The Scramble for Africa is a term for the 19th century colonization of that continent by all the major European powers. It is considered one of the darkest periods of European imperialism, and many claim the sad state of much of the continent today is a direct legacy of that period.
Might we be seeing a new scramble for Africa, this time featuring Asian powers? China has been actively pursuing both economic and political interests in Africa for nearly two decades, and now Japan is responding in kind, with Prime Minister Abe having recently returned from a major trade mission to several African nations. The Japanese deny that they are in direct competition with China, but even if indirect, they are certainly in competition.
The East Asian nations are not the only ones. India has always been involved in East Africa and are the nearest major power, with direct sea lanes across the Indian Ocean. Over the last two years, I have noted how several Muslim states – in particular Qatar – are seeking to gain influence in North Africa and the Sahel.
None of this, of course, is akin to 19th century colonization, and there is no new Berlin Conference on the horizon where the map will be carved into spheres of influence. But in many ways, this 21st century scramble is a more sophisticated version of the same geopolitical impulse. Just as British power was perceived to be on the wane in the late 19th century, thus opening up the world to competition from other powers, so, too, is US power seen on the wane. Into the perceived power vacuum, other powers – both regional and global – are jockeying for position before the next macrodecision begins.