Daily Sabah – Sept. 7, 2023
After Ukraine, new 'theater of conflict' has emerged in Africa
BY MELIH ALTINOK
Amid recent political upheavals gripped the continent, Africa has emerged as a new front of the West-Russia rivalry following the ongoing conflict in Ukraine
Over the past three years, Africa has witnessed a series of political upheavals, with countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, Sudan, Niger, the Central African Republic, Guinea, and most recently Gabon, experiencing military takeovers. It appears that more such events may be on the horizon.
Describing these incidents as mere "military coups" may not be entirely accurate, as the ousted governments in these countries were often propped up by the military might of foreign powers, raising questions about their civilian legitimacy. For instance, in the case of Gabon, where France called for "respect for democracy" following the recent coup, the country has been under the control of a family with deep ties to France for the past 60 years. The entities seizing power are also armies backed militarily and financially by various foreign states.
Confrontations between contrasting forces
Characterizing the current events on the continent as confrontations between two contrasting forces, especially in the aftermath of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, offers a more precise portrayal.
On one side of this front, we find the United States and France.
The U.S., pursuing a strategy aimed at countering Chinese expansionism in Africa, is witnessing a rapid decline in its influence, mirroring a situation akin to what occurred in the Gulf region. For instance, in the recent vote to expel Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council, approximately 80 African countries either abstained from voting or voted against the motion.
France's position in Africa is equally complex. Despite a troubled colonial history, French policies have managed to alienate a broad spectrum of actors, from Muslims to Christian groups, leftists to nationalists. Many perceive France as the primary colonial power responsible for the continent's poverty and corruption. The tragic outcome in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi was considered a fitting leader and the country descended into chaos, serves as a sobering cautionary tale for all African nations.
Russia, China fronts
Nonetheless, Russia has swiftly expanded its presence in Africa, and the recent messages from the purportedly deceased Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin go beyond mere propaganda, shedding light on the reality that many of these coups have succeeded due to the support rebel groups received from Russia in terms of security, weaponry and training, with Russian energy companies securing significant contracts, making the display of Russian flags during protests less surprising.
On the other hand, China, positioning itself in opposition to Russia in Africa, is rapidly extending its influence, particularly along the Eastern African coast through initiatives like the Maritime Silk Route project, and is actively involved in distributing loans and reportedly employing over a million Chinese workers in Africa.
Türkiye, with deep-rooted historical, cultural and religious ties to Africa, stands among the nations steadily increasing their influence on the continent. The nation continues its policy of maintaining a balance between the Eastern and Western blocs in Africa, refraining from intervening in the internal affairs of African nations. Despite selling weapons like drones to African states, Türkiye has garnered significant prestige on the continent through its humanitarian aid efforts, having provided billions of dollars in aid to countries like Somalia in recent years. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has conducted multiple visits to over 30 African countries.
Unfortunately, it is evident that the conflict in Ukraine, which remains a deadlock between the Eastern and Western blocs, is likely to escalate in the near future, focusing on proxy wars in Africa. We fervently hope that the continent, which has endured its share of brutal conflicts, does not become embroiled in an all-encompassing war.
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