They invest, they intervene, and they get involved - more and more external actors are increasing their engagement on the African continent. By more actors, we mean the "new" external actors like China. But more coverage is increasingly devoted to Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The debate circles around the greater importance of these states in the social, political, and economic development of African states and societies as well as notions of rising influence. As such, this “more” in terms of partners may give rise to competition over influence in Africa – amongst others with those international partners that we tend to refer to as traditional.
In our first policy workshop in April 2022, we took a closer look at "the new ones" and had international experts reflect upon their role in Africa: How do these actors engage on the continent - and - what does this mean for existing initiatives of Germany and Europe?
In principle, the form of engagement is manifold. We discussed outside influence on conflict dynamics as well as the impact of the new actors on Africa's economies, societies, and politics. We dedicated a panel to each policy area.
The discussion on conflicts compared the patterns and interests of Russia, Turkey, and the UAE. The sites of their interventions: violent conflicts in Ethiopia, Libya, Somalia, and the Central African Republic (CAR). These violent hot spots are well-known. Less attention is directed toward the complex structure of actors that shapes these conflicts.
As has been the case for some time in the Middle East, this has much to do with the multipolar (dis-)order that is currently emerging on the African continent. This megatrend is changing the balance of power in conflicts, placing new demands on international and regional efforts to resolve them. As a consequence, United Nations (UN) or African Union (AU) peacekeeping missions must find a way to deal with the new actors and the wy they alter conflict dynamics.
In CAR, President Faustin Archange Touadéra bases his power on the support from the Russian Wagner group. The mercenary organization, which is close to the Russian leadership, allowed him to push back insurgents. For the Touadéra regime, Russia now is the partner of choice. Meanwhile, the country has plunged into a deep financial crisis, according to our experts. But securing power domestically has led to the country's foreign policy isolation - all the more so since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Thus, CAR is currently even more vulnerable to Russian influence.
When Ankara intervenes in or exports weapons to African conflicts in Libya or Ethiopia, there is usually a role to play here for domestic political calculations. The country's rising military industry, especially given its supply of comparatively inexpensive but effective drones, opens doors to Turkish influence on the continent. At the same time, the invited scholars argued, Ankara seeks to exploit the public sentiment in West Africa, which is increasingly directed against the former colonial power France.
In the Horn of Africa, on the other hand, we observed a retreat of Western states in recent years. Now, the UAE, Turkey, China, and even Taiwan scramble to fill the geopolitical vacuum. They compete more over the degree of influence than enforcing ideological views, our panellists argued.
On the economic side, China dominates the space, at least at first glance. In recent years, Beijing has risen to become the continent's central economic partner: Main trading partner, the largest lender - and since the Corona pandemic, also an important partner in the field of health. But according to our panellists, Covid-19 should be seen as a turning point in China-Africa relations. Since 2020, Beijing's cooperation with African countries in all these areas has undergone significant changes. Lending is flagging. The issue of debt restructuring is pressing and visibly evolving into a systemic problem.
At the same time, humanitarian assistance and development cooperation is increasingly focusing on public health and medical care. Financial flows in this area are more decentralized. But political criteria continue to determine where money and loans flow. The Chinese leadership ties its support to the recognition of the so-called One China policy or favourable electoral behaviour at the UN.
China is investing in large-scale infrastructure projects across Africa. In Kenya, it has built several of these “mega projects”. While their economic viability remains to be seen, debates on the risks and benefits of Chinese investments and public debt are in full swing. 2022 is not only an important election year in Kenya but also a peak period of debt repayments. In this political climate, Chinese mega projects are either portrayed as symbols of independence and modernity, manifestations of usurpation, or colossal losing deals.
The range of external actors intervening in internal conflicts on the African continent has undergone a noticeable change. Three states in particular are intervening in a growing number of African conflicts: the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, and Russia. Their expanding footprint shows that the multipolar disorder that has characterised wars in the Middle East now also affects much of Africa.
Security cooperation has become an important bargaining chip of Turkey-Africa relations. Ankara is exploiting the interest of African countries in its weaponry – specifically its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – to broaden its political influence. Turkey will have to renegotiate relations with Western partners, as well as competitors such as Russia and China.
Mali currently hosts the German Bundeswehr’s largest foreign deployment. Some 1,400 soldiers are involved in the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) and the European Training Mission (EUTM Mali). Many other member states of the European Union (EU) as well as the United Kingdom (UK) are also heavily involved in Mali militarily, but also politically and in terms of development policy. Regarding a possible extension of both missions, doubts not only hang over their effectiveness, but also their political licence and framework. Mali’s military government, in power since 2020, has adopted a confrontational course towards Western and regional partners, thus putting cooperation to a severe test.