A New Scramble for Africa?: Imperialism, Investment and Development
Roger Southall and Henning Melber, eds.
(South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2009), 440p.

Reviewed by Ioannis Mantzikos, Researcher, University of Peloponnese

There is an ongoing debate about the extent to which the recent era of greater growth and investment in Africa represents the inauguration of a new and significant phase in the continent’s historical trajectory. The degree to which this intense interest from outside the continent is altering African nations and citizens is a crucial aspect of this debate. A New Scramble for Africa, an edited volume by Roger Southall and Henning Melber, offers perspectives that bring us closer to answering questions such as this.

The volume unfolds in three parts. It focuses on continuities and discontinuities with formal imperialism, while outlining the principal features of the rush for Africa’s resources and the global dynamics that lie behind it. Building on that idea, it seeks to answer the question of whether external involvements replicate aspects of imperialism or whether they are qualitatively different. To that end, it concentrates on the changing international dynamics that appeared with the arrival of China in Africa and to a lesser extent India, Brazil, the U.S. and other Western countries. All are viewed as embodying both economic cost and opportunity for Africa, as well as presenting major challenges to good governance, the environment and military security.

For their part, the editors of the book endorse the notion that the modern upsurge of investment and extended activity in Africa is analogous to historical processes that witnessed widespread imperial exploitation. To them, the only difference is that Africa now is being subject to a historically distinct round of imperialist engagement.

The contributors bring a variety of backgrounds—from political scientists to anthropologists to researchers—to the fifteen case study chapters and adopt variant perspectives that range from enthusiastic endorsements of the idea of a new scramble to those who either explicitly or implicitly challenge it. By choosing the case study method, from India to South Africa and Brazil—as well as theoretical body of analysis culminated into the book’s major theme—the volume attempts to capture broader trends regarding major power involvement to Africa.

One of the most interesting contributions to the volume is Margaret Lee’s assessment wherein, like Henning Melber, she argues that the present situation is one of “old wine into new bottles.” In other words, she stipulates that the continuities of imperialism underlying the present situation outweigh claims to a new historical direction. She provides an overview of the different action plans and programmes of the European Union (EU) in Africa arguing that these are attempts to repartition the continent and economically re-colonize it.

Other important contributions include that of Sanusha Naidu which concentrates on India’s engagements in Africa, and that of John Daniel and Mpume Bhengu who argue that in economic, if not in strategic terms, South Africa is an equal player to China.

One of the volume’s weaknesses is that it raises many more questions that it could possibly answer. Moreover, the volume’s focus is upon Sub-Saharan Africa despite the fact that oil extraction and the U.S. led war on terror are linked interdependently on the continent thus requiring coverage of the North African landscape.

While too specific and too academic in tone to be useful on the introductory level, the book’s richness, balance and consistency make it a worthwhile addition to any college library, and a useful supplemental text for courses on Africa, political development and major power involvement in Africa.