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Africa Cannot Afford a Second Cold War

For centuries, colonial powers, and then superpowers, viewed Africa exclusively through the prism of their economic, security, and geopolitical interests, undermining income convergence and regional integration. Today, the same mentality, now fueled by US-China tensions, is exacerbating insecurity across the continent.

CAIRO – More than 20,000 Africans were killed in violent conflicts in 2020, an almost tenfold increase from a decade ago. Concurrently, and perhaps not coincidentally, Sino-American rivalry has escalated sharply. A new cold war, this time between the United States and China, along with other regional security threats, could be disastrous for Africa’s economic development and green transition.

The dramatic increase in high-intensity conflicts in Africa has coincided with two major trends: the expansion of transnational terrorist networks, sustained by a glut of itinerant foreign fighters, and the proliferation of foreign military bases amid rising Sino-American geopolitical tensions. This global contest to project power has given rise to proxy conflicts raging across the region – including in Ethiopia, which hosts the headquarters of the African Union – as the US and China vie for control of natural resources and strategic trade routes.

As of 2019, 13 foreign countries were carrying out military operations on African soil – more than in any other region – and most have several bases across the continent. Africa is home to at least 47 foreign outposts, with the US controlling the largest number, followed by France. Both China and Japan established their first overseas military bases since World War II in Djibouti, which is the only country in the world to host both American and Chinese outposts.

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