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Trade and geopolitics

The drums echoing: Africa’s rising clout in global trade and geopolitics

Published 08 August 2023

For far too long, Africa's capacity to determine its own ascent in the global trading order has been overlooked. But this is changing quickly. Three factors have renewed Africa's clout: a rising contest of Great Power interests in Africa, the growing confidence of Africa’s leaders on the world stage, and the surge in demand for critical minerals crucial to the green revolution.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative has Africa at its heart. The West-dominated Group of Seven countered with a pledge to raise US$600 billion over five years to bolster infrastructure in developing nations, including Africa. The European Union has struck a trade agreement with Kenya. President Joe Biden hosted a summit with African leaders in December and Vice President Kamala Harris followed up with a nine-day visit to Africa in March. This growing interest in the continent did not go unnoticed by African leaders, who are taking advantage of the shift to angle for a larger role in global governance.

Senior Research Fellow Keith Rockwell surveys the confluence of factors spurring Africa's rise as a key player in global trade and geopolitics. While potential gains brought about by Great Power competition and Africa's expanding trade are immense, Rockwell cautioned that challenges remain for Africa to fully leverage on the opportunity. A stronger Africa is one of the few things that the US and China agree on these days, but it could just as well devolve into a 21st-century iteration of the Great Game in which two 19th-century empires, Russian and British, wrought havoc in Central and South Asia as they vied for control over the continent.

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Keith M. Rockwell is a Senior Research Fellow at the Hinrich Foundation. Prior to his retirement in June 2022, Keith served as a Director at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and spokesperson for the organization for more than 25 years. He also is Global Fellow at the Wilson Center.

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