Editor’s Note: The Scramble for Africa
The British are back. Back and humble. That appeared to be Theresa May’s message as she travelled to Africa for the first time as Prime Minister – indeed, the first time in her life.
Gone was the evident lack of vigour with which May’s government has approached Africa thus far; here was an all singing, all dancing (literally) British Prime Minister who was finally treating the continent as an opportunity rather than a burdensome, grasping aid bucket. May says she wants to see UK as the number one G7 investor in Africa by 2022.
This is an ambitious aim indeed. As Britain has withdrawn from Africa in the years since colonialism, others, most notably China and, to a lesser but increasing extent, India, have prospered from deepening ties.
To emphasise just how far behind Britain is now lagging, dozens of African leaders will attend next week’s Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing from September 3-4.
African countries have welcomed the words from the UK government, but are unlikely to be holding their breath for a drastic change to their trading relationship.
Indeed, May’s big diplomatic ‘triumph’ was announcing her first post-Brexit deal, wholly replicating an already existing agreement between the European Union and five Southern African countries.
African leaders are surely aware that they are bargaining chips as the UK tries to demonstrate it won’t be adversely affected by less favourable trading terms with the EU after Brexit. In the short term at least, any increase in African trade won’t scratch the surface of any losses of trade with the EU – the entire continent has a smaller GDP than that of France alone.
Parallels can be drawn between Ms May and another leader who has been similarly accused of ignoring Africa: Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, who was also on the continent this week. The German Chancellor visited Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria, as part of her effort to stem the flow of migration from the West Africa region, which is causing her so much political damage at home.
The visit came in the same week that the German government returned remains of Herero and Name peoples to Namibia. A lawsuit for reparations from Germany to the Namibian people for the genocide there between 1905-8 remains in the US court system having been filed in New York in January 2017.
The uneasy post-colonial relationship combined with lacklustre economic efforts on the part of the UK and Germany are in contrast to their European neighbours, France, whose colonial relationship has evolved into a deep political and economic one: President Macron has visited the continent seven times since gaining office in 2016.
This swathe of foreign dignitaries is good news for African governments, who can benefit from increased competition for their markets from international players. In this respect, the Europeans have been eclipsed by China, whose trade with Africa has exploded over the past two decades. It is a gap unlikely to be reversed.
Until next week,
Africa Editor, Jericho
Jericho’s World Digest
An Australian filmmaker, James Ricketson, has been sentenced to six years in jail for espionage after flying a drone over a political rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, whilst producing a documentary. Human rights groups have been incensed, not only by Cambodia’s decision, but also by the Australian government’s reaction. A Human Rights Watch spokesman described Australia’s softly-softly approach as “not just morally bankrupt [but] also totally ineffective.”
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has stated that it is alarmed at reports emanating from Xinjiang province in Northwestern China. Over one million people are estimated to be in state-run re-education camps, with the UN describing terrorism as merely a “pretext” for the Chinese state’s actions.
The United States, Australia, France and Britain will open new embassies in the Pacific Islands, boost staffing levels, and engage with leaders of island nations more often in a bid to counter China’s rising influence in the region, sources have told Reuters.
The world famous Shaolin Temple, the home of Kung-fu, has raised the Chinese flag over its main temple for the first time. Just in case anyone was wondering where the monks’ loyalties lie.
South Africa continued its tortured relationship with its past and present this week, as the land reform debate over a change from a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ to an ‘expropriation without compensation’ approach rumbled on in the background. The legacy of South Africa’s 20th century history was in the spotlight on Wednesday as the leader of the far left group Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, urged his country to leave the Commonwealth group of nations, describing it as “presided over by the coloniser” and claiming it “perpetuates white supremacy”.
Ethnicity was again the touchpaper when three people were killed and 27 arrested during unrest in Johannesburg on Wednesday and Thursday, which was said to be aimed predominantly at the shop-owning Somali community.
Post-colonial issues surfaced on opposite sides of the African continent as the United Kingdom continued to battle Mauritius at the UN over the Chagos Islands, and Germany repatriated the remains of Herero and Nama people seized during a brutally suppressed uprising in Namibia between 1904-08.
Present day governance standards were the theme for five other African stories this week. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised that even members of his own family could be subject to prosecution if they were found to have broken the law as he continued his anti-corruption drive.
Nigeria announced the prosecution of four major banks: Citigroup, Standard Chartered, Stanbic and Diamond Bank who had facilitated MTN moving money illegally offshore.
In an attempt to display a commitment to transparency, Zimbabwe president Emmerson Mnangagwa announced an inquiry into the deaths of protestors killed by the army following the presidential election result last month.
A better-publicised but murkier story was the incarceration, release, and re-arrest of Ugandan musician Bobi Wine, a long-standing critic of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has held the reins or power for 32 years.
Reigning King Mwsati III of Swaziland is under fire from the country’s High Court for his unilateral declaration of a change to the country’s name. Under the country’s 2005 constitution, the king can only make law in conjunction with parliament; his announcement that the country would hence forth be known as ‘eSwatini’ came as the king was celebrating his 50th birthday – and the 50th anniversary of independence.
The week in the Western Hemisphere has been one of macroeconomic misery. As the echoes of the country’s 2001 crash grow louder and louder, Argentine President Mauricio Macri has taken the surprise step of requesting that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) speeds up its US$50bn bailout as the peso plummets and confidence wains in Macri’s grip on the economy.
The administration of Venezuela’s President, Nicolás Maduro, has now announced the arrest of 92 people for crimes of “reselling, speculation, cornering the market, boycott and destabilisation of the economy” – essentially disregarding his much-maligned reform package that was introduced on 21 August.
Brazil, meanwhile, has moved troops to its border with Venezuela as the refugee crisis intensifies, amid reports of xenophobic abuse of immigrants.
Finally, having once branded NATO obsolete and frequently declared his apparent disdain for international institutions, Donald Trump has now threatened to pull out of the World Trade Organization (WTO). If confirmed – which is highly doubtful – such an announcement could be the culmination of Trump’s “trade war”, and put the U.S. into direct conflict with China, the world’s second-largest economy.
“Did you see what happened last night in Sweden? Sweden!” The Scandinavian country goes to the polls this weekend with the electoral battle lines taking on a familiar appearance for anyone who has followed European politics for the last three years. Yes, once again it’s the populists against the establishment.
The rise of the Sweden Democrats (SD) is the big story for the country that has taken on the largest number of refugees per capita since 2015 and has been ranked the best place for immigrants to live in. Drug-related gang violence in city suburbs, while seemingly not affecting daily life (indeed, overall crime has gone down), has left many Swedes feeling uneasy about the government’s ‘loss of control’ – and the SD look ready to pounce.
Two men in their early twenties, a Syrian and an Iraqi, have been detained in the east German city of Chemnitz on suspicion of having stabbed a thirty-five-year-old man at a street festival on Sunday. The event sparked ‘anti-foreigner’ protests, with some numerous reports claiming that a mole within the German police had leaked details of the arrest warrant to far-right groups when it became evident the suspects were foreign. The demonstrations soon turned violent as 5,000 far-right protestors clashed with 1,000 self-styled “anti-Nazis”. Police appeared to be overwhelmed and were forced to call in forces from Dresden and Leipzig for backup. Angela Merkel, who appears weaker by the day, claimed that the scenes had “no place in a constitutional democracy.”
There were some remarkable scenes in the English Channel this week as British and French fishermen engaged in what a delighted media has already dubbed the “Scallop Wars”. Under EU law, both sets of fisherman have equal rights to fish in the scallop-rich waters off the Norman coast. However, Paris has banned French fishermen from fishing between May and October in order to allow scallop stocks to replenish. The British are not so inhibited and have been continuing (legally, if perhaps unfairly) to fish off the coast all year round, causing fury in France. The tensions culminated with 35 French fishing boats grouping together and throwing stones at five British fishing vessels earlier this week. Talks are scheduled to try and settle the dispute.
The EU Commission has also proposed ending daylight saving time. Clocks go forward in March and back in October, but the Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, whose ambition and confidence appears to know no bounds, has stated that “in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen”.
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