A second is the use of faux democracy to consolidate neo-colonial control by elite dominant powers. Echoes of this are already reverberating from the Gambia.

Meanwhile, Africa’s demand for respect resonates with similar affirmations in Latin America and parts of Asia that Europe’s Eurocentric paternalistic and neo-patrimonial orientations as “guardians of the jungle” worldwide had devastated many parts of the globe. It was critical for future relations for Europe to recognize the damage done by the character of its engagement in slavery and plunder in these places and to accede to the request for reparations after tendering an apology.

The past was haunting the leverage of Europe to compete against the global expansion of the influence of China in Latin America and in the Caribbean states that together are larger than China. Between 2002 and 2023 China gained ground in the region as investments rose from 18 billion United States Dollars to 450 billion. In this context, it was unimaginable for China to behave like the European Union which once voted who was the best candidate to rule a particular Latin American country. Indeed, Europe was encouraged to abandon its “threatening habits” in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially as Europe could no longer decide or legitimize which regime was democratic or not in the region. The CELAC rejected every imposition of the EU at the last meeting of the two sides. Reports noted that in 2023, after 8 years, the EU and the Community of Latin American and the Caribbean States gathered in Brussels for the CELAC-EU Heads of State Summit. In the days preceding the Summit, the EU attempted to unilaterally decide the agenda and format of the meeting, including inviting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak at the Summit. It did this without consulting the CELAC states. Responding to Europe’s unilateral initiative, it was made very clear that CELAC did not wish to be brought into Europe’s game in Ukraine which was perceived as a European war. The outcome of the 2023 EU/CECAC summit meeting was a telling symbolic act that reflected how much the table had turned against Europe in the evolving multi-polar structure of the international system.

The determination of Africa to finally extricate itself from the control of hegemonic powers has also been motorized by the demystification of the West through the increasing realization of the untenable hegemonic falsehoods and hypocrisy underpinning the superordinate-subordinate relations that have subsisted between the West and Africa since the advent of a globalization process that was triggered by a Western search for conquest. Falsehoods propagated around the virtues of Western hegemonic societies and agents as well as the demonization of black humanity and his essence as a being have driven historically toxic relations that have been premised on the devaluation of the essences of black humanity, including enslavement, and white defamations of black spirituality and values. The strategic end goal was comprehensive entrapment as a permanent political proxy rather than as a partner in the scheme of global affairs. Political entrapment was instrumental to the mindless exploitation of Africa’s economic assets by the machinery, structures, and institutions directed to advance the interests of a dominant West. The demystification of the West, integral to which is the exposure of the bankruptcy and hollowness of a claim of superiority of white spirituality, has engendered a search in Africa for new strategic partnerships based on mutual and reciprocal respect. The vanguard of Africa’s movement in new directions is its consolidated states whose internal circumstances are enabling the pursuit of radical directions in its interaction with the global system. Recent trenchant voices of leaders of African states with revolutionary convictions and plans in the international arena reflect significant movements in radical directions from the status quo.

The current efforts of Africa in the post-Soviet era may be understood as deriving from the idea of a liberal nature of humans and communities. Thus premised on idealism in the international system, Africa’s morality-based demands in new imaginings of the organization of international life around universal values and humanistic precepts contrary to a calculus based on national power coefficients and interests, are geared toward securing acknowledgement of parity with other determinant forces in the system. In translating opportunities into concrete reality of enhanced evaluations of its place in the global system, Africa must however develop strategies to negotiate fixations of the international community with a philosophy of the dominion of the mightiest in the anarchic environment in the organization of states.

The main signpost of political realism, according to the principles of realism by Hans Morgenthau, is the concept of interest defined in terms of power which infuses rational order into the subject matter of politics. Also, political realism stresses the rational, objective, and unemotional. Power is the control of man over manThe African continent must recognize that the rules, institutions, and values of the European international society were a distillation of European culture. This distillation, that underpins the roles of states in the international system, has remained defiant to the fact that “the self-destruction of European power and authority in two great wars, the emergence of non-European civilization from colonial tutelage” had not led to an expected fitful establishment of a new liberal global society. The protocols of the international community in post-WWII were still derived from rules and institutions inherited from European practices based nominally on multiple sovereign independencies and in practice on a bipolar world power struggle. The same European-derived principles would seem to be at play in the turbulence characterizing the process of strategic power realignments of the planetary system in the post-Soviet era. The global system thus regresses to its destructive past ways of configuring the future.

This granite reality in the constancy of global regression to the past is highlighted in the structure of the relations of African states with the global system. For now, Africa remains an underdog in international politics and as a result, its collective influence in the scheme of global affairs and the management of international organizations is at best marginal. Africa has no effective influence on the operationalization of international politics. For more developed African states, relative economic strength in combination with highly concentrated linkages is associated with a foreign policy of expanded relations with superordinate partners. For the less-developed states, this combination produces a foreign policy designed to restrict relations within the asymmetrical dyad. Asymmetries in power are salient in structured inter-state relations that are ordered in superordinate and subordinate terms.  The demands of Africa repudiate the fundamental axioms of the power-based calculus of inter-state relations. This is to attain new respect accorded to the continent. Even as a liberal enterprise shorn of power calculus in relations between states, the reordering of Africa’s placement in the global pecking order would still have to flow from the continent’s demonstrated will and enhanced capacity for autonomous action in the emerging global dispensation. This search for humanistic-derived continental strategic goals paradoxically is in the context of a robust elite struggle expressed in the lethal projection of force. These confrontations in many theatres between elite powers and involving their allies and proxies may indeed metastasize into an open global conflagration. In that scenario, the potential for humanistic values motorizing international relations as Africa envisages is quite limited.

The process and outcome of the volatility in the global system portend radical impacts on the African continent. This includes the potential realignment and restructuring of the very construction of the continent’s state system. As noted earlier, the very construction of the extant African state system is a product of the peaceful, non-violent management of an earlier conflict among elite European powers. These old conflicting interests dating back to the 18th Century around the possession of real estate in Africa have unabatedly persisted. The consolidation of the earlier agreements among the elite states into the patchwork of illogicalities of statehood in Africa was also a product of another more violent systemic realignment of elite forces. The end of World War II and associated with it the validation and ascent of liberalism as the motor driving new impetus of international sensibilities instigated what turned out to be mere flag independence for colonial possessions of elite forces.

Defying logic though, the survival of these majorly unstable quasi-political entities as states has been only because of their convenience and service to a largely discredited domestic political entrepreneurial (polipreneural) elite that emerged to appropriate the totality of the respective national spaces against the will of the people. In this, the new local overlords have been in cahoots with external elite state guarantors whose interest-inspired association with the corrupt post-colonial states has variously legitimized them and assured their continued longevity as states. As Fanon notes, the national bourgeoisie that took power at the end of colonialism was an undeveloped class, small in number, lacking economic power and primarily located in service rather than directly productive occupations. Lacking intellectual resources, it seeks little more than to step into the shoes of departing colonials, seeking to transfer into its own hands their resources. This paradigm that has been dominant since the end of formal colonial direct control is threatened with a violent shift as an outcome of the current volatility of the international system interacting with the evolution of radical consciousness in the continent.

Paradoxically while seeking integration on an enhanced status into the global system, Africa is not insulated from outcomes with potential tectonic implications of the elite movements for global strategic realignment. Contemporaneous turbulence in the global arena would thus impact Africa and may, in turn, lead to various unanticipated transformative scenarios in the continent. In distorting the current courses and trajectories of states, by implication the dynamic of continental process and politics would be altered. These shifts could range from engineering massive crises in the various states, aiding stability in the medium term, or a volatility that may be leading to a reconstruction of the continent’s political landscape. The internal turmoil that may be generated in Africa promises to be a struggle that would directly engage the many more antagonistic elite power blocs than after World War II. On the one hand, there are forces, many of them Western, that may seek to assure continued historic control of their real estate in Africa. On the other hand are relatively new allies that seek, in the context of their global ambitions, to catalyze the real emancipation of Africa from its historic burdens in new arrangements that are more sympathetic to strategic perspectives of radical forces on the continent. The outcomes of the internal clashes on the direction of global alliances of the continent thus may not always necessarily reflect the will of the metropolitan creators of the African post-colonial states. These projected deviations from the historic courses of Africa’s internal conflicts traceable to the larger turmoil in the global system would be consistent with the outcome of every major systemic crisis.

Preceding the Russo-Ukrainian war, renewed competition for controlling influence on the African continent was an undeniable geopolitical reality. The United States administration’s initiatives to counter China and Russia on the continent raised concerns about unwelcome echoes of the Cold War era. In that era, the West, including the United States, often treated African states as pawns or prizes rather than partners. That had been the norm since African states were structured to be deployed as instruments for the articulation of the strategic interests of their neo-colonial creators. These externally inspired interests, often championed by dubious glorified local overseers of the neo-colonial power, bore no relevance to the authentic national interests of these mechanical creations. The timing of the entry of these post-colonial states into the international system shortly after the second world war meant that they were born into the ideologically frozen division of the international system. In the post-colonial state, many of the international power concerns displayed on the eve of the scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century were purposefully perpetuated and accentuated. Africa continued to provide a prime playing field for global actors.

In the new millennium, the massive expansion of China’s relations in the economic sphere and the intrusion of Russia in the security arena on the continent have posed threats to unimpeded Western domination of the continent. Western perspectives on China in Africa have tended to emphasize China as engaging in short-term resource grab that take little account of local needs and concerns summing up that African development gains are being challenged, if not undermined by Chinese competitiveness. A dimension of this Western grouse advances that Chinese engagement in Africa is part of a long-term strategy aimed at displacing the traditional Western orientation by forging partnerships with African elites. Ultimately, the end goal of China in Africa is some form of political control over Africa.

However, the struggle of dominant state actors in the international system in Africa is rendered more complicated by a virulent political Islamic force raging across the continent. Religious extremism presents an ideological perspective found in most major religions and is currently associated with various forms of religiously motivated acts of violence. Africa hosts a noticeable population of Islamic religious groups such as Shiites, Sunnis, and other Islamic sects. The Horn of Africa including Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Eritrea is a region where noticeable Sunni groups of Muslims live in there. One of the characteristics of the region is the presence and activity of fundamentalist groups with Salafi and Wahabist thoughts in Somali country. The ubiquity of murderous fundamentalist Islamic protagonists across the continent is integral to the complexity of endogenous developments that have the combined consequences of transforming the context of Africa’s relations with the global system that is engulfed in volatile partisan engagements.

Various scholars have argued that Islamist movements emerged in reaction to the failure of state-led modernization projects and to general socioeconomic problems such as youth unemployment and poverty. Yet Islamist movements are not limited to poor countries or disadvantaged, marginalized groups. Research findings however revealed that Islamic fundamentalism is rooted in geopolitical thought and the leaders of Islamic fundamentalist groups not only follow geopolitical objectives in their goals and utopias, but also the causes and roots of the formation of Islamic fundamentalist groups have geopolitical connotations. Other analysts find no significant difference between Islamic jihad and Christian jihad, as each seeks to politically exploit religion for political ends. In the face of the evolution of political consciousness in radical directions in many African states, the continent is no longer either a mere passive absorber of Western impositions or uncritical in its acclaim of the influence of Russia and China in the new partnerships being forged. Within the geo-political space is a raging conflict among hegemonic religious forces to dominate Africa.

This is even as the notion of a monolithic Western interest-driven perspective on Africa has lately been under considerable stress. This is amplified in the policy of Germany on Africa that mitigates the influence of military power as the basis of inter-state relations with Africa and the reality of the fixations of a country like France threatened by new emancipatory impulses in Africa. The interactions of these factors can be volatile. Africa must thus brace itself for coming robust intra-continental schisms with tectonic implications for its future.

*Professor Ademola Araoye is a retired official of the United Nations and former Director of Abuja Leadership Center, a TETFUND Center of Excellence in Public Governance and Leadership at the University of Abuja. He is author of Sources of Conflict in the Post- Colonial African State (AWP, 2012).


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