My mother attended St. John’s College, Oxford. She had an aunt who joined a Catholic religious order called the Passionists who specialized in education. Her order built St. Joseph’s College in Kgali Botswana. I attended her funeral during the Soweto Uprising and found myself listening to my mother speak of Mapungubwe (pronounced Mak-cuum-good-way), located just outside the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe. It was the source for the raw materials that fueled the Renaissance. Even today, the main route of migration in East Africa remains a north-south axis into the Arabian peninsula and Levant. Mom spoke of the work performed by Gertrude Caton Thompson, a despised, yet world renowned female archeologist who correctly discovered that the region was not discovered by Boers but by ancient Bantu speaking Africans that migrated there from west central Africa.
Today, the race linking the African continent to Asia is on, and this time it isn’t the monarchies of Europe seeding the rivalry but Beijing and New Delhi. This is an old game, and it is worthy of our best efforts. Sadly, Washington’s political class isn’t paying attention.
The modern gateway to contemporary Africa isn’t the Egyptian Nile but Addis Abbas’s airport in Ethiopia. It is the African Horn and its access to bases and ports linking the African interior to China and India. The African political economy isn’t contained to its littoral regions anymore; its trade axis spills out moving East to Kenya, Mozambique pushing north. The ancient Indo-African trade ports of Zanzibar and Mombosa are open again for business.
Africa now hosts thousands of Chinese infantry in Mali, South Sudan and the African Horn. Chinese flagged vessels now dominate the Gulf of Aden. Beijing’s strategy here is called “string of pearls” strategy, it seeks secure ports of entry and transport for raw materials into China. Fearing encirclement, Beijing has sought to double down on its investment abroad. Africa today is playing out an agenda that harbored medieval Islamic foreign policy, the very albatross that goaded western Christian monarchies to search for a western route to Asia. It all began in Africa.
Deeply suspicious of Beijing’s strategic intensions, New Delhi has leased land in Djibouti installing naval radar linking 32 surveillance posts throughout the Indian ocean to Seychelles, Madagascar and the Mauritius. Immediately north of Madagascar is Assumption Island, New Delhi is building a naval and air base there to keep watch of Beijing’s intentions.
The entire cost of East Africa is awash today in Asian money and infrastructure projects.
The very region that used to fill the Arabian and Levant with cheap labor and raw materials is now host to nation states in the ‘near abroad’ whose home is Asia.