Sep 10 2008

Cold War II: now in a cinema near you

Published by at 4:41 pm under Opinion,South Africa

First published on my old blog on 11/12/2007. 

Last week’s EU/Africa Summit produced one especially big disappointment: It made clear that some (quite a few?) of Africa’s leaders were still caught in the mindset of the Cold War era. 

And so, the EU/Africa Summit reminded (yet again) how far off the mark president Thabo Mbeki was when he said (a few years ago) Africa was “on the threshold of a Renaissance”.

What am I talking about? Well, the leaders of Africa loved the days of the Cold War, when the boykies with the big wallets on both sides of the Wall came visiting, and fell over their feet (and their weapons) to buy the favour of resource-rich countries. Over the years the leaders of Africa became very good at playing the West and the communist world off against one another. And pocketed more than a few pennies. 

Since last weekend we know at least a few leaders are longing for the days of the Cold War to return. 

Of course, the jostling did nothing for the people of the dark continent. It only produced political instability in an endless number of countries where leaders and would-be leaders and their uncles and nephews saw what they stood to gain – if only they were in charge of the resources. And so the Cold War did a lot of damage to Africa over the years. (No, I can’t say exactly how much in US dollars…).

Fast forward to last weekend in Lissabon. Where the boykie from Senegal told journalists at a press conference: Sorry, it looks as if the EU has lost out to China and India. The EU is too bureaucratic and slow, he said. (Yes, it’s true – an African leader criticized the EU for being to slow…to bureaucratic. If that’s not a case of “the pot calling the kettle black”, then I don’t know.) 

But, the important point is: African leaders deliberately and openly tried to escalate the rivalry between the two groups (broadly China/India on the one side, and the EU on the other…it’s a bit more involved, I know). As far as these leaders were concerned, the best thing that could happen was a new “Cold War”, a new rush for Africa. 

Now, one must be careful not to assume that the spoils of “Cold War II” would be spent (misspent) in the way the spoils of the original Cold War were spent. All I’m saying, is the proceedings of the past weekend reminded a hellavalot of those days. 

Maybe I’m just alarmist…unnecessarily concerned. Maybe the Chinese are more honourable than the Yankees and Soviets were back then….

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