In an article published in the Feb. 19 edition of The East African Standard, Kenyan economist James Shikwati warns that the stage is being set for the third partition of Africa, this time by China and the West.
Recent statements by Hilary Benn, Britain’s secretary of state for international development, to the effect that China should form a partnership with Western countries in trying to tackle issues such as corruption, poverty, good governance and respect for human rights, are indicative of this stage-setting, Shikwati contends.
Further proof of a partition plan can be seen in the establishment in 2003 of the London-based Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, Shikwati says. Ostensibly designed to ensure that the revenues from extractive industries—mining and oil—contribute to sustainable development and poverty reduction, the initiative is another vehicle for Western control of Africa’s resources, he suggests.
“We in Africa are staring another landmark partition in the face!” he writes.
The first partition of Africa occurred in the 19th century, when German chancellor Otto von Bismark summoned foreign ministers of the major western powers to his home in Berlin to negotiate the control of Africa and its vast resources. Represented at the meeting were Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway, Turkey and the United States. At the time of the conference, only the coastal areas of Africa were colonized by Europe. The goal now was to split up the interior while agreeing that the mouths and basins of the Congo and Niger rivers would remain neutral and open to trade.
The 14 countries met from November 1884 to February 1885. When they finished, Britain had control of Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Nigeria and Ghana; France took much of western Africa, from Mauritania to Chad, plus Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville; Belgium took Congo-Kinshasa; Portugal took Mozambique and Angola; Italy took Somalia and a portion of Ethiopia; Germany took Namibia and Tanzania; and Spain claimed Equatorial Guinea.
Shikwati likens the colonization of Africa to the conquest of Peru’s Inca Empire, where Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro used trickery to capture the Inca king. “Pizarro had the advantage of superior weapons, an urban team and had an easy time tricking Atahuallpa,” he says.
The second partition came with the falling out between the United States and the Soviet Union over how to reconstruct the post–World War II world. During the half-century Cold War, “African states found themselves on the frontline rivalry of capitalist and communist or socialist ideologies. Each side, driven by a desire to dominate, camouflaged their activities as desire to make Africa prosperous,” Shikwati writes.
At that point, exploitation of wealth did not feature as much as it did in the previous partition, he says. “But history is dotted with consequences of the activities that range from political coups, shrunken political and economic freedom and increased poverty,” he notes.
Enter China, the world’s most populous nation and fastest growing economy, with a voracious appetite for raw materials and a no-strings-attached approach to its relations with Africa in securing those materials, while Western countries continue to link aid with democracy and free-market reforms.
“The speed with which China has achieved its African breakthrough is nothing short of stunning,” says a Nov. 16, 2006, article in The International Herald Tribune. “For the last four decades, it was France alone among global powers that paid consistent, high-level attention to Africa. French-African summits became fixed biannual rituals, a sort of geopolitical High Mass, as they came to be called, meant to bolster France’s place in the world and to harness Africa’s economies to France’s. Suddenly, even France’s ties to the continent, which date back centuries and include periods of slavery, conquest, colonization and what some have called neo-colonization, look decidedly old hat. The new Chinese player on the block carries none of the historical baggage of its Western counterparts, and has been completely uninhibited in its new African embrace.”
Shikwati accuses “African intellectuals” of foolishly aligning themselves with the various parties to the continent’s partition.
“Nobody is keen to figure out what modern day Pizarro is up to,” he complains. For Africans, “the point ought not to be to fight China, but to exploit the Western world’s discomfort about the Asian giant and thus develop better bargaining power,” he contends. “For one thing is true: China, India, Brazil and the West have one thing in common: Hypocrisy!” he says.
By Rosalind McLymont