Africa, the theatre for the war of influence between China, Russia and the US

By Marie Toulemonde

Posted on Thursday, 16 February 2023 12:14
Graphic by JA/TAR

Within the space of just one month, Washington, Moscow and Beijing have all sent emissaries to the continent. Although their objectives and strategies differ, their aim is to counter the influence of the "enemy".

Since 1991, Beijing has consistently devoted its first foreign tour of the year to Africa. 2023 is no different, even though China’s foreign affairs minister Qi Gang isn’t the only one that criss-crossed the continent in January. African capitals have been at the heart of an intense diplomatic ballet between the US, Russia and Turkey, as evidenced by the Spain-Morocco summit that has just taken place in Rabat.

France will arrive after the battle, as President Emmanuel Macron will head to Central Africa for a four-day tour at the beginning of March to attend the One Forest Summit in Libreville, Gabon.

Which emissaries from Moscow, Washington, Beijing and Ankara visited Africa in early 2023? Which countries did they visit? What promises did they make? What do these visits – often symbolic – say about the war of influence that the ‘great powers’ are waging on a global scale?

A highly courted South Africa

Between an inauguration and the signing of a memorandum of understanding extolling the merits of a “win-win” cooperation, these trips are above all an opportunity for each of them to deploy their strategy of influence and try to impose their narrative. From Russia’s foreign affairs minister Sergei Lavrov, who denounces the “West’s colonial tactics”, to Janet Yellen, the US Treasury Secretary, who urges China to reduce the debt burden on African countries, each one has a part to play.

Pretoria occupies a special place in this continent-wide struggle. As the continent’s leading power, South Africa, whose waters and lands abound in resources, has hosted four foreign delegations in less than a month. The timing was so tight that Lavrov and Yellen just missed each other, as the former arrived 48 hours before the latter, which triggered the ire of the Biden administration.

Washington, like Brussels, takes a very dim view of the increased understanding between Vladimir Putin and Cyril Ramaphosa. Beyond the historical links between the African National Congress (ANC) and the USSR, the rainbow nation has not formally condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine. Worse still, in the eyes of the US, military exercises were held off the coast of Durban in February. The South African army will be conducting manoeuvres alongside the Russian and Chinese navies.

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