“Frontier Risk” and the Sino-American Scramble in the Sahel

“Frontier Risk” and the Sino-American Scramble in the Sahel

AbstractAbstract:

While the Pacific—especially the South China Sea—has often been imagined as a possible site of conflict between China and the United States, Africa has emerged as another landscape on which Chinese and US power must be negotiated. As has often been the case across the continent, mercenarism is one of the mediating forces between these two outside powers. This essay examines two mercenary narratives set in Africa that explore the fate of formerly sanctioned agents of state once they fall out of favor. First, I explore the involvement of Erik Prince, the former CEO of Blackwater, with Chinese investors in South Sudan, a risk-filled venture that has raised much alarm among commentators in the United States. Next, I turn to the novel Blue Warrior (2014), in which a former CIA operative turned private military contractor clashes with the Chinese in Mali. My comparative analysis of the cultural work of these two mercenary narratives—set against the backdrop of South Sudan and Mali—helps illuminate some of the power dynamics at work in African spaces from which both Chinese and American investors seek to extract profit. My analysis also reveals how a persistent militarism and racialized nationalism in the United States have served to cast this all as a new “scramble for Africa.”

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