In DepthColumnsA new world order on hold


Posted on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 19:22

A new world order on hold

Patrick Smith

Elections galore and more revolutions pending, 2012 will be an exhilarating year. Governments may fall and leaders may change in China, France, Russia, the United States, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. There will be battles aplenty between parties and ideologies.

More and more protests about inequality and corruption are likely, but the year will disappoint those seeking a new world order. The diplomatic power of the emerging states is yet to match their economic weight. Instead, nationalistic concerns are set to dominate 2012. Officials will struggle to push through new international agreements, whether on climate change, financial-transaction taxes or a strengthening of the International Criminal Court. 

The diplomatic power of the emerging states - China, India, Brazil and Russia - is yet to match their economic weight.

Economic power is still determinedly shifting eastwards and southwards. In general, the finances and growth rates of the emerging powers or BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) – will be stronger than the debt-ridden European and US economies. African trade will continue to grow with these emerging powers and, at best, peg level with the traditional partners.

China, now ahead of the US as Africa's largest economic partner, will attempt to dampen the effects of the global slowdown on its domestic economy. But amid worries about domestic debtors, the shadow banking system and the property bubble, Beijing's economic managers will ensure their African projects are strategic and remunerative.

Political interests will focus inwards: on the likely accession of president Xi Jinping and prime minister Li Keqiang. Politics will also get more nationalist with the purging of US-style TV programmes, the rise of Maoist politicians and clashes with neighbours in the South China Sea. 

India will be still more inward looking than China. It is growing more slowly than China, the rupee is wobbling and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is nearing its endgame. African governments should not expect rapid progress on Delhi's ambitious plans to boost partnerships: they will push on, but still well behind Chinese levels.

Brazil, home to more than 70 million people of African descent, will expand its economic and political links there. But its efforts will be held back by President Dilma Rousseff's worries about the slowing economy and ­corruption at home. 

Russia rediscovered Africa after Vladimir Putin's visit to South Africa in 2006, but domestic protests and a sluggish economy will not leave much space for foreign policy. Putin will take back the presidency from Dmitri Medvedev but against growing mass dissent.

Qatar and Turkey are the only two emerging economies likely to extend their influence much further this year. Both are honorary sponsors of the Arab Spring: Qatar through its Al Jazeera television network and arms supplies to Islamist militias; and Turkey through the propagation of Islamism à la Turque and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's nimble diplomacy. Ankara is due to open another 15 embassies in Africa.

Africa will not break this pattern of nationalism first, even if the ­African Union is bravely promoting the cause of continental integration. South Africa and Nigeria, apart from not getting on well at the moment, will be tied up with their own political ructions. The same goes for Ghana, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, and other states that are either holding elections or recovering from them. The exception will be Kenya and Ethiopia's intervention in Somalia, which may come to exemplify the law of unintended consequences.

As almost everyone looks inwards, watch the veterans of the old world order: western Europe and the United States. Despite their economic travails, these states are quietly trying to catch up with the new dynamics in Africa's frontier markets. There is still much in the emerging world order that is up for negotiation.


This article was first published as an editorial  in the February 2012 edition of The Africa Report

Last Updated on Monday, 20 February 2012 11:14

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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