In this final instalment of his insightful opinion-editorial piece, Dr William J Mpofu addresses the question of Africa in a world of disorder as he calls it. Prior to this, Mpofu had tackled Thucydides Trap which the world might plunge into as the United States declines while China rises.
Mpofu had written: “In its form and content, not only for Africa, but for the whole world this New World Disorder is ghastly to ponder. Graham Allison pondered it in 2015 and came up with the alarming observation that ‘war between the US and China is more likely than recognised at the moment’ because the two powerful countries have fallen into the Thucydides Trap.The ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, described the Trap when he narrated how war becomes next to impossible when a ruling power is confronted by a rival rising power that threatens its dominion. Thucydides had witnessed how the growing power and prosperity of Athens threatened Sparta in ancient Greece driving the two powers to war. The political and historical climate between China and the US captures the charged political temperatures that punctuated the relations between an entitled and proud Sparta that was confronted with the growth and anger of a frightening Athens. For the US and China to escape the Thucydides Trap that is luring both superpowers to war, ‘tremendous effort’ is required of both parties and their allies”.
Dr William J. Mpofu
THE symptoms are spectacular and everywhere to be seen. It can be the Namibian President Hage Geingob on live television having to shout at German politician Norbet Lammert for complaining about the growing Chinese population in Namibia.
Geingob asks why Germans land in Namibia on a “red carpet” and do “what they want”, but it become a huge Western problem when the Chinese are seen in Namibia.
That Namibia should not be reduced to a theatre of contestation between the West and China because it is a sovereign country was Geingob’s plea to German. It can be President Emmanuel Macron of France, in May 2021, asking President Paul Kagame of Rwanda for forgiveness for France’s role in the genocide of 1994.
The bottom line being that African conflicts and genocides bear European footprints and fingerprints. Africa is reduced to a Western crime scene, from slavery to colonialism and from colonialism to present coloniality.
Coloniality is brought to life with, for instance, the United States Republican lawmakers launching a Bill “opposing the Republic of South Africa’s hosting of military exercises with the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and calling on the Biden administration to conduct a thorough review of the United States-South Africa relationship.”
Prior to that last year, the US has tried to come up a new law to punish states that back certain Russian actions. This could have major implications for African countries.
The proposed US law would oblige Washington to punish African governments that abet Russian “malign” activities on the continent if it had sailed through Congress.
The Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act passed the House of Representatives on 27 April 2022 by a huge, bipartisan 419-9 majority and was expected to be law before it was shelved. It would direct the US secretary of state “to develop and submit to congress a strategy and implementation plan outlining United States efforts to counter the malign influence and activities of the Russian Federation and its proxies in Africa”.
The Bill broadly defines such malign activities as those that “undermine United States objectives and interests”.
The US secretary of state would have to monitor the actions of Russia’s government and its “proxies” – including private military companies (clearly Russian mercenary company Wagner was in the sights) and oligarchs.
The US government would have to counter such activities effectively, including through US foreign aid programmes. It would need to “hold accountable the Russian Federation and African governments and their officials who are complicit in aiding such malign influence and activities”.
The Bill was introduced to congress on 31 March 2022 and was clearly a response to Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine. Several other punitive laws aimed at Russia – including one directing the administration to gather evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine – were introduced at about the same time.
However, in their 42nd ordinary summit of heads of state and government held on 17 and 18 August 2022 at Palais du Peuple (Parliament Building) in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, leaders of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) vehemently expressed their collective opposition to a proposed US law on countering Russian influence and activities in Africa.
The 16-member regional bloc complained that the US had made the African continent “the target of unilateral and punitive measures” and its Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee pushed the Bill designed to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin using Africa to bypass US sanctions and fund his war in Ukraine, as well as to protect African people from human rights violations by Russian mercenaries.
The Sadc leaders reaffirmed their collective position of non-alignment towards conflicts outside the continent. The summit was held under the theme Promoting Industrialisation through Agro-processing, Mineral Beneficiation and Regional Value Chains for Inclusive and Resilient Economic Growth.
“Africa Is Not For Sale. Africa is open for business not for sale or looting. We must defend what is ours and make sure that no one takes from us what is ours,” declared Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera at the summit, pointing to the bold stance against the scramble for Africa’s resources by external powers.
“If the world wants what we have, they must buy in a fair trade so that we use proceeds to build ourselves new cities, new universities, new infrastructure, industries and new programmes that lift people out of poverty and vulnerability.”
Chakwera urged African leaders and their people to build Africa and future generations not for those bent on looting its resources. He said the resources of Africa must remain in the hands of Africans, but not to be stolen by some people. Let us stand up with one voice and tell the World, Africa is open for business, but not for sale, Chakwera suggested.
“It takes only Africans to build the African continent . No foreigners will develop the continent. We must not always look upon them because what they give us does not build anything but simply causes tension in the continent like they did in the past.” In that scathing speech, he further lambasted Western and Eastern countries that they must not just be in Africa to steal but to build. There is no-one outside Africa who can build it, not any European, Asian or American,” he said.
Africa as an object that does not have the agency to act for itself, but is acted upon in the New World Disorder, is real. It is not only Africa as a child in the world system that must be protected from other relationships and that must be told who to relate with and who not to relate with is a reality, but it is also Africa as an owned thing.
Behind the myth of African independence and liberation is the reality of Africa as a “sphere of influence” about which world powers are still scrambling for control and ownership.
When in January 2018, Donald Trump referred to African countries as “all these shithole countries” he meant exactly that Africa still metaphorised the toilet of the world order where disposable waste and dispensable people were to be found.
Looking at the world disorder from Africa with African eyes and sensibility makes it obvious that it is Africa that should be against war and for a decolonial multipolar world order where differences are not criminalised but are legitimated. Where economic competition, political opposition, and rivalry are democratised from antagonism to agonism, where political opponents are adversaries that are not necessarily blood enemies that must work on eliminating each other to the “last man”.
Such a world order may be liberating in that both fears and desires of nations may play out in a political climate where might is not necessarily right.
World powers need to be persuaded or to pressure themselves to understand what Mahbubani prescribes as a future world order that is against war, and liberating in that it is, minimalist, multilateral and Machiavellian.
Minimalist in that major countries should minimise thinking and acting like other countries are minors that should be changed into their own image. Multilateral in the sense that world institutions such as the United Nations must be Pentecostal sites where differences, fears and desires of all countries are moderated and democratised.
Machiavellian in that world powers, no matter how mighty they believe they are, must adapt to the change to the order of things and live with the truth that they will not enjoy world dominion alone in perpetuity as the world must be a shared place that naturalises and normalises political, economic, cultural and human diversity.
About the writer: Dr William J Mpofu is a researcher at the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies (WiCDS) at the university of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mpofu is a senior research associate of Good Governance Africa (GGA). His research interests are in decoloniality, especially the philosophy of liberation and critical diversity literacy.