Recent events on the African continent (the growth of influence of China in Sudan and elsewhere, attempted American intervention in the Malagasy elections, the murder of Russian journalists in the CAR, France and Italy’s competition over Libya, the expansion of radical Islam) and their extensive coverage in the mainstream media shows that the region has become a zone of the geopolitical instability and is transforming into a new and crucial geopolitical battlefield.
The local contradictions and civil wars (ethnic wars in South Sudan, Northern Mali conflict, Somali civil war, instability in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libyan civil war, the civil war in Central African Republic and so on) have made the situation ripe for interventions by foreign actors.
Chinese expansion in Africa
Recent years have seen China invested in obtaining influence in the region. Over the past decade, China has become the continent’s largest trading partner, overtaking the US and Europe. In fact, China has been trying to develop trade collaboration with Africa since the 1950s – 1960s. These attempts became particularly persistent after the ideological demarcation of China from the USSR. Mao Zedong sought to gain support in the Third World countries, and Africa looked especially promising.
For Beijing today, the African countries are important as the second largest exporters of oil after the oil monarchies of the Middle East (the most important oil supplier for China is Angola).
China’s activity in Africa is perceived as a challenge by the US: in 2008, in order to resist the growing influence of China, Washington created the African Command of the US Armed forces (AFRICOM ). The formal reason was the necessity of an anti terrorist structure to counter radical islamist groups in the Sahara-Sahel region and Niger… but was that the only reason?
Turkey’s charm offensive
The changes taking place on the continent were perceived by Turkey as well. Turkey had no colonies to the South of Sahel either in the time of the Ottoman Empire nor later. Turkey is regarded by many African countries as viable alternative to the old colonial powers which are still seen with suspicion. Due to their lack of natural resources, trade with resource-rich Africa could be a solution for securing economic stability and growth in Turkey. If China brings investment and finance, Turkey can provide trade, marketing and business strategies.
At the present time, the Turkey-African partnership is not limited by bilateral relations with isolated countries but has acquired a strategic dimension due to agreements with the African Union that includes all African countries. Like China, Turkey trying to pursuit a “charm offensive” based on a win-win principle that is common to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Turkish and Chinese approach to Africa is almost identical in its attempt to avoid a lot of the trouble involved in working with other foreign actors.
Russian interests in Africa?
Russia has also tried to expand its influence among African countries: since 2014, Russia has signed 19 military cooperation deals with sub-Saharan African countries (including Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Nigeria).
One of Russia’s goals at present is developing a strong relationship with the Central African Republic, where a civil war has persisted since 2012. The civil war in the Central African Republic is an armed conflict between the government of the CAR and rebels (mostly Muslims – ‘Séléka’), many of whom had previously participated in the civil war of 2004–2007. In 2013, the rebels overthrew CAR President François Bozizé, accusing the government of not complying with the terms of the peace agreements signed in 2007. The international forces of the United Nations (from Chad) were in support of Séléka. The Sudanese authorities have denied the information about their participation in supporting Séléka during the coup d’état against Bozizé .
The group also received serious support from Saudi Arabia. According to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change Séléka includes mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, and elements from the Chadian military. The CAR, a former colony of France, has been targeted for its vast mineral deposits (such as uranium reserves, crude oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, lumber and hydropower). The task of creating the rebel radical “Muslim” group Séléka was assumed by the dictator of Chad, an old “friend of France” named Idriss Déby. The last French military operation in the CAR started in 2013 and lasted almost three years (possibly more than 15,000 French soldiers took part in the $570 million war).
Russia has appeared in the region as of December 2017 following the decision of the UN Security Council, which allowed Russia to supply a limited number of weapons (5,200 machine guns, 900 Makarov pistols and other arms) to arm two battalions of the CAR army.
In 2018, Russia sent nine planes to the CAR with weapons and dozens of contractors to train soldiers and secure mining projects. At the beginning of 2019, the Defence Minister of Central African Republic, Marie-Noelle Koyara, has again declared that the country is open to a possibility of opening a Russian military base in the country – the initial declaration was made several months after the security agreement was signed.
The increase of Russian presence in the region has seriously influenced the politics of media coverage of the CAR. The recent murder of 3 Russian journalists (Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko) there, who were making a documentary about Russian presence in the country, was covered by all the largest Western media sources, most of whom tried to blame Putin and the chief of the ‘Wagner’ mercenary Russian group working in the CAR for the murder. This version was based on a declaration by Russian former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky , who sponsored the documentary. A report by his investigation group has put forward a version that the murder was organised by the Wagner military group with the help of an officer of the Central African Republic Emmanuel Kotofio, who brought the Russian journalists to the place of the murder and was the only survivor of the attack. An official representative of the Investigative Committee of Russia declared that the people involved in the murder were trying to rob them.
As a mortal enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin convicted in Russia for serious crimes including murder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s presence and explanation is suspicious. Knowing the criminal dossier of the Russian oligarch, who now works closely with the CIA against his own country, the killing could just as easily have been organized with the help of Seleka or other similar group of radical islamists.
Can this event be a ‘Franz Ferdinand’ case artificially created to justify intervention and war in the CAR? For France and other international organisations, Khodorkovsky’s version could be enough to push them to seek regime change in the region and sanction Russia, and help create push-back against the potential Russian military base in the CAR.
The next sign of France’s loss of control in the region is the increase of Chinese influence in the CAR. In June 2018, the Minister of Defense of the CAR appealed to the United Nations with a request to allow China to deliver weapons to the local army. France, the United States and the United Kingdom refused to give their consent.
Demonization of Russian and Chinese intervention may be part of a sophisticated plan by Western who is trying desperately to save their fading influence in Africa.
The amount of trade between Turkey and the CAR, well not yet very high, promises possibilities for Ankara to obtain vital natural resources. If the battle for Africa continues (as is obviously the case in the CAR) Turkey will be effected and involved.
The Battle for Africa is already being waged. Regional instability in central Africa has left it open for the foreign influence and possible control. The old conflict between ‘communism’ and ‘western liberalism’ seems to be ongoing, modified into a conflict between multipolarity (China, Russia, Turkey and so on) and unipolarity (France, US, UK). It is no longer a clash of ideologies: it is now a geopolitical competition over the shape of the new world order. The West desperately strives to save its hegemony by not letting its old or new colonies move too far from the rich North, but the regions new players are growing in power, and poised to challenge these efforts. Russia, China and Turkey don’t want domination: they fight for balanced policentrist world. They do not need a Turkish Africa, Chinese Africa or Russian Africa, but an “African Africa”, sovereign, decolonized and self-governed.
This is a new approach and the essence of a win-win strategy. The Multipolar strategy aims to allow Africa to become the subject rather than the object of geopolitics for the first time.