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Policy Workshop I: How New External Actors Influence African Conflicts and Economies

Megatrends spotlight 2022 08, 24.05.2022

Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), or China. More and more actors are becoming involved in Africa. They influence economy and security on the continent in particular. For our first Megatrends Afrika policy workshop, we invited international experts to discuss the role of these actors in Africa: How do the alleged "newcomers" get involved on the continent? What does this mean for German and European engagement?

They invest, they intervene, and they get involved - more and more external actors are increasing their engagement on the African continent. By more actors, we mean the "new" external actors like China. But more coverage is increasingly devoted to Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The debate circles around the greater importance of these states in the social, political, and economic development of African states and societies as well as notions of rising influence. As such, this “more” in terms of partners may give rise to competition over influence in Africa – amongst others with those international partners that we tend to refer to as traditional.

In our first policy workshop in April 2022, we took a closer look at "the new ones" and had international experts reflect upon their role in Africa: How do these actors engage on the continent - and - what does this mean for existing initiatives of Germany and Europe?

In principle, the form of engagement is manifold. We discussed outside influence on conflict dynamics as well as the impact of the new actors on Africa's economies, societies, and politics. We dedicated a panel to each policy area.

Panel 1: African Conflicts and the Multipolar (Dis-)Order.

The discussion on conflicts compared the patterns and interests of Russia, Turkey, and the UAE. The sites of their interventions: violent conflicts in Ethiopia, Libya, Somalia, and the Central African Republic (CAR). These violent hot spots are well-known. Less attention is directed toward the complex structure of actors that shapes these conflicts.

As has been the case for some time in the Middle East, this has much to do with the multipolar (dis-)order that is currently emerging on the African continent. This megatrend is changing the balance of power in conflicts, placing new demands on international and regional efforts to resolve them. As a consequence, United Nations (UN) or African Union (AU) peacekeeping missions must find a way to deal with the new actors and the wy they alter conflict dynamics.

In CAR, President Faustin Archange Touadéra bases his power on the support from the Russian Wagner group. The mercenary organization, which is close to the Russian leadership, allowed him to push back insurgents. For the Touadéra regime, Russia now is the partner of choice. Meanwhile, the country has plunged into a deep financial crisis, according to our experts. But securing power domestically has led to the country's foreign policy isolation - all the more so since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Thus, CAR is currently even more vulnerable to Russian influence.

Turkey and UAE Intervene More and More, Especially in the Horn of Africa

When Ankara intervenes in or exports weapons to African conflicts in Libya or Ethiopia, there is usually a role to play here for domestic political calculations. The country's rising military industry, especially given its supply of comparatively inexpensive but effective drones, opens doors to Turkish influence on the continent. At the same time, the invited scholars argued, Ankara seeks to exploit the public sentiment in West Africa, which is increasingly directed against the former colonial power France.

In the Horn of Africa, on the other hand, we observed a retreat of Western states in recent years. Now, the UAE, Turkey, China, and even Taiwan scramble to fill the geopolitical vacuum. They compete more over the degree of influence than enforcing ideological views, our panellists argued.

Panel 2: Covid-19 brings a turnaround in Chinese Africa policy

On the economic side, China dominates the space, at least at first glance. In recent years, Beijing has risen to become the continent's central economic partner: Main trading partner, the largest lender - and since the Corona pandemic, also an important partner in the field of health. But according to our panellists, Covid-19 should be seen as a turning point in China-Africa relations. Since 2020, Beijing's cooperation with African countries in all these areas has undergone significant changes. Lending is flagging. The issue of debt restructuring is pressing and visibly evolving into a systemic problem.

At the same time, humanitarian assistance and development cooperation is increasingly focusing on public health and medical care. Financial flows in this area are more decentralized. But political criteria continue to determine where money and loans flow. The Chinese leadership ties its support to the recognition of the so-called One China policy or favourable electoral behaviour at the UN.