written by Rose and Karenine

The “Scramble for Africa” Conference on November 15th, 1884, set the stage for effective occupation. Similar to these colonial echoes, last week, Europe convened a conference with the purported goal of “finding ways of developing Africa”. The selection of the venue, timing, and Africa’s representation by this year’s event organizers, carries historical connotations that are offensive. 

Almost 200 years later, but less than a 10-minute drive away, the German capital city again proudly claims its place for Western actors to discuss economic visions for Africa. On November 20th, 2023, the fifth meeting of the Compact with Africa (CwA) conference took place in Berlin, bolstering Europe’s continued conquest of the African continent, in a new language. What are Europe’s ‘plans’ for Africa today?  Nothing: Africa remains a source for raw materials and power production, such as gas, and oil deposits, and a place for renewable energies to materialize– for the Global North. Once again, Africa becomes an arena for them to compete over. German federal chancellor Olaf Scholz seeks to “diversify foreign trade relations” and create growth. Evidently, these discussions operate within the Western capitalist discourse, where Europeans have the goal to “maximize the potential of the African continent”.  Politicians claim that the era of development aid is over and that these investments profit both sides. Are we confusing equality and equity once again? 

Clearly, green colonialism conceals relations where community lands are expropriated to generate profits for investors which “sustains the status quo of resource exploitation, greenhouse gas pollution, and North/South power imbalances”. In addition to this, a discourse that stresses sustainability by greening capitalism would rather find new ways of using technology for capitalist expansion, rather than question the processes of labor and extractivism. This fails to recognize that the deteriorating state of our environment, which is a cause of what they term ‘irregular’ migration, is the outcome of a system that must answer to endless accumulation. 

The CwA initiative unites members of the G20 summit, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and has the aim of improving economic conditions by amplifying private investment in African countries. Is history repeating itself? While the “Scramble for Africa”, in which European colonizers divided the African continent into colonial spheres of influence, excluded representatives from Africa, at least today’s framework includes 13 African countries. With skepticism, we view how only a select few African countries that are considered “well governed” fall into the category of the CwA (these are: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia). Representatives from Angola, Kenya, and Zambia attended the conference and are interested in being admitted as members. Effectively, we see the exclusion of African perspectives, since countries that are predominantly rural, have a “weaker” infrastructure or are in crisis, are left out of this discussion. 

This eerie parallel raises the question of historical continuities. The initiative’s vision stresses partnership over extractivism, but what about the political setting and its goals have changed? What does the CwA entail? As Patrick Gathara, a Kenyan veteran journalist and editor, puts it: “That first-ever international conference on Africa established a template for how the world deals with the continent. Today, Africa is still seen primarily as a source for raw materials for the outside world and an arena for them to compete over. Conferences about the continent are rarely held on the continent itself and rarely care about the views of ordinary Africans”. 

Undoubtedly,  the CwA as a process is guided by G20 capitalist exploiters. Now, more than ever, the topic of migration sparks discussions around “managing” new flows of “irregular” refugees– without recognizing the link between racial injustice and climate justice. With a critical view, we observe the dynamic of paternalism in which African countries take on the role of recipients of beneficial and benevolent initiatives, which, in reality, are limited to small private investments and are ordered within a fragmented investment framework that often creates more debt. German politicians make claims about their visions for the future, but private investments do not create large new infrastructural projects in African countries, which are indispensable in order to generate new jobs. As we can see with other countries such as China, which has practiced its “debt-trap diplomacy” before, these relations take away the economic independence and self-determination of these African countries. German politicians criticize China’s policies in African countries –which cause economic hardships, lead to the realization of projects but do not ensure their preservation, and only exploit raw materials instead of promoting their further processing locally’– thereby demarcating their approach and underlining their vision of real partnership. Geopolitics are at play. 

Why does Berlin, once again, become the space for discussing the sustainable development of African countries? Do we have any historical sensibility?