In 2023, global dynamics underwent seismic shifts that profoundly impacted Africa amid escalating great power rivalry.
With ties to both the West and major eastern powers, African nations found themselves walking an increasingly precarious diplomatic tightrope. The year unfolded with a series of events, from Tunisia's migration crackdown, driven by Europe's stringent migration policies, to Serbian media's active promotion of Russian influence in Africa. This year also witnessed the expansion of influential blocs like BRICS and G20, alongside calls for reparations by countries in Africa and the Caribbean. These developments triggered extensive debates, prompting discussions on the strategic path Africa should chart amidst the complexities of competing alliances.
Expansion of BRICS
A significant milestone was the expansion of the BRICS group, originally comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. This expansion welcomed Ethiopia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates into its fold, reflecting a collective effort to champion the interests of the Global South and challenge the prevailing world order dominated by Western powers. While China, Russia, and South Africa supported this expansion, reservations from India and Brazil underscored divergent views within the bloc.
Critics contend that the expansion of BRICS facilitates political cover among members, as some BRICS nations have been accused of offering support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, straining relations with Europe and the US. The group's development finance institution, alternative methods of conducting trade, and the promotion of local currencies also pose a potential threat to the dominance of the dollar. As Russia competes with the West for influence — especially in resource-rich African states — through military cooperation, disinformation campaigns, and oligarch networks, the decision to join and strengthen an alliance that appears to counter Western institutions presents challenging dilemmas.
However, this move towards inclusivity and relevance in the evolving global order held the potential to reshape international dynamics, urging other global institutions to adapt to the changing times.
Serbian media narratives around Russia in Africa
Amid these geopolitical maneuvers, Serbian media emerged as a player in shaping narratives around Russia's influence in Africa. Propagating images of Russia as a sincere friend of African countries, Serbian outlets portrayed a geopolitical triumph over the West on the continent. While some outlets exaggerated Russia's influence, it is essential to note that Russia's trade volume and direct investments in Africa remained relatively low compared to the EU, China, and the US. Despite its involvement in security and arms trade, Russia's overall image on the continent faced scrutiny, with a survey showing that a majority of the population in several African countries believe Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Expansion of G20
Another significant milestone is the African Union's inclusion in the G20 as a permanent member. This represents a significant step towards enhancing the representation and amplifying the voice of the global majority within the G20 bloc. The AU's membership in the G20 provides Africa with a platform to address concerns such as illicit financial flows and climate change, while also shifting its status from a passive receiver to an active contributor in global economic and financial decision-making. While some anticipate positive economic growth and collaboration others express skepticism about the AU's membership, questioning the G20's ability to address Africa's unique challenges.
The geopolitical tightrope extends into Europe's migration policies, which seems at odds with its professed promotion of African development, democracy, and human rights. Nowhere was this clearer in 2023 than the United Kingdom and Tunisia. The UK and Rwanda inked a controversial deal to relocate certain asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda. And, in Tunisia, a collapsing economy and mass migration from sub-Saharan states was met by escalating detention, deportation, and dehumanizing abuse of African migrants by the Tunisian authorities. Behind it lay inherited racist colonial mentalities that saw black populations as disposable. Europe's internal anxiety about African migration paradoxically reinforced oppressive measures.
Constructively easing the humanitarian disaster depends on all sides adopting less reactive postures. Europe must reform its aid, trade, and foreign policies, addressing root causes rather than demonizing migration. Meanwhile, host countries like Tunisia require assistance in building asylum systems that protect migrant rights. This involves expanded legal pathways, humane integration support, and anti-racism efforts to recalibrate public attitudes on immigration. Getting there demands undoing historical grievances and power imbalances preventing joint solutions.
The slavery reparations movement
Another flashpoint where Europe confronts its colonial legacy is the growing pan-African reparations movement. The November Pan-African Conference on Reparations in Accra, Ghana brought delegations from African governments, civil society and diaspora groups issuing a declaration seeking atonement for 400 years of slavery and colonization through formal apologies, debt cancellation, development funds and continuing justice efforts. Countries in the Caribbean, profoundly impacted by the transatlantic slave trade, have long been advocating for reparations.
Overall, the reparations movement signifies a pivotal shift from Western-dominated discourses insisting that Africa “get over” colonialism to Africans forcefully framing the nightmare as unfinished business warranting historical justice. The ongoing dialogue is bringing the need for atonement into the mainstream and fueling debates on systemic change.
As 2023 draws to a close, African nations stand at a compelling inflection point influenced by global realignments, emerging groups similar to the Non-aligned Movement and growing demands for historical redress. Navigating this intricate landscape calls for strategic geopolitical positioning and principled coalition-building. Crucial decisions lie ahead, involving the delicate balance of human rights, immigration policy, asylum norms, trade allegiances, and development financing — each shaping the discourse on the continent's trajectory. Global conditions remain turbulent, but a silver lining is Africans seizing greater authority over their sovereignty and international partnerships. That holds meaningful promise for the future.