December 29, 2023
Weakening Hegemony and Increasing Polarization
By ENDO Mitsugi
The global Indo-Pacific region has been characterized by a thin hegemony and a thin liberal order. These terms refer to “a hierarchical international system with heterogeneous and relatively autonomous constituent parts that interact intensely and often consensually but whose normative preferences need not converge, nor do they mirror those of the dominant power which loosely structures (some of) the system and provides some public goods” (Verhoeven, 2021). These concepts can also be applied when considering the current geopolitical landscape in Africa.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, China’s growing presence in Africa trans-prochas been gaining an increasing amount of attention. Despite the prevalence of the Angolan model of resource development financing, the TEDA cooperation model has also gained traction. The latter model fosters cooperation through trade by establishing special economic zones, as seen with the free trade zone in Djibouti. On a continental scale, there has been observable collaboration in strengthening continental connectivity via the development of transport networks across Africa, tapping into its vast economic market. Additionally, as the 8th Ministerial Meeting of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC8) has demonstrated, efforts to promote people-to-people exchange have also been underway.
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia, which previously maintained tepid relations with African countries, has recently been holding summits to strengthen its ties in various fields such as military affairs, mineral resource development, nuclear facility construction, and media. Notably, efforts are underway to bolster relations with countries characterized by “weak” governments, often employing tactics such as disinformation. In Central Africa and Sudan, the relationship between local governments and military organizations, primarily Wagner, is intensifying. This is also evident in regions such as Sahel and the Horn of Africa, which has been experiencing growing instability. In Sahel countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali, support for governments that emerged from coups d’état has been observed. Moreover, France, which deployed troops as a former colonial power, has been compelled to withdraw its military forces, leading to significant changes in the local state of affairs. This shift has been interpreted as a second wave of “decolonization” (with respect to France).
In response to China’s and Russia’s actions, the United States released a report titled “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa” in August 2022. This report has acknowledged the evolving strategic landscape in Africa and underscored the need to address a situation that could potentially lead to instability in the region, with specific mention of China and Russia. Furthermore, the United States has been reinvigorating its efforts to foster relations with African nations. A testament to this is the U.S.–Africa summit held in December 2022, which is the first meeting of this level since the Obama administration.
The aforementioned global powers’ activities in the region, in conjunction with the former colonial powers’ retreat and the withdrawal of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations, as seen in Mali, suggest that no country in Africa can currently assert a clear “hegemony.” This lack of a dominant power is evident in the significant division of African votes during the UN General Assembly’s adoption of resolutions in response to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. As hegemony in the region continues to weaken, it is anticipated that Africa will exhibit the characteristics of a region where various nations’ interests intersect, leading to highly polarized responses.
Verhoeven, Harry. “Ordering the Global Indian Ocean: The Enduring Condition of Thin Hegemony,” in Verhoeven, Harry, and Anatol Leeven, eds. Beyond Liberal Order: States, Societies and Markets in the Global Indian Ocean (London: Hurst 2021), pp.1-40.
(This is the English translation of an article written by ENDO Mitsugi, Professor of the University of Tokyo, which originally appeared on the e-Forum “Giron-Hyakushutsu” of GFJ on December 21, 2023.)