By Moshi Israel
The distribution of global economic and political power among more than two States is vital to Africa’s development ambitions. The balance of power among several centers of power would curtail the destructive tendencies of hegemonism, unilateralism and great power conflicts. Going back to the cold war era between the USSR and the US, the African continent was a victim of great power politics. This manifested itself through proxy wars, coups and assassinations orchestrated by the two competing blocs of USSR and the United States.
For many years, Africa was only ‘independent’ in theory but practically a brand-new form of colonialism had taken shape. Different African countries were run by governments that shaped their policies in line with the two competing hegemonies of the time. Sanctions, regime change, and war plagued the continent, and it all served the interests of foreign powers with the approval of hand-picked corrupt African leaders.
The bipolar world, dominated by the Soviet Union and the United States and its associated political games left the continent in shambles. First, it was colonialism that exploited the continent and then the cold war came in to finish off an already weak continent. It is important to note that the Soviet Union largely supported Pan-African movements and personalities such as Anti-apartheid movements and Nelson Mandela.
With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a new era was ushered into the world. African countries had a new challenge on their hands. The events of 1991, ushered in a new Unipolar world, where the United States remained the sole Hegemon on the global stage. As the world sighed in relief at the end of the cold war and potential nuclear annihilation, the dangers of having an unchecked global power grew exponentially. The United States and allies got entangled in interventionist wars in former Yugoslavia (1995-96), Afghanistan (2001-2021), Iraq (2003-2011), Somalia (2007-present), Libya (2011) and Syria (2014).
The African continent has since kowtowed to the dictates of a rules-based order established by a power that has no competitor. Currently there are nine African countries under US sanctions, which means 1 in 5 African countries. this is in addition to dealing with a system that imposes unfair trade rules on the continent, loans from the World Bank and IMF with unfair structural adjustment requirements. The United Nations on the other hand has also suffered from the dictates of its biggest funder (USA) and cannot curtail the unilateral tendencies of the US and other powers. The UN is supposed to be an organization where African countries should have equal power to other sovereign states.
It would be unfair to claim that the Unipolar reign of the USA has been all bad for Africa. There are instances of good partnership through foreign Aid, and collaboration in the fight against terrorism. Additionally, the United States has also been a great partner when it comes to public health and the fight against deadly pandemics and disease outbreaks such as Ebola, Malaria and HIV/AIDS. However, this relationship has been largely lopsided in the favor of the USA and is also largely overpowered by regime change politics, unfair trade policies and the Master-Servant political engagement from American politicians.
However, the rise of China, itself a country that has suffered similar experiences like the African countries, shines a new light on the horizon. Currently, many countries such as Brazil, India, Japan, Indonesia, China, Russia, and the EU are global economic powers. China and other BRICS member states are pushing for multi-polar world based on Mutual respect and win-win partnerships.
A multi-polar world means the end of Hegemonism, great power conflicts and Unilateralism. African countries should meet this opportunity by taking action to get rid of rampant corruption, ethnicism, illiteracy, civil war through power struggles and religious fanaticism. This can be achieved through building powerful and resilient institutions, good governance, technological innovation, sustainable development, increasing intra-African trade, industrialization, increasing the manufacturing base, investing in smart education systems, and modernizing infrastructure, among others.
A multi-polar world provides room for uninterrupted development, free from unilateral interventions from a powerful nation and free from the insecurity caused by great power competition. As a victim of both these systems, Africa has the right to welcome a multi-polar world based on real equality. The hope for such a world from the entire global south is not merely a naïve outlook or skewed understanding of global politics but a desperate and hopeful longing for a fair, just, and secure global system.
Moshi Israel is a senior Research Fellow with Sino-Uganda Research Centre.