Three United Nations agencies recently announced that 55 million people face starvation in West Africa and Central Africa, the number quadrupling in the past five years, Al Jazeera reported. Eight of 10 children under 5 are “acutely malnourished” and two in three households cannot afford healthy diets. The agencies blamed “double-digit inflation and stagnant local production” and “recurrent conflicts in the region.”

Another factor not mentioned is the foreign presence on the continent. Russian soldiers arrived at a military base in Niger where American troops are stationed. It was not a confrontation but an indication of what has been happening. Niger earlier told France to withdraw its soldiers; the U.S. will do so also. And Niger recently signed a $300 million crude oil contract — with China.

Africa, as this column previously reported, citing Wikipedia, has 30 percent of the world’s mineral deposits: including chromium, 98 percent; cobalt and platinum, 90 percent; coltan and tantalite, 70 percent; manganese, 64 percent; gold, 40 percent; uranium, 33 percent; diamonds, 30 percent; oil, 12 percent; and natural gas, eight percent.

Guinea is the world’s biggest exporter of bauxite, from which aluminum is made. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has massive deposits of minerals such as coltan, cobalt, zinc, tin, gold and diamonds with a total value of $24 trillion, Al Jazeera reported.

Also, Africa’s land mass of 11.730 million square miles and population of 1.4 billion are the second largest on the planet. More than 50 percent of the people are under 25.

So why are Africans starving and forced to flee their homes? One answer is instability caused by self-inflicted wounds.

Omar Touray, president of the 15nation Economic Community of West Africa — one of the continent’s regional groupings — told the United Nations Security Council last July that, in West

Africa alone, insurgents launched more than 1,800 attacks on security forces in just the first six months of 2023. Nearly 4,600 people died, half a million became refugees and more than six million were internally displaced. Also, 220 coups took place on the continent out of a global total of 492 over the past 50 years.

Another answer is foreign military bases. Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research (ISR) reported on its website that Africa “does not have an unusually large number of foreign military bases” but the U.S. has 29 in 15 countries to defend its interests and “attempt to prevent any serious competition to its control of resources and markets.” That, and fighting its global “war on terror.”

But competition has arrived. Russia “is pitching Moscow as a friendly country with no colonial baggage in the continent,” Reuters reported. China is posing an even bigger threat but is focused on economics and, the ISR reported, Chinese companies “have consistently outbid Western firms.” The U.S. government’s 2019 New Africa Strategy, cited by the ISR, said China and Russia are “rapidly expanding their financial and political influence … deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.”

The U.S. government’s 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, also cited by ISR, said China “has the greatest potential of any nation to militarily compete with the U.S. and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. advantages.” However, China insists that it does not “seek global hegemony.” In 2013 it launched the Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative with a goal of investing in more than 150 countries and international organizations, according to Wikipedia.

The B&R came after a China-Africa Cooperation conference at which 44 African countries established relations with Beijing. Since 2013, the ISR reported, China has invested in almost all African countries, all of which, except for Eswatini – formerly Swaziland – have established diplomatic relations with China, severing ties with U.S.-backed Taiwan.

China also signed Memorandums of Understanding with the African Union (AU), including one within the framework of the AU’s Agenda 2063:

The Africa We Want, adopted in 2015, to provide support for building infrastructure. This, “unlike IMF aid and Western commercial investment and overseas development, does not come with the vice of debilitating conditionalities,” the ISR reported. The U.S has responded not by adopting “a more humane commercial and development aid policy” but by starting “a ‘new cold war’ against China on the African continent.”

It is noteworthy also that African Americans have not been pushing for a change in U.S. policy with the zeal shown towards Cuba and, of course, Israel.

On the domestic front, the continent has been unable to stem the waves of internal unrest. At one of its meetings, the AU’s Peace and Security Council discussed “a range of conflicts” but decided that “the primary responsibility for ensuring effective conflict prevention lies with Member States,” the ISR reported.

Nor has the AU made much progress dealing with the proliferation of foreign bases, a decades-old concern. In 1964, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser called for their removal and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, in his 1965 book, “NeoColonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism” wrote, with remarkable prescience: “Neo-colonialism … seeks to fragment Africa, weaken African states, prevent unity and sovereignty and thereby insert its power to subordinate the aspirations of the continent for Pan-African consolidation.”

The AU has been powerless on this topic mainly because its “dependence on external funding and resources for its operations, including peacekeeping, has limited its freedom to take independent, strategic and tactical decisions in its operations,” the ISR reported. As a result, the AU and its predecessor Organization of African Unity have been unable “to realize the two most important principles of Pan-Africanism: political unity and territorial sovereignty.”

But African initiatives have emerged in other areas, including the AU’s adoption of the First TenYear Implementation Plan (20142023) which was embodied in Agenda 2063. Both focus on “the need to break the reliance on raw material export, better manage the contracts signed with multilateral companies and use the resources earned both from exports to improve the conditions of social life.”

But, the ISR argued, such efforts have failed “to properly harness resources and drive a people-oriented development program” and that has been creating “the social context for both political and military conflicts, including insurgencies that are often refracted along ethnic and religious lines and for the expansion of migration arounds the continent towards Europe.” The conflict and migration “produce the surface-level excuse for countries like the United States and Fance to establish military bases on the continent.”

Indeed, despite the enormous potential wealth, an anonymous activist in the DRC told Al Jazeera that small miners are paid $2 a day by big companies to “go underground like animals” to extract minerals with shovels, pickaxes and bare hands.

In a past era, what foreign powers needed from Africa were its people to enslave as free labor to fuel their early industrialization. Now there is something else which they want that is equally vital to their economic interests: the mineral resources. They are bargaining chips which can be used not only to demand vastly greater economic benefits but also a much more substantial role for the continent in world governance, such as demanding a permanent seat, with veto power, on the United Nations Security Council. That, in turn, will position Africa to help create a new world order to replace the grossly exploitative international financial and political systems which the victors established at the end of the “second world war” more than 78 years ago.

A mechanism already exists: the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which Nasser and Nkrumah, along with Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru and of Indonesia’s Sukarno (sic) launched 63 years ago. Its goal was to be a third rail for smaller nations separate from the Western and Soviet blocs during the “cold war.” The agenda included shifting from North-South to South South relations through initiatives such as a New International Economic Order, including trade by bartering.

The NAM scored a major victory with the 1973 oil embargo that yielded vast new wealth for Arab petroleum producers. Some of that windfall was expected to be used to finance the South-South plan but it was not. Also, intense Western pressure, including portraying the NAM as a Soviet Union front, defanged the movement. But the NAM still exists and has 120 member-nations, including all African countries except South Sudan.

But that is for the future. For now, African leaders would do well to heed a 1854 remark usually attributed to the French philosopher Charles Baudelaire: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”