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Boris Johnson’s New Scramble for Africa (Foreign Policy)
January 29, 2020
From the article:
"...It was the maiden voyage of 'Global Britain,' as Prime Minister Boris Johnson played host to African leaders and representatives in London on Jan. 20. Soon to be free to set its own trade agenda, with Brexit taking effect on Jan. 31, the United Kingdom hopes to project the image of a nation untethered from the rules and regulations of the European Union. Africa—with its rapidly growing populations and economies, rising middle class, and recent ratification of a continentwide free trade agreement—was as good a place as any to start.
With a rate of return on investment that outstrips much of Asia, all of Latin America, and the average of the world’s developed economies, there is little doubting the money to be made in Africa, too. However, a splashy summit and tall talk will not do the trick. Reaching Britain’s goals will require a scale of investment and a humbling of its traditional role as a great power, of which the government gives no guarantee.
Although the prime minister tried not to wade into the waters of nostalgic imperialism at the summit, as he has so often done in the past, Johnson remained committed to the idea that the U.K. can overcome Africa’s 'suitors' to become the 'obvious partner of choice.' It was a tired recapitulation of an old trope—competition on the continent, a “scramble for Africa”—which reflects neither Africa’s politics nor Britain’s prospects in the 21st century.
For all the ambitions of the Global Britain agenda, however, the summit was a rather muted event. There was no show of force to rival the Russia-Africa Summit last year, when Russian President Vladimir Putin showed off his jets and tanks at his seaside resort in Sochi. Neither was there any of the grandeur of the most recent Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2018, when Xi Jinping feted 51 African leaders in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People as he promised world-historical transformation—'The ocean is vast because it rejects no rivers,' Xi prophesied of the opportunities China and Africa shared. Nor did it seem to show the same significance of the United States’ last summit in 2014, when 37 African heads of state gathered in Washington as then-President Barack Obama advanced a range of health, security, and investment initiatives while knocking Chinese intentions on the continent.
But it was still a productive day for the 13 African leaders who made the frosty trek to a blocky InterContinental Hotel on the Greenwich Peninsula, an industrial stretch of land in southeast London. Indeed, it was likely all the more productive for focusing on trade and investment, rather than the conflict and contestation that have consumed so many summits as of late. 'The world needs to be seeing Africa less as a problem and more as an opportunity,' said Gyude Moore, Liberia’s former public works minister and a fellow at the Center for Global Development..."