The year 2016 ended with major geopolitical convulsions characteristic of the birth pangs of a New World Order. We are just in the first few weeks of the year 2017 and we will examine what the year 2017 will bring geopolitically for the balance of global power and possibilities for Africa’s emerging role.
The year 2016 was dominated by the conflict in Syria and the involvement of the Great Powers in the conflict with Russia and China on the side of the Syrian president Assad’s government and the USA on the side of an assorted conglomeration of rebel and Jihadi groups vying to overthrow the Assad government. The proxy war between Russia and the USA reached a critical point with the liberation of the eastern part of Jihadi held Aleppo by Assad forces in December 2016. With this victory in Aleppo, the Assad government with Russian help has now cemented its full control over Syria’s commercial capital and its largest city.
Effectively all of west Syria is under the control of the Assad government with the exception of some Jihadi held enclaves. The defeat of the US supported Jihadi forces in Aleppo and the inability of the US to extricate them from their predicament marked a turning point in the Syrian proxy war and a catastrophic geopolitical defeat for the US with wide implications for the balance of global power. It marks for the first time since the start of the American Century, that a US inspired regime change project starting with Iraq, Egypt and going through Libya was defeated in Syria where Russia and China drew a redline in the sand of Syria, as bore out by their synchronized geopolitical moves in the UN Security Council on the Syria issue and their actions in the military sphere. For the first time ever, a peace conference brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran to attempt to settle the Syria war is going to be held in Astana Kazakhstan early this year 2017. The US which has long seen itself as the arbiter of all global political processes and in particular Middle East processes was not invited to the conference. It marks a serious foreign policy failure of the outgoing Obama regime. More deeply it signals the end of the American century, which started in 1991 but lasted a mere 25 years ending in 2016.
The Syria war battlefield realities of 2016 clearly marks the end of the unipolar world and the reemergence of the classic system of Great Powers which has been the central feature of historical global power politics. From the earliest of historical times, no single power has held unrivalled global power. Kemet (ancient Egypt) was a Great Power in the classic sense and competed in the Afro-Mediterranean world with other Great Powers like the Hittite Empire, Babylonian Empire, Assyrian Empire and the Persian Empire. This system of international power relations continued following the demise of ancient Egypt in Greco-Roman times with Nubia, Greece, Persia, Rome, Parthia or Sassanid Persia vying for power in the Afro-Mediterranean world while further afield, China and Japan competed for geopolitical influence in Asia.
In early modern times, the Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, British, and Russian empires fought for spheres of influence as Great Powers following the military and technological decline of China and the self-imposed isolation of Japan. The emergence of a bipolar world in 1945 out of the debris of the Second World War with Soviet Russia and the USA as the two Super Powers deciding the fate of the world was a historical aberration, which ended after 45 years in 1990/91. The systemic crisis in Soviet Russia following its collapse in 1991 left the US as the sole Superpower. This was again a historical aberration of 25-year duration, which has now according to the unassailable internal logic of history ended with the rapid reemergence of China and Russia again on the global stage. The world is now again moving to the classic structure of global historical power dynamics with a concert of Great Powers and a constellation of regional powers responsible for the maintenance of global peace and security.
As we start the year 2017, the three Great Powers currently in the world are China, Russia and the United States. The constellation of regional powers is Brazil, France, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Turkey and the UK with the qualification that France, Germany and the UK are declining regional powers as manifested in the systemic crisis of the EU project. This leaves room for emergence of other great and regional powers.
The election in 2016 of Donald Trump to the US presidency offers the opportunity in the year 2017 to manage American decline from Super Power status to Great Power status within the emerging new global order peacefully. This is significant as usually a change of the system of global power dynamics is accompanied by war as borne out by history. The Washington elite unable to come to terms with the decline of the US as a Super Power to just another Great Power was expressed in their rabid support for the candidacy of Hillary Clinton who threatened a confrontation with Russia and China, a confrontation which surely would have catastrophically ended American hegemony and possibly sparked a nuclear war with no sane winners.
Despite the misgivings one might have about Donald Trump, he in expressing a desire after starting his presidency in 2017 to negotiate with Russia allows a peaceful shepherding of America from the pedestal of global hegemony and the cult of “Super Powerness” to the level playing field of the concert of Great Powers.
What is Africa’s emerging role in this new alignment of global power? What should African countries and the African Union do in the face of the emerging geopolitical reality? The African Union (AU) is entering 2017 with a GDP in PPP terms of over 7 trillion dollars, roughly equal to the GDP of India. This substantial GDP coupled with the billion plus population of the AU makes the AU the 4th largest economy in the world in PPP terms after China, the USA and India respectively. Collectively, the AU and African countries should use this combined economic clout to develop economic links with the Great Powers of China, Russia and the USA. The emerging system of competing Great Powers gives African countries and the AU the strategic geo-economic maneuvering space to develop economic links which serve the economic and geopolitical self-interest of African countries and the AU.
The year 2017 should be the year when the 7 trillion-dollar African Union economy should move from strategic dependency and the mindset of support from donor and so-called development partners to strategic independence and a mindset of mutually beneficial sovereign economic interactions with the Great Powers. In addition, the AU must diversify its geopolitical matrix by developing strategic interactions in the form of an AU- China and AU-Russia strategic nexus.
The American Century died fittingly at the young age of 25 in 2016. The year 2017 marks the birth of a new multi-polar world and the rise of a system of Great Power politics in the world. African countries and the AU realizing the significance of this historical process should seize this opportunity to reassert economic sovereignty and geopolitical freedom so that the African Union thinking and acting collectively as a civilization can join the ranks of the Great Powers, not necessarily in the classical political form of a supranational state, federation or confederation but more uniquely as a Civilization-State—a new type of state entity emerging in the world, a collection of nation states sharing one African civilizational matrix expressed politically through the integrative process of the African Union and its various body organs.