Since the Transatlantic War, the world has seen the rise of bipolarity. The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union flared up following the end of the Transatlantic War and escalated. The term “bipolarity” refers to a global order in which the bulk of economic, military, and cultural power is shared between two superpowers. The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union is often seen as the prototypical example of a bipolar world that dominated the latter part of the 20th century.
During these five decades, states had to make concessions to be on either side based on their national interests and ideological beliefs. Due to the creation of the bipolar world system, the global south, notably Africa, was severely harmed. Clearly, this led to the US and the Soviet Union taking charge of the Western and Eastern alliances, respectively.
African nations were sturdily split over this global storm, and governments were only able to take sides if they joined one side or the other. Undoubtedly, the majority of African countries were members of the Non-Aligned Movement. During this time, however, countries that were members of the Non-Aligned Movement also joined the Western or Eastern Bloc.
A unipolar international system has evolved spontaneously as a direct result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which gave the US unparalleled military superiority. In a nutshell, the “unipolar moment” refers to the US’s ascent as the world’s lone superpower following the end of the Cold War. As the Soviet Union and communist institutions in Eastern Europe collapsed, so did the last vestiges of the cold war.
What does it mean for the African continent that the world has moved from a history of bipolarity to a history of unipolarity and now faces a history of multipolarity that has never been seen before? One indicator of the possible emergence of a multipolar world is the diversification of economic cycles and financial market trends away from the US. That, to put it another way, spells the end of political and economic dominance centered on the US.
It is essential to realize that a multipolar world existed before the emergence of a unipolar phenomenon, but one that was very different from the current global order. The ascent of China on the economic front is a realization of the reemergence of a multipolar world order. The growth of India’s economy and Russia’s resurgence with its neighbors or former Soviet Union republics have both shown and ensured that the world will once again be made up of more than one power.
Since 2010, when the BRICS nations first emerged, there has been a growing chorus of voices questioning the US’ long-held monopoly on global power. Conspicuous behavior in the UN Security Council and other forums has been interpreted as evidence of an impending shift in the worldwide balance of power.
On the other hand, multiple powers can coexist in the international system. And there can be collective security, more regionalization, international trade, and other conflicts that can be settled through negotiations rather than unilateral manipulation or dominance. These developments all point to the formation of different alliances.
My main worry is how the African continent as a whole will either become economically, politically, and militarily independent or will continue to be subordinate to other global powers. The most crucial part of such an evaluation is how to alter the perception of Africa around the globe. The essential characteristic of such an evaluation is how to alter the perception of Africa around the world.
Africa has been classified as a continent plagued by conflict, starvation, corruption, and political corruption. What will it take to alter these facts and transform Africa into a powerful, capable, and independent force across all frontiers?
Postcolonial Africa has attempted to march to the beat of its own drum while being manipulated by other foreign powers. However, the question remains unresolved as to how Africa might play a crucial role in realizing the task of finding itself in a multipolar world. In what ways might this be altered? It’s common to see Africa portrayed as a geopolitical actor rather than a decisive power.
Despite the continent’s continued absence as a military superpower, it is now abundantly apparent that Africa is undergoing profound political and economic transformations. So, how could continental organizations like the AU and others help Africa reach its full potential on the world stage?
The ascendancy of multipolar resurgent powers and the decline of unipolarity
One way to explain the complexity of the international system is to say that it consists of interconnected social, political, technological, and military systems. The evaluation of this dynamic structure is extremely challenging, and attempting to forecast its future outcomes is even more challenging. Even though we still don’t know who has soft power or other important things, the balance of power has changed from a unipolar to a multipolar world order.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc, the US has been the sole global hegemon, which has led to the unipolar system’s gradual but steady demise. On the other hand, because of the global financial crisis in 2008, its hegemonic position in the world has been weakened, and the power gap between China and the US is narrowing. And during the following decade, the economic gap between these two countries and the other great powers will widen much further.
Taking into account the global power structure, would the advent of multipolarity have any effect on the African continent? Or will Africa simply adopt whoever emerges? Do new players allow Africa to dance to its own beat, particularly the former colonizers? What are the thoughts of the Chinese, Americans, and Europeans? In their self-interest, do they intend to divide African states, or would they prefer an equal partner? Similarly, is Africa planning to complete its assignments, stay a critical observer, or become an active participant?
A thought experiment: imagining Africa’s agency in a multipolar world
Which nation or continent does not seek to have a bilateral relationship with Africa? We have seen that every year there are summits between African nations and the US, Russia, India, Turkey, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. It is feasible that we will soon observe African summits. These gatherings demonstrate a rising desire to bring Africa into the ranks of the world’s burgeoning and developed markets. The issue is whether Africa gives up its leverage or goes with the flow.
For a very long time, the continent of Africa was seen through the lens of an anomaly. That may be the case, or more investigation is required; nonetheless, a newer narrative is emerging over time to highlight Africa as a young, dynamic continent with investment opportunities. The emerging markets have yet to deliver much-needed economic vigor, so it’s hard to take them at face value during this period of sluggish global growth. The world’s multipolarity has proven to be a rich and varied source of power and opportunity.
With its billion people, booming youth population, and burgeoning middle class, Africa can do nothing but good. Along the way, there will be some problems to solve. Some of these problems, like a lack of good infrastructure, could be seen as investment opportunities.
At this juncture in history, the globe requires fresh and varied avenues of economic expansion. In order to advance an organization one step further, political leadership is necessary. The world requires fresh, diverse sources of growth at this time. What is needed is a political agency with awakened leadership in order to proceed.
African states are taking their development agendas more seriously and into their own hands than ever before, which is encouraging. External actors can either help or hinder these processes; however, no one can stop the desire and pragmatic engagement. In a multipolar world, Africa has more options because there are more parties and ways to reach these goals. This could make Africa more independent.
Africa’s nations are rapidly adopting a more forceful positioning for themselves and their aims, both within the continent and in relation to the rest of the world. Relations with Africa are surprisingly flexible, dynamic, and strong in spite of the challenges and criticisms they face, which go against what most people think.
In fact, there are some discouraging obstacles; it would appear that the strategies put in place to address the problems of persistent underdevelopment and poverty have been mainly ineffective. On the other hand, this dynamic is gradually shifting due to the emergence of so-called “new” actors onto the international scene.
In a multipolar world, the equation for multilateralism is challenging. While pursuing a win-win strategy, Africa must also address the legacy of colonialism in its foreign policy. It is not surprising that the values, ideas, and alliances established through coalitions like the Non-Aligned Movement still play a prominent role in the political landscapes of contemporary Africa, given the lingering effects of colonization. Therefore, it is essential to consider options outside of the status quo when considering geopolitics.
In conclusion, the rise of a multipolar world has had an effect on the manner in which African politicians have been treating issues pertaining to both Africa and the rest of the globe. Africa’s future and role in the global world order will remain very weak and full of problems unless it drastically changes its direction in many ways.
Most significantly, it has been working on rebranding its institutions and altering its leadership paradigm on a national, regional, and continental scale. It will be difficult for Africa to have an influential or even audible say in the global order, and that is a fact that cannot be denied.
African “governance and political systems” need to undergo radical transformations in the areas of continental unification and intra- and inter-African unity. Africa desperately needs a unified ideological agenda for advancement that takes into account the continent’s riches and the progress of its people. The continent of Africa can now stand together and be strong, on equal footing with the rest of the world, and have its voice heard. However, Africa’s voice is not currently being taken seriously inside the international system.
Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC); Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg.