Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Major Power Rivalry in Africa

By Michelle Gavin, Council on Foreign Relations

Competition for influence on the African continent is an undeniable geopolitical reality. The Donald Trump administration’s emphasis on countering China and Russia on the continent raised concerns about unwelcome echoes of the Cold War era, when the United States often treated African states as pawns or prizes rather than partners. But a desire to avoid the mistakes of the past does not negate the need to grapple with the motivations and consequences of other powers’ Africa agendas.

The Joe Biden administration, and all major powers, face the same facts: by 2050, a quarter of the world’s population will be African and the continent’s youthful and growing labor force—the largest in the world by that point—will stand in stark contrast to the aging populations of other regions. That human capital will increasingly become the most important feature of Africa’s global profile, although Africa’s natural resources, including cobalt and other rare earth metals critical to humanity’s technology-driven future, will also remain relevant. No entity aiming to influence global affairs in the decades to come can afford a passive Africa strategy.

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