The world has been qualified in various ways. Each time, power, or salient features like economic and military power were the means that enabled the formation of a pole or a polarity. It therefore becomes easy to understand why the main term used in geopolitics after World War 2 was “bipolarity” or a world that could best be described as a juxtaposition or a [careful] cohabitation of two poles: the Eastern Bloc and the Western one – the capitalist pole and the communist one and the former referred to the Soviet Union and her allies and the latter was the appellation of the free-market USA and her allies. The allies of each polarity were scattered across the world, on almost every continent.
The context of multipolarity saw the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961, a third category that claimed to associate with neither the Eastern nor Western blocs. Some of those countries were Ghana, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Yugoslavia. The group aimed to protect the interest of newly independent countries in the context of the Cold War (between the Soviet Union and the USA), and it also intended to counterbalance the rapid bipolarization of the world. After the United Nations, the NAM was the largest grouping of states in the world. Some of the characteristics of the non-aligned group were nationalism, independence and anti-imperialism. There was much criticism levelled against them, regarding their genuineness, some critics refuted their “non-aligned” nature and claimed that those countries had secret ties with the Eastern bloc or the Western one. The truth is that the NAM did not last long. It began to dismantle after the end of the Cold War and when the African “independent” countries started experiencing the first coups d’état. The new African regimes clearly espoused the capitalist or Western path, the communism way or the Eastern one. Most of those countries became capitalist, though, since the coups were orchestrated by European capitalist powers and the US.
The dismantling of the USSR around the 1990s with Gorbachev as president in the Soviet Union and Reagan as president in the US led to a unipolar world, led by the USA which suddenly became the sole superpower in the world. Many countries were opposed to American hegemony, but they did not succeed in forming a bloc that could stand against the USA. Two other important components are being added to the analysis or attempt to “classify” the world today: the Chinese factor and the new military and anti-French stance in West Africa. It will certainly be useful to look at the way in which those two new elements impacted the global scene. The term ‘bipolarity’ is now being replaced with ‘multipolarity’ since several dynamics impose themselves on the map of the world. The geopolitical trajectory, therefore, can be simplified as the following, to some extent. (I am hedging here because someone could believe that a polarity or other polarities existed before World War 2. That could lead us into a more profound and lengthy debate that would need historical and anthropological data and analyses). So, we could say that the general course of the geopolitical journey of the world has been: the bipolarity of post-World War 2, the unipolarity engendered by the dislocation of the Communist bloc and the USSR, the non-aligned camp that emerged and lived in “progressive” developing countries, mostly in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
The ensuing multipolarity came to be dominated by the sudden emergence of Chinese power on the world political scene and the global market. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, in 1992 precisely, reforms were adopted and the hardline communist policy of China was replaced by a call for more openness, liberalism and freedom of speech, all those changes were demanded by a younger and new generation of students and also scholars who were products of Western universities. The US, through the CIA, Hongkong and several other liberal market driven countries then slipped into Chinese politics and as a result, China is today practising what is generally called a “hybrid communism”, or a form of communism with capitalist traits. That complex feature somehow explains why China is now playing such a vital role on the world market, to such an extent that all nations in the world respect the economic and military weigh of that country. Data from the World Bank shows that China experienced years of high GDP growth and its economy ballooned more than tenfold between the turn of the century and 2021, from $1.2 trillion to nearly $18 trillion. By contrast, the GDP of the United States, the world’s largest economy, is a little more than double its size in 2000. China is, therefore, the world’s biggest economy in the world, after the USA. China also has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, according to a 2023 survey, while the US is not on the list. China is therefore recovering from the impact of the COVID pandemic. The politico-cultural strategy of the Confucius institutes that are being implanted in almost every country on earth contributes to safeguarding China’s influence in the world and is perceived as the new colonizer in the world.
The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is the acronym for the major emerging economies (initially BRIC founded in 2001, before South Africa was added in 2009) is the notion that captures to a great extent the current state of multipolarities and the most recent development in the discussion on multipolarities is the current sociopolitical manifestations occurring in Africa, especially in West Africa where the ground is fertile for military coups occasioned by Jihadist attacks and anti-imperialist approaches, especially the rejection of French neocolonialism. Certain sources posit that France produces the Jihadists who are members of the French Foreign Legion in most cases and, ironically, the strikes of those Jihadists lead to the national revolts against France, as we noticed in the recent military take overs in West Africa. The obvious new factor is the embrace of Russian power, presence and assistance in all those countries where France is being booted out. Several factors account for that new phenomenon: the much talked about efficiency of the Russian Wagner mercenary group in the combat against the Jihadists, the historical fact that Russia did not colonize any African country and, lastly, the fact that many of the military officers leading those coups were trained in Russia. All the African nations that are severing ties with France are soliciting strong alliances with Russia. One would, therefore, not be wrong in saying that the ‘Russia’ component of BRICS is (at least, so far) replacing France in terms of political and economic influence in West Africa.
There is, therefore, no moment when the term ‘multipolarities’ has been more relevant than now.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.