The Hundred Year African War : The New Scramble for Africa

Peace has eluded Africa for several reasons. ‘The Hundred Year African War’ is how the author wishes to summarize it.

Miners protesting in South Africa (CNN)

The Scramble for Africa: what originally seems like just catchy terminology remains one of the defining moments in the planet’s collective political history.

Coined originally by the Times in 1884, the phrase refers to the period between 1884 and 1914 – an era where prevalent European colonial powers in their attempts to out-race each other took to Africa and Asia while building their empires.

Estimates indicate that while in the 1870s, about 10% of the continent was under European imperial control, this number rose to around 90% in 1914. It would appear that initially, European powers did not appreciate the magnitude of resources in Africa but when a few initiated colonial growth, the rest did not want to miss out. And by 1884–85, the Scramble for Africa was at full speed. Thirteen European countries and the United States met in Berlin to agree the rules of African colonization. From 1884 to 1914, the continent was in conflict as these countries took territory and power from existing African states and peoples. Africa has not enjoyed peace since then and over the last hundred years, several factors have developed to ensure that things stay this way.

A painting depicting the Ango-Zulu War by Alphonse de Neuville.

As early as 1879, Zulu tribes struck out against British imperial forces. The Anglo-Zulu War that followed lead to thousands of deaths and clashes between European powers and tribal/regional African indigenous powers rang the bell, signalling the beginning of a new era.

In this era, rash capitalistic motives resulted in a race between the European nations to cut out parts of Africa for themselves. In the squabble that followed, the mighty nations of Europe fought each other for the pride that only economic strength could bring.

It would be unfair to view this with a modern day perspective. Universal equality is mostly a new-age social need and in the 19th century, there were levels of inequality based on gender, race, region and economic status that might seem incomprehensible today. The reason why this point is essential is because it would not be out of place for the European continental powers to rip Africa asunder. It wouldn’t even be wrong. It was after all ‘The White Man’s Burden’. With changing agricultural patterns (growth and trade) , excessive exploitation of resources, negation of food crops for cash crops, bonded labor, alteration of traditional norms and realigning of regional boundaries, Africa saw violence, imperialism and it’s economic raw strength fueling European progress. Nearly a hundred years ago, in 1914, Europe saw a shift in its priorities. The scramble for Africa was downgraded as a priority, given the World War and all that followed.

From 1914 onwards, and to this very day, Africa has been embroiled in conflict. There are a multitude of reasons for this and many of these can be pinned directly on colonial powers.The division of a continent with thousands of regional leaderships and loyalties into the Africa of today is a legitimate concern. The assumptions that the European concept of state may not have been the best system for the continent and that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ political approach towards decolonized states may have helped ruin it might not be wrong either.

Resources were taken out of the nations under colonial rule. Now while this was the core purpose behind the spread of European colonies, there was a difference in how resources were drained out of Africa and Asia. In India, Pakistan and many other non-African colonies, the imperial powers believed that it was imperative to develop the infrastructure that facilitated the development of industry and markets. Roadways, rail lines and urban port settlements were actively created and maintained to help compensate for the size of the Indian sub-continent. Africa was barely allowed this luxury.

This becomes an important topic for discussion because history now seems set to repeat itself. Clichés, notwithstanding, Africa faces what many are calling ‘Neocolonialism’ 

If Nkrumah (1965) is to be believed, neocolonialism is the final and perhaps the most dangerous part of imperialism. The Ghanaian sums it wonderfully with “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality, its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”

With this in mind, we now cast an eye over the actions of the ‘rising powers’.

The economic activities of China, India and Brazil in Africa have often been a part of mainstream news but have never quite made it as the core focus of mainstream debate. The concerns that emerge from the process of neocolonialism are socio-economic and, understandably, political.

Let’s use India as our first example. Trade has grown 31 per cent annually between 2005 and 2011 and is now estimated to be over US$ 72 billion. India has provided lines of credit worth nearly US$ 6 billion and these are used for reasons as diverse as transport infrastructure in Ethiopia and resource value addition in Mozambique. As per a KPMG report, “India has become one of the leading investors in African countries, with investments in joint ventures and wholly owned subsidiaries touching the $33 billion mark”.

The author has worked with the partnership of the World Trade Organization and Confederation of Indian Industry as they analyzed India-Africa trade and most estimates projected the same to reach US$ 90 billion by 2015. So far, so good? The healthy south-south cooperation between the two economic groups should ideally lead to pareto optimal growth and resource distribution. Ideally, the exchange of technical and knowledge banks would aid the process. It is difficult to see why this is a bad idea.

If we analyze patterns of how Indian corporates in Africa do business, we see several examples of what has been compared to “imperial muscle flexing” by the GOI Monitor. Rowden showcases in his paper ‘India’s Role in the New Global Farmland Grab’ where and how India has done the aforementioned flexing.

With Indian firms buying land with foreign investments in both the Bako and Gambela regions of Ethiopia, the locals have raised several key issues, including loss of access to grazing land and water due to these projects. Despite promised employment, out of the 300,000 potentially displaced families, only about 20,000 people are expected to get jobs on the new highly-mechanized farms. BBC online reports “there have allegedly been a number of arrests and killings of local people who oppose the recent land investments.”

Over 3,000 hectare of forests had already been leased out for 50 years. Despite another intervention by presidential and departmental concerns, these forests are currently being cleared out. This has massive environmental ramifications and one would presume that impact assessment and environmental auditing would be a part of all foreign deals. Loopholes prevent any such clauses being actively used. Publically available documents “did not specify who exactly would undertake the environmental impact assessments, the quality and scope of such assessments and transparency of the process by which they are to be undertaken.”

Labour laws are not mentioned, contractual obligation to raise the standard of life of locals is negligible and avoidable, food security for them is not taken into consideration and red-tapism is brushed away with green paper.

India is doing to Ethiopia what the British Raj did to India. Many believe that Ethiopian government, in order to secure foreign investment, is turning a blind eye to the same.

Here is what tickles this author’s imagination – that Indian players may have taken land by a show of strength, ruined African food security, killed members of civil society, bribed members of the government and caused massive environmental damage. And if you look at most numbers, India is still a distant second to China and Brazil seems to be catching up quickly.In oil and mineral-rich Mozambique, in the conflict of the 3TG in Congo and the large scale agricultural lands of Ghana and Ethiopia, the BRICS must not do what others did to them in the 20th century.

Africa has endured one hundred years of war since the last colonial landmark. As a continent strife with war and conflict, a unifying BRICS presence could go a long way. But that wouldn’t be easier, would it?

Anmol Soin

Anmol Soin

Managing Editor at InPRA
Anmol Soin has finished his post-graduate education from the University of Oxford and the University of St.Andrews. Anmol will always credit his academic growth to his time at St.Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

Formerly engaged as a consultant and a researcher for the 14th Finance Commission (Government of India), he has also worked for the Knowledge Partnership Program (IPE Global and UK Government’s Department For International Development).

He was also the Professor for ‘The Economics of International Relations and Geopolitics’ for the final year undergraduates at NMIMS. Having worked at multiple think-tanks, he brings his experiences as a professor and a consultant together to try and frame a comprehensive overview of International Economics for InPRA.
Anmol Soin