23 May 2022

Africa and the new Cold War: Africa’s development depends on regional ownership of its security

Hippolyte Fofack

The devastating consequences of the Ukraine crisis continue to highlight the need to urgently deliver the African Union’s flagship project of “Silencing the Guns by 2020” in a region where conflicts and their fallout, while underreported in the international media, have been wide-ranging, severe, and increasing in intensity and cost. More than 20,000 Africans were killed in violent conflicts in 2020, an almost tenfold increase from a decade ago. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where several millions have been killed in violent conflicts over the past decades, more than 2,400 were victims of war in 2020 alone.

Unable to stem the increasing rate of high-intensity conflicts and conflict-related deaths in Africa, the continent’s leaders extended the deadline for peace by another decade, shifting the goal posts toward “Silencing the Guns by 2030.” However, meeting this new deadline remains a challenge unless the region vigorously adopts a continental approach to security promotion that strengthens ownership of both national security and the development agenda for lasting peace and prosperity.

The securitization of development—the subordination of growth and development objectives to security priorities—has failed to deliver security and has only ever undermined development. As I argue in my recent paper, “Dawn of a second Cold War and the ‘scramble for Africa,’” outsourcing domestic security has failed to bring peace and instead enabled foreign powers to meddle in domestic insurgencies and prolong conflicts. These undermine regional integration and economic development, as is apparent today in Libya and Mali, which have been theaters of war for more than a decade.


Recently, the dramatic increase in high-intensity conflicts and conflict-related deaths in the region has coincided with the expansion of transnational terrorist networks, which have been sustained by a glut of itinerant foreign fighters and the proliferation of foreign military bases amid geopolitical realignments and rising tensions. Even though the Ukraine crisis has reinvigorated the East-West tensions that defined the latter half of the previous century, new geopolitical alliances are emerging shaped by the triangulation that dominated the first Cold War.

That geopolitical realignment has been in full swing in Africa where proxy wars are raging—including in Ethiopia, which hosts the African Union’s headquarters—as competing powers vie for control of natural resources and strategic trade routes. This butting of heads between superpowers has set the world on the path toward a new Cold War, and Africa has again emerged as an arena in which to exercise their rivalries.

Across all continents, Africa now has the largest number of foreign countries carrying out military operations on its soil—no fewer than 13, of which most have several military bases spread throughout the region. Per the most recent official estimates, Africa is home to at least 47 foreign outposts, with the U.S. controlling the largest share, followed by former colonial power France. Both China and Japan elected to establish their first overseas military bases since the Second World War in Djibouti, which happens to be the only country in the world to host both American and Chinese outposts.


The scars of the first Cold War—which claimed millions of African lives and undermined both regional integration and economic development, with conflicts reducing economic growth in affected countries by about 2.5 percent on average—are still fresh, and the region cannot possibly afford to fall prey to a second.

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