As Britain fulfilled her Atlantic charter 1941 promises, colonialism was in retreat, and Africans gradually gained independence. Powerful elites loyal to Britain were given complete control of the newly independent countries on the Westphalian model of state and western political system, democracy. Eventually, power struggles erupted throughout the continent between established governments and their subordinates. Additionally, rebel groups were also demanding their share of power in the state affairs relative to their countries. Conflicts emerged and escalated, jumping from one country to another, costing millions of displaced people, refugees, thousands of dead, and creating severe instability in the continent.
Hitherto, more than 21,000 incidents of armed conflicts were found throughout Africa struggling to control power, resources, demanding fundamental rights, supply lines, and so on. These struggles are only between the government and protestors and among various non-state armed groups fighting for influence and primacy with each other. In the Sudanese conflict, first, South Sudan became independent and then plunged into the interstate skirmishes of two powerful elites resulting in 50,000 dead people, 2.3 million displaced people, 6 million hungry, and 70% schools closed, eventually pressuring the neighboring countries with a flood of displaced people.
Conflicts in West and Central Africa, power struggle eruption has increased the instability of already fragile institutions, political systems, and economies, respectively, into the countries. This instability has spilled across the region, leading to the ignition of Internally Displaced People (IDPs), refugees, unemployment, subversion of infrastructures, political instability, and economic turmoil. Technically, unstable countries put pressure on already weak countries, especially those with weak political order, delicate law enforcement and order systems, and weak regulations. Somalian civil war, conflict in Chad, political instability in Ethiopia(even though Aby Ali Ahmed has opened up political spaces), countrywide protests against Sudanese TMC rule, turmoil in DRC, a surge of conflicts in Burkina Faso and Mali, all have underscored the weakening of the governance. International organizations working on the conflict fields are worried about the probability of other conflicts that are newly brewing; the control of gold reserves in Chad is one among others to note. The irony of the conflict escalation is that when initiated, paradoxically, conflicting parties know what they are fighting for; however, if escalated, the objective becomes opaque. The parties start fighting for their survival, subduing, or counteroffensives rather than the objective. Civilians, institutions, infrastructure are what always come under the target. Africa is going through all the complexities mentioned above.
Africa is a conglomerate, with historical events like Cold War ambiguities resulting in turmoil and chaos. The continuity of disputes has shaken up the foundations of state-building on western principles; nation-building is something far. Amidst instability, there are several opportunities that China has seized timely. Ruined infrastructures, illegitimate governments(exceptionally), raging unemployment, and surge in crime, African leaders are desperate to mitigate or, to some extent, minimize the social and national insecurity and integration by allowing the powers like China to invest in their countries. This desperation will have two plausible effects; first, it will help the government to acquire support. In order to benefit people from these projects, people will cooperate to stabilize the countries’ political process since the war-like situation has increased securitization. The second is to engage people in national economic activities with shared goals of economic security and prosperity so that unemployed people who are more prone to join armed groups for the sake of money may use their potential in economic activity and enhance their societal values.
China has invested $72 billion in overall African countries, including Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Africa. Beijing has also increased its pledges to $60 billion during FOCAC conferences. The China-Africa trade reached $208.7 billion last year. The investments were made mainly in the building of porta, railways, airports, telecommunications, and naval bases.
Moreover, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation has been operational meeting on a regular basis since the 2000s. The hosting of the annual forum on China-Africa cooperation attended by 54 African heads of states shows a clear picture of Sino-African cordiality. Under Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Africa is also a crucial partner. 44 African countries and African Commission have signed the cooperation documents. In Oct 2020, China has marked 20 years of coordinated trade with Africa. China’s increasing interest in African countries is mostly about pushing them up and making them consume Chinese goods because China sees Africa as the potential market, resulting in increased Chinese GDP.
The most prominent investment of China is in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti, where she had developed her first foreign base. Djibouti’s location is on the entrance of the Red sea, where about 10% of oil exports and 20% of commercial goods pass from the Bab-Al-Mandab strait, a crucial chokepoint, entering the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. China has invested massively in Doraleh port, Africa’s deepest, from where 90% of landlocked Ethiopia’s goods transit. Djibouti’s Free Trade Zone is also established, which has attracted 20 companies, decided to settle.
Djibouti’s base of China was aimed to counter anti-piracy and counterterrorism, which was initiated from the coast of Somalia. Still, China has transformed itself into a naval power projecting its military efforts. The investments in Africa are made by Chinese state-owned banks and companies which provide loads without any humanitarian conditions. Knowing the fragility of the borrower, experts say, China is practicing its debt-trap diplomacy to enhance its influence in the countries. Djibouti’s 70% of GDP is in debt to China.
Moreover, China is doing data collection through its state-owned telecommunication companies, securing its Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCS), guaranteeing security to her investments as well as to the host countries. Since China has emerged as a responsible trade partner and security provider on the Red Sea region, it has also given Beijing vessels the upper hand to exploit vast fishing grounds of Somalia’s coast with 31 vessels operating as per fishing license issued in 2018. China is also assumed to be the security guarantor of the host African countries, giving leverage to China to practice diplomatic coercion.
China seems to be applying Mackinder’s heartland thesis through One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR), however, changing the pivot to South and East Asia, and, Spykman’s Rimland theory, moderately in its own manner, as securitization of strategic posts of Indian Ocean as presented in Strings of Pearls.
Multiple measures by the UN, ICRC, and other international organizations have taken to mitigate the African crises. As China indubitably seems to be a potential power juxtapose to the western presence in the region, westerners have done very little to manage the crises. Beijing must take the lead, collaborate with domestic armed groups, encourage dialogue and conflict management mechanisms to the parties, at least propose them, as a mediator, to minimize the instability factors and encourage them to collective growth. Chinese economic diplomacy can be used to compel African policymakers to conflict resolution. Other conflicting parties must be taken on board to develop confidence-building, and some serious interest must be shown in African affairs. These steps may be beneficial in the long run for China to be called the country of stabilized people, contributing to peace vis-a-vis enhancing influence as China would need in the future.