If you remember your late 19th and early 20th century history you will surely have heard or read about the geo-political phenomenon known as the “Scramble for Africa”, the tumultuous period when the existing and aspirant imperial powers of Europe – the British, French, Belgians, Dutch, Germans and others – competed which each other to annex overseas territories on the so-called “Dark Continent” (while blithely ignoring the wishes of the peoples who inhabited those territories). Of course the principal motivation of the Europeans was one of avarice, violently exploiting faraway lands and populations for the benefit of the respective mother countries, though notions of “national prestige” played their part in establishing atrocity-laden games of one-upmanship across Africa.
Now we seem to be witnessing something of a new scramble, one surpassing the Cold War proxy-rivalries of the old superpowers during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, as China squares off against all-comers to defend its increasing “soft-power” hegemony over a multiplicity of African nations and states. This is a new round of the great game that the terrorist-obsessed United States has been late to join, though as Nick Turse over on TomDispatch makes clear, the country’s efforts to gain some influence are going as characteristically well as the US’ recent misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike the Chinese, who display their supremacy by sponsoring continent-spanning highways and railways, seaports and airports, hospitals and schools, the Americans prefer to reflectively flex their muscles like some second rate pro-wrestler too old and too broken to quit. And, as you may have guessed, it is all going horribly wrong.