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Militarization and Securitization in Africa: The Role of Sino-American Geostrategic Presence

This article is predicated on the argument that the African continent has become a focus of geopolitical and economic attention, especially as a locus of Sino-American rivalry and to some extent cooperation. Accordingly, Sino-American presence in Africa has resulted in: (i) the militarization and securitization of Africa impelled by the war on terrorism and the need to protect vested political and economic interests; (ii) the continent becoming a theater for the interplay of differences between American and Chinese militarization and securitization; and (iii) the inevitable and rare cases of military and security cooperation between the two powers on the continent. The article probes how and why the two powers have militarized and securitized the continent, the activities that constitute militarization and securitization, and prospects for further militarization and securitization in the context of both rivalry and minimal cooperation.

Militarization and Securitization in Africa The Role of Sino-American Geostrategic
Ships carrying Chinese military personnel depart from a port in China on July 11, 2017 heading for the People’s Liberation Army base in Djibouti, Africa. VCG / Getty Images
 

Introduction

Contrary to the popular consensus that Africa is non-geostrategic, it has nonetheless experienced three “scrambles:” the 19th century scramble for colonies that balkanized it into over 50 states, the ideological Cold War rivalry of the immediate post WWII period, and the current rivalry and focus of China and the United States on the continent along with the presence of other great, middle, and emerging powers.1 Indeed, while not as obvious as Sino-American rivalry, other significant powers such as Japan, India, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, among others, are also serious about gaining a strategic foothold on the continent. While the efforts of all of these countries point significantly to Africa’s relevance, the Sino-American rivalry and/or cooperation in Africa, in particular, have greatly contributed to the ongoing militarization and securitization of the continent. These two great powers are perennially competing for geopolitical and economic advantages in Africa, defined in terms of natural resources, markets, investment outlets, and political influence within its varied nation-states.2 While the competition over Africa by the more powerful states is now mostly over economic influence, the U.S.’ need to maintain hegemonic dominance, and China’s efforts to ensure its geo-economic interests, have naturally spurred both countries to protect those interests via a robust military presence on the continent. In addition, in an era of growing religious militancy, piracy, and terrorism, both great powers, China and the U.S., are working to ensure the protection of both their African interests and their national security, either in competition or in cooperation with one another on the continent.

The objective of this analysis is to: (i) examine the relationship between increasing terrorist attacks, internal rebellions against incumbent state regimes, incidents of piracy, and the vastly increased American and Chinese military presence in Africa; (ii) analyze the connection between Sino-American geo-economic interests and the deepening militarization and securitization of the African continent; and (iii) discuss differences in the nature of the American and Chinese militarization and securitization of the continent. In other words, in what ways have the two largest economies of the world militarized and securitized Africa? What activities constitute the militarization and securitization of the continent? And perhaps most importantly, why are the U.S. and China militarizing and securitizing the continent?

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