As no nation on earth is truly endowed with an abundance of human and natural resources, the need to look beyond national boundaries to make up for these essential economic wants becomes inevitable. Throughout the history of mankind, nations have struggled among themselves to shore up their internal resources from external sources through military conquest, colonialism and diplomacy.
To ease the pressure among its constituent peoples over the struggle for its meagre internally endowed resources and the excruciating condition of economic wants, Europe would explore other parts of the world for extra sources of convertible resources. Beginning from the 15th Century, European nations navigated the great waters of the earth in search of viable external sources of human and natural resources. Thie search led to the discovery of new lands in America, Africa and Asia Pacific that were explored, expropriated through military conquests and exploited for their rich human and natural resources.
The acquired overseas territories ushered continental Europe into a period of prosperity from increased access to extra sources of human and natural resources. The human resources needed to work on the vast agricultural and mineral resources of the New World that was the Americas, and convert same to enormous wealth for the emergent European powers were sourced from Africa through trans-Atlantic human transhipment.-The advent of the industrial revolution in 18th century Great Britain, the subsequent decline of the Slave Trade under a British-sanctioned abolition and the rise of legitimate trade led to to the colonisation of Africa, the Americas and Asia Pacific regions by European powers. From this period, Africa would emerge the frontline economic playground for European nations. The fierce competition among rival European powers to acquire more territories beyond the coastal areas on the shores of the Atlantic and penetrate deeper into the continent resulted in the ‘Scramble for Africa.’
Following a diplomatic resolution of conflicting territorial interests among European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1885, at the instance of German statesman Otto Von Bismarck, all of continental Africa, except for two pre-existing nations, Ethiopia and Liberia, was shared and possessed as overseas territories for several decades into the second quarter of the 20th Century.
The 19th Century scramble for Africa was not the last. Following flag independence granted most of the new countries in Africa, their fledging economies remained largely dependent on their colonial masters and the expertise of their legacy corporate entities operating in the mostly earth mineral exploitation industries. The end of the Second World War in 1945 and the subsequent partitioning of defeated Germany into East and West in 1961, with the erection of a physical wall across the historic city of Berlin, into two blocs of the victorious but rival allies of the United States (capitalist) and the Soviet Union (communist), would have reverberating economic consequence across the globe. As the world entered a Cold War era, with a sharp polarisation into East (Soviet Communist) bloc and West (US Capitalist) bloc, African countries that just attained flag independence would once more be caught up in the struggle for dominance by rival world powers.
The erection of the Berlin Wall signalled the beginning of the Cold War era with a second scramble for Africa as a direct consequence but this time not for the purpose of direct re-colonisation. The second scramble for Africa would be a race between rivals, Soviet Union and the United States, for politico-economic alliances with African countries that were strategic to the advancement of their national security as well as economic interests.
In the third scramble for Africa, the German city of Berlin would feature as significantly as it did in the first and second. If the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 signalled the beginning of the Cold War era, its fall in 1989 brought it to an end. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany, which was quickly followed by the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, signalled the triumph of capitalism over communism. Thenceforth, the new world order was reshaped along a unipolar power bloc of modern capitalist mercantilism. The concept of modern capitalist mercantilism, which seeks to grow the wealth of nations by the mechanism of an imbalance multilateral trade relationship between the developed and undeveloped world, has triggered a renewed scramble for Africa under the guise of foreign direct investments (FDIs).
Interestingly, Europe and America would not be the major drivers of the third scramble for Africa. The current players on the African turf are the economies of Asia: China, a country that was once humiliated by European powers, Japan, a defeated nation in the Second World War, and India, a former British colony. These nations have learnt from European and American powers the economics of national wealth creation through the mechanism of capitalist mercantilism by strategic geo-political positioning in the fierce race for global resources. This time, the weapon of the conquest of the African continent is not gunboats but public-financed private capital deployed from Beijing, Tokyo and New Delhi. In addition to flooding African markets with manufactured consumer goods through massive exports and a very predatory form of FDI that targets Africa’s most vital mineral resources, these new economic masters of the African continent appropriate large swaths of land and exploit same for the benefits of their fledging industries at home. And when they set up industries in Africa, it is usually for the purpose of manufacturing locally consumed goods mostly paid for by host country’s meagre revenue from rents and royalties of mineral exploration in further depression of balance of trade to the disadvantage of African countries.
This most vicious form of exploitation has pushed African countries deeper into the abyss of underdevelopment, with poverty and mounting debt, while the so-called investor nations phenomenally grow their national wealth in geometric proportions.
Whereas the first and second scrambles for Africa, which resulted in colonialism and neo-colonialism of the continent, were done without consultation of the constituent peoples, this time around the third scramble is being done with the full participation of the African people. Posturing as friends and development partners, Africa’s new economic masters now routinely summon African leaders to such events as Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Tokyo International Conference on African Development and India-Africa Forum Summit. If ancient African rulers were not at the table in 1885 at the Berlin Conference, where their kingdoms were carved up by European colonial masters, their modern-day descendants are present at the table at the different conferences/summits in Beijing, Tokyo and New Delhi, where they willingly exchange their economic sovereignty for aid and loans.
Unfortunately, Nigeria has learnt nothing from its pre-colonial and post-colonial experiences. That Nigeria gleefully heeded the recent summons of Russia, the latest entrant in the race for Africa’s resources and markets, to a Chinese-style Russia-Africa summit in Sotchi is indicative of its failure to appreciate the real economic motives of these so-called development partners in contemporary times. Nominally known as the giant of Africa because of its size and population but in a reality a big for nothing never-do-well country, Nigeria is the crown jewel in the third scramble for Africa. Plagued by acute leadership failure, Nigeria’s considerable mineral deposits and nearly 200 million people are an investor’s delight.
Nigeria is particularly made vulnerable to exploitation by preying external economic scavengers through its inability to evolve a cohesive national agenda for global engagement from a disparate array of conflicting local interests resulting from seemingly irreconcilable internal contradictions along ethno-geographic fault lines. Nigeria lacks a strong economy-oriented and realist foreign policy thrust that allows it access to a larger share of global resources but is strong on the politics of internal resource sharing through zoning and rotation of political leadership positions.
Consequently, Nigeria will continue to be scrambled along with other African countries as they remain at the bottom of the global economic food chain.