As the continent continues to grow, according to the underlying logic of the scramble for Africa, great powers either need to assert their influence or risk falling behind. Considering the heightened interest, Africa can use the summits as a platform to lobby support for its own development programmes and projects such as Agenda 2063, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and other AU flagship projects, which are all important cornerstones of Africa’s sovereignty, writes Lora Chkoniya, Research Fellow at Center for Middle East and African Studies, Institute for International Studies, MGIMO.
Against a backdrop of heightened geopolitical competition in Africa, the great powers are designing increasingly elaborate cooperation formats, using summits as their institutionalised framework of choice to build long-term relations and secure influence, resources and opportunities on the continent. However, unlike the 19th Century “Scramble for Africa”, which was marked by exploitation, abuse and inequality, Africa today has a consolidated voice, abundant choice and greater freedom to build relations with external actors in a way that enhances its growth potential as a rising political and economic powerhouse.
Within this context, Africa’s biggest partners are taking their own approaches to hosting large-scale joint events with the continent, seeking creative ways to outdo their “competition” and secure their own niche in Africa’s future. Some are actively spearheading new formats, as in the case of Russia, which hosted the first ever Russia-Africa Summit in 2019. Others are resuscitating old ones, as the United States did in 2022 during the second US-Africa Leaders Summit, which took place after an 8-year-long hiatus following the first such event in 2014. Some are continuing long-term efforts, such as China in the case of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which was launched 23 years ago, at a time when Africa was infamously written off as a “hopeless continent”by The Economist and faced limited partnership opportunities. The same goes for Europe in the case of the Africa-EU Partnership, which was formally established in 2000 at the first Africa-EU Summit in Cairo.
Despite an abundance of opportunities for cooperation and no need for a zero-sum game, a picture of how influence is being distributed is slowly beginning to take form.
Beijing for example, is emerging as the supreme financial powerhouse in Africa, and has been its number one trade partner since 2009. Moscow has secured its niche as exporter of security to the continent against the backdrop of growing Islamic radicalism and instability. The EU and US maintain their leverage thanks to their wide mandate in key international financial institutions that provide loans, grants and technical assistance that are instrumental in crisis management and facilitating economic growth; however, this support comes with political strings attached. Many African governments are not willing to risk losing this support.
Table 1. Comparison of Key Characteristics and Takeaways From 4 Key Africa Cooperation Summits