There is a new scramble for Africa. Roads, railways and pipelines are being built or envisioned into the interior of central Africa from multiple directions. Africa's geographic tragedy through the ages has been its isolation, which has been among the main causes of its poverty. Despite possessing a long coastline, Africa has relatively few natural deep-water harbors. Its great rivers are generally not navigable from the interior to the various seaboards. The Sahara Desert has acted as a barrier to human contact with the great Eurasian civilizations. Of course, electronic communications in recent decades have worked to dilute such isolation. But these new pathways may promise a further, pivotal leap in terms of connecting Africa to the outer world.
Looking at a map of Africa with these new and projected pathways highlighted, one sees two major networks into the interior -- from southern Africa and from East Africa -- and two minor ones from West Africa and from the Horn of Africa.
Three proposed routes into the interior originate in Angola alone, leading mainly toward the southern edges of the immense forest and jungle of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Angolans, flush with offshore oil wealth and feeling secure enough in their domestic control following a 25-year civil war, are a rare example on the continent of intent and capability to extend their economic reach. They are initiating these plans themselves, and Luanda will pay the Asians for their technical expertise rather than barter for it, as most other African governments would do. The goal is to extract diamonds, copper and other precious commodities, which along the southern edges of the Congo have not been properly mined or explored to their full potential.
South Africa plans a complex network of routes from the Indian Ocean northwest and north into Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, culminating, again, at southern outposts in the Congo. The South Africans are after gold, diamonds, copper and coal. In this sense, the black-dominated African National Congress has the same geopolitical imperative as the former white Afrikaner regime. Mining, which began in the late 1800s in South Africa, created the modern South African state. Indeed, the discovery of gold and diamonds and the blessing of a temperate climate with several natural deep-water harbors set South Africa on a unique geopolitical trajectory, empowering it to become the continent's economic hegemon. The present goal is to reach stranded mineral resources and create a zone of South African economic and political influence throughout southern Africa, with the potential to expand farther north into the continent later.
The envisioned transport and pipeline network along the Indian Ocean in East Africa goes from both the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts westward to Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, and a spur line could run north from the Ugandan capital of Kampala to the South Sudanese capital of Juba. Ethiopia is reinforcing its rail connectivity to the Indian Ocean at Djibouti, and may eventually extend other links to South Sudan and Kenya. In the East African cases, unlike with the Angolans and South Africans, the financing, the impetus and the know-how must come from the Chinese and, to a lesser extent, the Japanese. These Asian countries have a hunger for African copper and cobalt, rare earths and other minerals from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and hydrocarbons from South Sudan.
These are not entirely new networks, given that the Chinese in the 1970s built a railway into the Copperbelt of Zambia and the southern edge of the Congo (and the Germans, British and Portuguese during colonialism built limited rail networks in their respective colonies of Tanganyika, Kenya and Angola). Now the Chinese want to build a deep-water port in Bagamoyo and the Japanese want to do likewise in Dar es Salaam: Both ports are in Tanzania, with new pathways westward into the interior of Central Africa in each case. The Kenyans have been trying to interest the Chinese in building a port and transport links from Lamu on the Kenyan coast northwestward all the way into the oil fields of South Sudan, but so far at least the Chinese have held back from making a serious commitment. Beijing is sensitive to the consequences of empowering South Sudan with a pipeline independent of Sudan, and prefers instead to ensure that Juba and Khartoum remain co-dependent and thus peaceful in their economic conduct, avoiding any additional costs for crude extraction.