China and Russia: The new sheriffs in Africa

Thursday October 31 2019

Christopher Okidi

Christopher Okidi 

By Christopher Okidi

For close to four decades now, neo-colonialism was a preserve of the Western bloc led by America and her appendages the Bretton Woods Institutions and countries such as the UK and France, among others.This epoch in history was the legacy of the bitter Cold War rivalry where the Western bloc emerged triumphant against the forces of communism under the patronage of the Eastern bloc, specifically the Soviet Union, now Russia.

This rivalry and the eventual collapse of the Eastern bloc led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the emergence of capitalism as the unrivalled global economic ideology and America and its Western allies became the exclusive club of neo-colonialists.

During this period of American neo-colonial hegemony, many African and Latin American countries became heavily indebted, while American construction and energy firms and wealthy American families became wealthier on account of convincing these countries to take loans after loans by painting false glorious economic growth pictures using problematic econometric models.

In the heydays, America also openly occupied many territories and was behind the overthrow of many governments, for example, Omar Torrijor’s in Panama, among others, that were against America’s empire dream.

While America was preoccupied with its empire dream through costly military adventures, China and the East was rising once again and building a robust economy. China overtook the US as the world’s leading economy with attendant military might to influence world politics.

Already, China has expanded its frontiers of influence to Africa, with loans. Chinese-funded construction projects in Africa is currently a common spectacle. The rise of China also gave her Eastern ally, Russia, a renewed interest in Africa.


Last week, Moscow invited all African heads of state to the Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi to officially announce the resurgence of Russia in Africa. Prior to that, Russia was already covertly present in Africa.

An article published in the New York Times in September titled Gems, Warlords and Mercenaries: Russia’s Playbook in Central African Republic, put the number of Russian mercenaries training CAR soldiers in Bangui at more than 400. SIPRI fact sheet of 2018 puts Russia as the biggest arms exporter to Africa, accounting for 39 per cent of arms transfer for the period 2013-2017.

Russian also supplied the weapons to quell an uprising in northern Mozambique this year.

In terms of trade, Russia’s trade with Africa tripled to $18.9 billion in 2018 from $6.6 billion in 2010. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies also reported that Russia successfully convinced SADC to oppose UN resolution over Crimea, which showed its political influence in Africa.

It is now apparent that there are new sheriffs in Africa - Russia and China. The old sheriffs America and her Western allies are also still much present through the World Bank, Department for International Development (DFID), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the vast network of civil society organisations they support to do democracy work.

The million dollar question is, who gains and who loses out of this new ‘Scramble for Africa’.
This multi-polar neo-colonial interest in Africa may be the continent’s opportunity to rise and make attempts to bridge the development gap created by many years of unequal North-South relations.

For colonialism to thrive, there has to be one dominant power capable of subjugating the other, or if multiple powers are involved, there should be at least some kind of homogenous interest akin to what we saw in Berlin in 1885, which is far from the case we see in Africa today.

If Africa could deal with their greed, corruption and governance ineptitude, the continent stands to reap big from this multipolar new colonial order. They can transform this neo-colonial agenda into normal business relations. In any case, these powers are aware of their vulnerability if played against each other.

The result is the continent will get support for infrastructural development at favourable costs and conditions than ever before to achieve her Agenda 2063 because of the many options to choose from. Already, Rwanda is tapping into Russia’s entry to develop what it terms as peaceful nuclear capability.

Mr Okidi is a lawyer and research consultant.