Two meetings of African leaders that took place in
the last week of October in towns 1,000 miles apart
point to a reshaping of the continent and the
emergence of a new scramble for regional political
and economic influence.
In Kigali, Rwanda, President Paul Kagame hosted
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Kenya’s Uhuru
Kenyatta to sign off on a Single Customs Territory for
the three countries. President Salva Kiir of South
Sudan was also in attendance and his country is
expected to eventually join the East African
Community and the regional infrastructure projects
at the heart of the new ‘coalition of the willing’ within
Around the same time President Joseph Kabila was
hosting President Jacob Zuma on a state visit to
Kinshasa – the first ever by a South African leader to
the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Both meetings offer a glimpse into the changing
alliances across Africa informed by economic and
political interests, and cemented by cross-border
infrastructure projects. In Kigali the three presidents
tied their countries into a SCT that, in theory, flattens
borders, reduces cargo transit time by 75 per cent
and cuts the cost by half.
In Kinshasa President Zuma and President Kabila
signed a treaty to jointly develop the $80 billion
Grand Inga hydropower project. When complete the
dam will generate 40,000 Megawatts which is more
than two times the amount of power produced by
China’s Three Gorges Dam.
DR Congo currently has an installed capacity of
2,400MW but only produces about half of that due to
ageing and poorly maintained infrastructure; only
about one in 10 of the 70 million Congolese has
access to electricity.
Most of the power produced out of Inga will, however,
be exported – to South Africa, to other countries in
the region, and possibly as far north as Europe.
South Africa has had a partnership framework with
DR Congo in the form of the General Cooperation
Agreement signed in 2004 and has long courted the
country but Pretoria’s newly aggressive foreign policy
stance is likely to have wider implications on
The projection of force under the Zuma
administration began with the successful installation
of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as chairperson of the
African Union and, more recently, with Pretoria’s
deployment of a brigade to the United Nations
Intervention Brigade in eastern DR Congo.
South Africa’s deployment and emergence as
guarantor of peace and investment partner has
turned eastern DR Congo into a theatre of contest
between the Southern African Development
Community and the East African Community.
Tanzania, which has a leg in SADC, has also
contributed troops to the brigade which last week
dislodged M23 rebels who retain sympathies and,
according to a UN panel of experts’ report, support
from Rwanda and Uganda.
African Presidents at a recent ICT meet in Kigali.
Political and ecopnomic realignments are visible
within the continent. FILE
In a speech before the DRC Parliament President
Zuma acknowledged the need for the faltering peace
talks in Kampala and the need for a political
settlement in eastern Congo but he also fired a veiled
warning shot towards the external actors in the
“South Africa remains deeply concerned by the
enduring conflict in eastern Congo, perpetrated by
local and externally supported armed groups on
innocent Congolese civilians,” he said.
‘Enough is enough’
“Enough is enough, the time for peace is now and to
those who would challenge this for their own self-
interests, we stand firm in the message that your
time is now up, lay down your arms, as no longer will
the misery you inflict be tolerated.”
Tanzania’s deployment in eastern DR Congo
alongside South Africa gives the Intervention Brigade
a distinctly SADC hue. In addition, Tanzania’s
announcement last week that it intends to seek new
political and economic alliances with Burundi and DR
Congo can be seen as a potential re-alignment of
Dodoma’s loyalties away from the EAC to SADC.
This is a significant development for at least two
major reasons. First it tears up the rulebook of
regional alliances, which have hitherto been built
around shared colonial history and geography (the
EAC Treaty, for instance, requires member states to
have “geographical proximity” and “inter-
Secondly, it gives added momentum to the
expansion and deepening of regional economic blocs.
An alliance between Tanzania, Burundi and DR Congo
would lead to a bloc of 124 million people. If this
were to align itself with SADC (population 277
million; GDP $650 billion according to World Bank
figures) it would create the largest economic bloc on
the continent and an economy that would, on paper,
be the twentieth biggest in the world.
The EAC is expected to admit South Sudan as early
as late November when the heads of state summit
takes place in Kampala, creating a bloc with a GDP of
just over $100 billion with Tanzania and Burundi
($73.5 billion if the two were to leave).
This is likely to be followed by further expansion
northwards. Sudan, which applied to join EAC before
Juba would be a strong candidate depending on its
relations with South Sudan while Somalia has also
expressed interest but is unlikely to be admitted
until the transitional government attains reasonable
control over the country and its own affairs.
The bigger play, however, would then be for Ethiopia,
which is already involved in the Lamu-South Sudan-
Ethiopia Trade Corridor. A united EAC with South
Sudan (population 156 million; GDP $104 billion) is a
large market to which Ethiopia (population 92
million; GDP $43 billion) can be expected to join as a
A view of the African Union headquarters in Addis
Ababa. Ethiopia is a significant player in African
Without Tanzania and Burundi the EAC’s position
becomes weaker (population drops to 98 million;
GDP to $74 billion) and Ethiopia can then be
expected to try and leverage its size, position, geo-
strategic importance as the home of the African
Union, and its large military to enter as a first among
Ethiopia could press its advantages further by
proposing to join the expanded bloc through an
alliance of EAC and the Inter-Governmental Authority
on Drought and Disease, which also includes
Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan alongside Kenya and
This would expand the new bloc even further but it
would also give Ethiopia a strong negotiating arm
and a dominant position within the bloc.
From a wider perspective, these alignments across
the continent could leave Africa with four distinctive
regional blocs: a South African-led bloc running from
Cape Town to the jungles of DR Congo and the
beaches of Dar es Salaam; an Ethiopian-led East
African bloc that rises from the hills of Rwanda to the
deserts of Sudan; an Egyptian-led Maghreb bloc that
stretches across the top of the continent; and a
Nigerian-led West African bloc that straddles the belt
south of the Sahara and the forests of Central Africa.
This could lead to at least two developments. First is
a deepening of integration within each bloc with
barriers to trade and the movement of goods and
people are eliminated as is happening in the Single
Customs Territory in East Africa.
Secondly, this could then provide a geographical
base from which cross-border and cross-bloc capital,
from the likes of South Africa’s MTN and Stanbic to
Nigeria’s Dangote Group, flows across Africa in
pursuit of profit.
With the emergence of powerful continental capital
houses and investments as well as fewer but larger
and deeply integrated blocs across Africa, the next
step would then be the integration of the blocs
This would not necessarily turn the continent into a
country or a federal political entity – naysayers say
the continent is too diverse, too varied for that.
However it would turn Africa into a more close-knit
continent of a few mega regional blocs brought
together by common economic interest and welded
together by cross-border highways, oil pipelines,
power grids and railway lines.
Some 130 years after Europeans met in Berlin to
carve up Africa a new scramble is underway on the
continent, only this time it is by Africans seeking to
break down the colonial-era boundaries, redraw the
map, and reassemble the continent around common
interests, not the interests of colonial masters or
their legacy. Africans are about colonise Africa.
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