The Chinese-Indian New Cold War – East Africa

This is the fifth part of The Chinese-Indian New Cold War series from Andrew Korybko, looking at the region of Southeast and South Asia. Please read the previously published sections for better understanding.


The last of the three geographic regions to be examined in the context of the Chinese-Indian New Cold War is East Africa, which usually escapes most observers’ attention. East Africa, meaning the entire eastern section of the African continent and not just the East African Community (EAC), is probably one of the most important areas of the world right now and will continue acquiring even more strategic significance with each passing year of this century. The reason why Africa itself is a big deal is because China needs access to new markets in order to offload its overproduction, which was explained in the introductory section.

Unlike the stereotypes which pervaded across the past two decades, China isn’t solely interested in African resources anymore, but is more concerned with giving regional partners’ the capability to build sustainable economies, which could become reliable consumers of Chinese products. In addition, China also wants to offshore some of its own domestic production to Africa, where wages are much lower and will probably remain so for the coming years. All in all, it is absolutely imperative that China acquires reliable access to the burgeoning African marketplaces in order to maintain its own domestic growth, which is why the overall naval activity in the Indian Ocean Region will correspondingly increase to the point where this body of water becomes just as, if not more, significant as the Pacific presently is.

China, as the leading economic engine of the tellurocratic multipolar Eurasian powers, is compelled to improve its naval capabilities in order to secure its sea lines of communication (SLOC). Their success will have game-changing implications for the rest of its continental allies in their world-changing quest to equalize international relations. Therefore, it’s the chief objective of the thalassocratic, unipolar Atlanticist powers – led by the US, India, and Japan in the case of the Indian Ocean Region and Greater South Asia – to thwart this from happening, both in the sense of obstructing, or entering into a position to potentially obstruct, China’s SLOC, and also decreasing the effectiveness of its African New Silk Road outreach efforts through Hybrid War, and unveiling competitive projects.

It will be further explained in this section, how China is pursuing a complex series of interconnected Silk Roads all along the East African coast, including the long-term possibility of cross-continental connectivity with the Atlantic coast. Furthermore, the Indo-Japanese Axis’ plans will be proven to be nothing more than a clever piggybacking strategy capitalizing off Chinese infrastructure gains in the central coastal corridor of Kenya-Tanzania-Mozambique. The concluding analysis will elaborate on how the US will probably target Ethiopia and Central African countries, while probably leaving the mid-East African ones largely untouched, or at least their coastal regions so long as China’s strategic depth is countered in the interior and the Indo-Japanese Axis can still profit off of Beijing’s existing projects.

Cartographic Analysis

The eastern portion of the African continent contains a multitude of Chinese-funded connectivity projects, though as of late-May 2017, no similarly ambitious Indo-Japanese ones have been announced:


Officially proclaimed or already completed connectivity projects which China is building and/or funding in Africa are in red, while prospective or tentative ones are in green. In some cases, a few of the “green” projects have already received some mild Chinese assistance (such as rail or road modernization, or promises of funding), but they’re still categorized as they are in order to more clearly demonstrate Beijing’s East-West connectivity vision and emphasize how the center of China’s New Silk Road gravity in Africa runs all across the Indian Ocean coast.





Starting with the official “red” projects and going from north to south, these are:

Djibouti-Addis Ababa Railway

Finished at the end of last year, this is the largest connectivity project that China has completed thus far in Africa, connecting the continent’s second-largest country and one of its most promising and fastest-growing economies to the Red Sea, which finally alleviates Ethiopia of its post-Cold War (post-Eritrean) landlocked challenge.

LAPSSET Corridor

Officially, the Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Corridor (LAPSSET) begins in the northeastern Kenyan port of Lamu and aims to connect the EAC country with its landlocked and much larger Ethiopian neighbor to the north, as well as energy-rich fellow organizational partner South Sudan.

Standard Gauge Railway (SGR)

The SGR begins in the primary Kenyan port of Mombasa and passes through the capital of Nairobi on the way to Uganda, from where it plans to branch out to the South Sudanese capital of Juba, the northeastern Congolese riparian city of Kisangani, and Rwanda, though Kampala has noticeably cooled to this project over the past year, making SGR’s transnational future uncertain at this moment.

Central Corridor

Essentially, Tanzania’s version of the SGR, the Central Corridor cuts through the length of the country to  connect its westernmost extremities with the Indian Ocean and the global (Indo-Pacific) economy at large, with tentative plans being considered for involving Rwanda, Burundi, and even Uganda in this initiative.


Built in the 1970s and representing China’s first New Silk Road connectivity investment in the modern era, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway reaches into the latter South-Central African copper-rich country and forms the basis for the most feasible future cross-continental project which will be touched upon shortly.

Nacala Development Corridor

One of China’s latest projects is a push to connect landlocked Zambia and Malawi with neighboring Mozambique’s northeastern port of Nacala, strategically positioned near the country’s enormous Ravuma Basin offshore gas reserves.

Ponta Techobanine Railway

The last major Chinese-involved project is a plan to build a railway from the mines of eastern Botswana through southern Zimbabwe and eventually to the Mozambican capital port of Maputo, which will eventually make both landlocked countries less dependent on South Africa and its infrastructure for economic engagement with the outside world.

The map also shows China’s future Silk Road plans, relying both on previously identified projects and the author’s own prognoses, to demonstrate how Beijing has the potential for connecting the entire length of the continent and historically linking each of its coastal regions with overland transport routes.

From north to south, these are:

The Saharan-Sahelian Silk Road

The author wrote more extensively about this ambitious possibility in a February article which also included a custom map detailing how multiple stand-alone projects could be integrated together in ultimately connecting the Atlantic port of Dakar with its Red Sea counterpart of Djibouti, relying heavily on the West African Rail Loop, Cameroon-Chad-Sudan (CCS) Silk Road ,and several Nigerian projects to achieve this.

Cameroonian-Kenyan Silk Road

This route has the potential to be one of the most efficient cross-continental passages in a theoretical-geographical sense, but it probably won’t see any progress whatsoever for the indefinite future owing to its dependence on the (now-)Failed State Belt of South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Congolese-Kenyan Silk Road

Although still risky in the geostrategic sense, owing to the very real Hybrid War scenario which has expectedly unfolded in the Congo over the past year, the SGR could become an intermodal gateway to the Atlantic, if it uses Congolese River barges to reach the country’s capital of Kinshasa, and thenceforth, utilizes rail routes either from there to the Atlantic port of Matadi, or from its sister capital city of Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo onwards to coastal city of Pointe Noire.

South-Central African Silk Road

This route envisions linking Angola’s recently modernized Benguela Railway with TAZARA, the Nacala Corridor through refurbished Congolese rail lines, and the to-be-constructed Northwest Railway in Zambia in order to spearhead the most viable cross-continental Silk Road. Most of it is already in place and there are minimal Hybrid War scenarios to offset it.

Ethiopian-South African Silk Road

Provided that several interconnectors can be built and the Chinese-backed African Renaissance Pipeline in Mozambique develops a parallel economic corridor alongside its route, it’s technically possible for the enormous economies and rising continental powers of Ethiopia and South Africa to be directly connected with one another by means of Beijing’s New Silk Roads stretching across the North-South length of the Tripartite Free Trade area, which could also broaden to incorporate Egypt if Cairo makes use of the maritime portion of OBOR to link up with the Djibouti-Addis Ababa Railroad.

Unipolar Countermeasures

The Indo-Japanese Axis recognizes the strategic economic significance that Africa holds for China, and that these two Great Powers also need pragmatic cooperation with the continent for the very same reasons.

Because China is so far ahead of both of them in spearheading all types of African connectivity projects, there’s very little that they can do to uniquely carve out their own niches, aside from helping to construct some of the interconnectors touched upon in the above description for the Ethiopian-South African Silk Road. Even this, however, is woefully insufficient for either to compete with China, which is why a completely different strategy has been unveiled for Africa. Instead of trying to undermine China’s many projects or actively build their own competitive routes, the Indo-Japanese Axis will instead seek to piggyback off Beijing’s successes to employ the same economic corridors that China’s constructing.

It might seem odd at first thought, but there’s technically nothing preventing any third-party from utilizing China’s Silk Roads, and the truth of the matter is that China exuberantly encourages this in order to strengthen the economic capabilities of its partners; thereby make them better marketplaces for Chinese exports and outsourcing. China is comfortable enough with its own economic competitiveness to not fret too much about India and/or Japan displacing it from the region, especially once its multiple New Silk Roads are completed, its two rivals can, and will, end up using them to boost their own regional profiles. New Delhi and Tokyo’s joint engagement in East Africa won’t be haphazard, since they plan to focus mostly on the “Kenya-Tanzania-Mozambique growth zone” (KTM), which as can be seen from the earlier map, is positioned right in the center of the Ethiopian/Egyptian-South African Silk Road.

Another factor behind why these three countries were chosen as the areas of joint Indian-Japanese strategic concentration is that each of them are already trading a lot with New Delhi, and it’s expected that Tokyo’s physical and capital involvement with give the Axis the necessary boost to beat out China. India’s impressive trade with KTM was already occurring even before most of China’s Silk Road projects are completed in each of the examined states, so it’s predicted that this dynamic will only strengthen as more of these countries’ territories become accessible to the global (Indo-Pacific) marketplace. Furthermore, the Axis could make asymmetrical moves in building more bases in the Seychelles (the larger orange half-circle on the far-right side of the map) or making efforts to connect with the Comoros (the tiny orange circle off the Mozambican coast). India already has a military base in the Seychelles, the much more geostrategically important of the two island nations, and the US drone facility there could also host Japanese “anti-piracy” assets such as the ones that Tokyo has already deployed to Djibouti.

On the topic of Djibouti, it’s important to stress that this country already hosts multiple military bases, whether it’s the aforementioned Japanese one, American, French, Chinese, and even forthcoming Saudi facilities, so it shouldn’t be seen as an entirely pro-Beijing state in spite of the game-changing railway to Ethiopia. Nevertheless, each of the country’s military partners has a significant stake to allow anyone to destabilize the situation in this tiny state, and potentially risk losing their presence in this important location afterwards; thus, it’s unlikely that the Djibouti-Addis Ababa Railroad would be undermined at this terminal location. At the same time, however, the presence of so many unipolar military forces in this country, specifically the US and Japan, means that China’s chief strategic adversaries can monitor its activity, and in principle, retain some sort of influence over the route. The same can said for the Indo-Japanese Axis’ plans regarding Kenya, which forms part of the KTM growth zone, since this could eventually give them sway over China’s southern LAPSSET access route to the landlocked Ethiopian giant.

Taken together, a clear strategy is beginning to take shape with respect to the Indo-Japanese Axis’ countermeasures against China in East Africa.

The first phase is that they plan to ‘piggyback’ off of its infrastructure projects, capitalizing on the fact that they’re open to all parties (though accepting that Chinese and host country companies would obviously have preferential treatment). This engagement will be concentrated in the KTM growth zone centrally positioned between Egypt and South Africa, and thereby allowing the Axis to influence and easily partake in any potential cross-continental North-South Silk Road route along the Tripartite Free Trade area which takes up most of the continent.

The second phase of competitive engagement in this region is to focus on Japan and India’s military and surveillance capabilities in Djibouti and the Seychelles respectively, as well as joining together to make some sort of power play in Kenya. Altogether, the two first-mentioned locations give the Indo-Japanese Axis important standing along the East African SLOCs, while the last prospective one in Kenya augments the existing Japanese presence in Djibouti to exert a degree of control over both of China’s access routes to its pivotal strategic-economic partner Ethiopia.

Destabilization Scenarios

Just because the Indo-Japanese Axis doesn’t have anything to gain from destabilizing China’s East African plans shouldn’t be taken to mean that its Lead From Behind American overseer wouldn’t have anything to gain from this.

The American strategic perspective that it’s beneficial for China to finance and construct infrastructure projects that its Indo-Japanese allies could easily ‘piggyback’ off afterwards, but that there should be a certain geographic limit to New Silk Road connectivity so that it doesn’t get too out of hand and lend China the competitive advantage that it needs to sustain the creation of the emerging Multipolar World Order. What this translates to is the US probably won’t interfere with infrastructure projects of indirect shared interests such as in the KTM growth zone, but that it wouldn’t hesitate to unleash Hybrid War against the other initiatives where its Indo-Japanese allies don’t have any vested designs such as Ethiopia and the Central African countries.

The US wants to ensure that China fails in its quest to reliably extract the continental hinterland’s natural resources and pioneer the first-ever cross-continental access routes, yet, simultaneously doesn’t want to make all of China’s New Silk Road projects unviable because India and Japan should be able to piggyback off them, which places the US in a quandary.

The dynamics of Hybrid War, especially in the identity-diverse continent of Africa, are that it’s almost impossible to wield controlled/managed chaos, and even what might seemingly appear to be a localized and contained, conflict could quickly spiral into a regional war, just like Rwanda’s ethnic clashes eventually gave way to the two civil wars in the Congo ultimately killed over 5 million people.

The US would willingly risk the adverse blowback that limited Hybrid Wars in Ethiopia, the Central African countries, and perhaps even the interior/peripheral parts of the KTM growth zone could have on its Indo-Japanese Lead From Behind underlings, which is why it’s important to point out the most realistic naturally occurring and/or manufactured scenarios that could conceivably arise.

From north to south, these are:

Hybrid War On Ethiopia

Ethiopia, China’s top partner in Africa, is inseparably linked to Beijing’s continental grand strategy, so the destabilization of this pivotal country would adversely impact on China’s overall plans. The challenge, however, is Ethiopia is inherently prone to instability due to the incongruences of its inter-ethnic relations and complicated political arrangement (a de-facto centralized state in a de-jure “federation”), which gave rise to the Oromia insurgency in late 2016 and subsequent state of emergency that was necessary to quell it. It can’t be forecast with any degree of certainty that this measure will sustainably succeed in preventing any further provocations, and to the contrary, there have always been active efforts underway to foment a Hybrid War on Ethiopia. This makes it likely the country will experience additional unrest in the future as external actors, spearheaded by the US, exploit certain dissatisfied domestic elements in order to amplify the strategic risks to China’s New Silk Road investments in Ethiopia and thereby attempt to partially (if not wholly) offset its African grand strategy.

Kenyan-Tanzanian Tribal Tensions

The coastal states of Kenya and Tanzania form the access points for China and the Indo-Japanese Axis’ commercial engagement with the most promising parts of East Africa, as well as the chance to expand deeper into its Heartland, but they each run the risk of being afflicted by tribal tensions which could impede their overall connectivity plans. Kenya is much more prone to this than Tanzania at the moment since it already has a history of violent Color Revolution unrest, though the latter is poised to be one of the fastest-growing countries in the world this century and could thus experience tremendous socio-political tensions if the central authorities become overwhelmed and eventually lose some of their control over managing this process.

Moreover, both Kenya and Tanzania could see a Swahili Coast separatist movement arise among their minority Muslim populations along the Indian Ocean, which could dangerously prompt a simplistic Clash of Civilizations that could serve as an excuse for larger turmoil. This would, however, be the least desirable option for all the pertinent external actors since it would cut off the mainland territories and their corresponding economic capabilities, thus being extremely counterproductive for China and the Indo-Japanese Axis. However, if an Identity Federalism solution could be found, whereby this region acquires quasi-independence, it would become a new geopolitical chess piece for the two sides to compete over, with the ‘victor’ obtaining control over all trade into the interior of the region.

Black Hole Of Chaos In The Heart of Africa

The entire Central African Heartland – defined by the author as the two Congos and the Central African Republic, with South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi forming its transregional periphery – is primed for large-scale destabilization in the future. The trigger for this unfolding conflict is once more the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has been mired in Hybrid War unrest ever since President Kabila postponed what was expected to be his country’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power since independence, and it’s since been taken full advantage of by a myriad of non-state transnational groups that are totally undermining the prospects for regional stability. It’s very likely that the Congo will continue to sink into lawlessness and internally fracture into distinct semi-integrated regions, and this fragmentation process will inevitably suck in the surrounding states of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and to a lesser extent Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola, potentially collapsing any chance that transcontinental infrastructure projects will ever pass through this broader region.

This vision of the future becomes frighteningly real when one takes into consideration how Uganda is becoming overwhelmed with South Sudanese Weapons of Mass Migration, Burundi is pushed to the breaking point by hostile foreign actors, and Rwanda remains enduringly divided (in spite of its Mainstream Media reputation and the heavy hand of its minority Tutsi-led “deep state”), all of which are potential catalysts for a chain reaction of conflict, to say nothing of how these interconnected scenarios could be exacerbated by the total collapse of the Congo.

The black hole of chaos which could be created in the African Heartland, and its East African periphery, is very troubling, and it would stop China’s New Silk Roads from reaching into the continental interior. Provided that the turmoil doesn’t spill too deeply into Kenya and Tanzania, it’s possible for China to be cut down a notch and placed on equal strategic footing with the Indo-Japanese Axis, if all three can only compete in the same KTM growth zone and Beijing is blocked from the market-resource benefits which it reaps from Central Africa.

Southern Africa Shake-Up

The political situation in the southern cone of Africa is on pace to be violently shaken up in the future. The strategically interconnected Zimbabwean-South African space is already experiencing low-intensity Color Revolution unrest, whether it’s the periodic protests, in reality, riots, against aging leader Mugabe or escalating xenophobic violence and anti-state activity in South Africa against unpopular President Zuma. In addition, while Mozambique has plenty of potential to turn into the multipolar gateway to the South-Central African region, it’s besought by its own Hybrid War problems with respect to the unresolved second bout of near-civil war. All that needs to happen to cut off the developed South African marketplace from future Chinese-facilitated overland access to the rest of the Tripartite Free Trade area states is uncontrollable disturbances in the northeastern part of the country and its Zimbabwean and Mozambican neighbors. South Africa could still reach any of its northern partners via maritime connectivity, but its overall integrational effect would be diminished and the country would probably opt in that case to prioritize trade with its extra-regional partners as opposed to concentrating on the continent.


One of the supplementary goals of China’s New Silk Roads is to encourage intra-African trade, which Beijing believes is a prerequisite to forming sustainable economies in the continent that could robustly assist China’s own, whether as outsourced producers or reliable consumers. The Ethiopian-South African Silk Road, and its eventual maritime connection to Egypt’s northern and most economically relevant coastal region, forms the essential spine of the Chinese-backed continental integration project, aided to a large degree by the Tripartite Free Trade area which it encompasses.

The key to success lies in achieving overland connectivity between key regional economies (hence the need for China’s New Silk Roads), which will collectively contribute to the envisioned East African integrational area, the central corridor of which will be the KTM growth zone over which the Indo-Japanese Axis intends to compete with China. South Africa’s connectivity to Tanzania will be very important in both of their successes and forms the first of three integrational chains between Africa’s rising powers, the other two being between Tanzania and Ethiopia, and Ethiopia and Egypt (the latter of which is experiencing political obstacles due to the hydro-geopolitics of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam).

Seeing as how Ethiopian-Egyptian commercial integration will probably remain a persistently difficult challenge, meaning that priority should be given to preserving the rest of the integrational chain’s connectivity, specifically between South Africa and Tanzania, and preventing the emergence of Hybrid War scenarios which could offset it in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique.

As for Ethiopian-Tanzanian infrastructural integration, this presents the least challenging of the three links as long as LAPSSET succeeds and Kenyan-Tanzanian relations remain stable, despite their mutual suspicion and intra-organizational EAC rivalry.

It’s here where the Indo-Japanese Axis could take the initiative by proposing the necessary interconnectors to link together China’s various New Silk Roads into a unified transport corridor, thereby acquiring strategic value in the grand scheme of things and stepping out a bit from China’s shadow.

In addition, given the propensity for mainland Mozambique to slide back into civil war if the present instability isn’t properly dealt with this time around (and excluding the offshore and easily accessible LNG promise that the country has), it might one day be better for India and Japan to amend their KTM growth zone to EKT in swapping out Mozambique for Ethiopia and attempting to compete with China where it most counts.

The final part of this research paper will be published on Wednesday.