Africa’s transformation did not start yesterday. Obviously, every interaction had by the numerous African nations with even more numerous states outside it, inevitably produced a reaction, making Africans more and more aware of their role and place in the world. This is only natural – without seeing others you will not know your true self, writes Valdai Club Chairman Andrey Bystritskiy.
The scientific consensus is that Africa is the cradle of humanity. It is believed that this is where Homo sapiens emerged long ago. Now, Africa has a chance to become the cradle of a new, rational world order too. At any rate, it is to be hoped for.
In the past few years – which is the blink of an eye historically – Africa has started taking on increasingly important roles on the world stage. It’s as if a huge continent surfaced in the modern political ocean, as if the lost city of Atlantis had returned.
Of course, Africa was actively involved in global affairs in the past as well. Minerals were mined there; it was studied; fascinating novels were written about it; parts of it were colonised; and sometimes its residents were even traded as slaves. However, since ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, Africa has played a mostly passive role. Now Africa, with all its complexity, is acquiring its own agency. Moreover, this agency exists at the global level. It is enough to mention the attempt by some African countries to find a solution to the conflict in Ukraine. Meanwhile, this is merely one of numerous cases where Africa perceives itself as one of the real forces (and faces) of the modern world.
Of course, for all its dizzying pace, Africa’s transformation did not start yesterday. Obviously, every interaction had by the numerous African nations with even more numerous states outside it, inevitably produced a reaction, making Africans more and more aware of their role and place in the world. This is only natural – without seeing others you will not know your true self. It is also clear that the two world wars in which the Africans took an active part and the confrontation between the socialist and capitalist systems also contributed to this process. Incidentally, there is a widespread opinion that the Soviet-American confrontation gave African nations enormous latitude for developing after WWII.
The ongoing restructuring of the world has catalysed this process. Incidentally, this concerns not only the leaders and elites of African countries.
In general, everyone realised that the African nations had their own views on the world around them, that they could and would definitely play their own considerable role in the development of a new system of international relations. It was also clear – and this is no less important – that the enormous African continent was becoming a testing ground for the formation of a new global system.
Strange as it may seem, after centuries of hardships and sufferings and with all its persistent conflicts and contradictions, Africa is one of the most mobile and flexible regions of the world.
It is primarily up to the Africans themselves to decide what countries, associations and views will win the competition to establish a presence and the right to constructive cooperation in Africa, but it would be wrong to dismiss the general global dynamics. Meanwhile, these dynamics are creating a situation where the Western countries that are the old world for Africa are opposing those that may be called the new world – China, Russia and India, to name a few. Of course, these countries were present in Africa in some form or other in the past as well but the nature of their presence today is radically altered.
An interesting but largely tragic illustration of this is the clash of some Central and West African countries with Islamic fundamentalism. Understandably, the history of Islam in Africa is long, complicated and interesting but the current phase that started after a number of defeats of ISIS and other radical organisations in the Middle East has become particularly dramatic. It suddenly transpired that the opportunities of Western countries, primarily France that is heavily involved in the region’s affairs, are very limited. There are probably many reasons for this – a very difficult experience in relations between France and West African countries during the past few decades, technical problems and many other things. Whatever the case, countries like Mali started looking for other actors that could help them survive and found them, for one, in Russia. Something similar but always distinctive is happening all over Africa.
To sum up, the continent has speeded up its movement. There is every reason to believe that Africa will become one of the leading forces, one of the dominant forces for global development if only because of its enormous human and natural resources.
Of course, all forecasts are probabilistic. But it gives us a reason to speak about the future. I hope this is what will happen in St Petersburg on July 25 at the Valdai Club Russia-Africa conference “Russia and African Countries: Established Traditions of Interaction and Prospects for Cooperation in a New World”.