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Africa Superpower Contenders


When we hear the word “Superpower,” what generally comes to our mind is the United States and the Former Soviet Union.

By definition, a superpower status means a state can project power globally through diplomatic, economic, military, and diplomatic influence.

For now, regardless of the perception that the U.S power and control is in decline, the United States is the only global superpower state in the 21st century. No nation comes close, not China, Russia, or even the European Union.

However, there are regional power states. These states exert power and influence within their region. For instance:

  • In the Americas, we have Brazil and the United States.
  • In Europe, we have Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
  • In East Asia lies China and Japan.
  • In the Indian subcontinent, India is the only power.
  • In West Asia, we have Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
  • In Eurasia, Russia is the only power.

There are three contenders in the continent. In North Africa, we have Egypt. In West Africa, Nigeria stands out. In Southern Africa lies South Africa.

Each country is a regional power within Africa, and their diplomatic, economic, and military strength varies amongst each other. None of the three countries have a holistic economic, diplomatic, and active military influence throughout the continent.

For instance:

  • On the system of government, while South Africa and Nigeria are democratic — Egypt is not.
  • On energy, Egypt and Nigeria are net exporters, while South Africa is a net importer.
  • On the economy, Egypt and South Africa have a diversified economy in the manufacturing and consumer sectors. Nigeria is a petrostate highly dependent on oil and gas exports.
  • On neighborhood, Egypt and Nigeria reside in an increasingly tricky geopolitical area. South Africa is safe in Southern Africa.
  • On rankings, Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt are the largest, the 2nd largest, and the 3rd largest economy in Africa in 2019.
  • Furthermore, Egypt, South Africa, and Nigeria are the largest, the 3rd largest, and the 4th largest military force in Africa.


With over 200 million people, more than Japan and Russia, and still growing, Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation. It borders Benin, Niger, Cameroon, Chad by land, and Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe by sea.

Economically speaking, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and the 27th largest economy worldwide.

Its principal exports are mainly Crude oil and LNG. The country is home to 36.9 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 200 trillion standard cubic feet of natural gas.

Nigeria is the 13th largest producer of petroleum in the world. Oil revenues account for 80% of government revenue and 95% of foreign exchange earnings.

Its top trading partners are India, Spain, France, Ghana, the United States, South Africa, and China.

Though Nigeria boasts Africa's largest economy, its march towards development has been hampered by rampant corruption, shameful infrastructure decay, tribal conflicts, the insurgency war with Boko Haram.

Much of oil wealth originates from the Niger Delta region. The Delta region's strategic position on the Atlantic is a vital maritime passageway for Nigeria to export crude oil to international markets.

Unfortunately, the Niger Delta is now a hotbed of militants characterized by extensive poverty, youth unemployment, environmental degradation, and attacks on vessels & crew members.

Instability in the Niger Delta undermines Nigeria's economic stability and worsens the maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea.

Militarily, the Nigerian's military is the largest in West Africa, 4th largest in Africa. However, low operational readiness, endemic corruption, human rights abuses, the lack of investment in training, failure to maintain equipment has damaged the armed forces.

Most of Nigeria's equipment is not serviceable and inadequate in quantity to defend a country twice the size of California.

Unlike the Nigerian ECOWAS peacekeepers in the 1990s, which effectively curbed ethnic bloodshed in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it is incapable of defending its citizens in the North East against Boko Haram.

Nigeria has multiple advantages; the most populous country in Africa, a cultural center, Africa's economic powerhouse, the fourth largest military force in Africa, and a significant stability factor in West Africa.


South Africa

Located at the southern tip of the African continent is South Africa. The country borders Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

During the colonial era, the British established control over crucial ports at Durban, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth to protect the sea lanes around the Cape of Good Hope.

The Cape of Good Hope, located on the southern tip of South Africa, is a critical passage point for oil tanker shipments worldwide. About 6 million barrels per day of seaborne-traded crude oil flow around the Cape of Good Hope both eastward and westward.

Since the Suez Canal opening, the Cape of Good Hope has lost some of its strategic importance. However, the Cape is still an essential passage for trade relations between Latin America and Asia. The Cape of Good Hope is an alternative sea route for vessels seeking to bypass Bab El-Mandeb Strait and the Suez Canal due to an accident, military action, or terrorism.

Economically, South Africa is the 2nd largest export economy in Africa and the 38th largest economy globally in 2019. South Africa is the continent’s most advanced economy. It is the continent’s leading FDI destination ahead of Morocco, Kenya, and Nigeria. The top exports of South Africa are precious metals, wines, vehicles, machinery, fruits, and agricultural foodstuffs.

South Africa’s key trading partners include China, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, India, and Botswana.

Militarily, South Africa possesses the 4th largest military in Africa. The country uses its significantly advanced military for peacekeeping and international cooperation. In the short to medium term, South Africa does not face any serious threat on its borders.

South Africa has multiple advantages as well, It is the most advanced economy in Africa, the third-largest military power of the continent, and home to the strategic Cape of Good Hope. Also, South Africa’s airports in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg are regularly ranked among the top 10 best airports in Africa.



In North-East Africa, along with the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, lies Egypt. It shares borders with Libya, Sudan, and Israel by land and Cyprus, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Greece by sea.

Egypt controls the Suez Canal that connects the Mediterranean (Europe) and the Red Sea (Indian Ocean). Therefore, making it an important trade route between Asia and Europe.

80% of crude oil exports from Persian Gulf suppliers to European countries pass through the Suez Canal. About 10% of all international trade goes through Egypt's Suez Canal, cutting down ship journeys from Asia to Europe.

With a population of 100 million, Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and the second-most populous on the African Continent.

Sure Egypt is a large country, more than 1 million square kilometers, that is twice the size of France. However, most of its territory is a wasteland. Less than 35,000 of those 1 million square kilometers are habitable. This tiny area, which spans from Aswan High Dam to the Mediterranean shore, is home to 99% of its population.

Economically, Egypt is the 3rd largest economy in Africa and the 41st largest economy worldwide. Egypt's top exports are Crude Petroleum, plastics, electrical machinery, chemicals, Gold, fertilizers, clothing, and agricultural goods. Its key trading partners are the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Italy, Turkey, the United States, and Germany.

Already, Egypt is emerging as a major gas producer and exporter. The Zohr gas field, with 30 Trillion standard cubic feet in reserves, commenced production in December 2017. Zohr is the most significant gas discovery made in Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The field produces 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

Militarily, Egypt's armed forces is the largest in the region, totaling roughly 1.3 million personnel to bolster stability and moderation in the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt has provided military assistance and training to many African and Arab states. It is also the third-largest arms importer in the world (after India and Saudi Arabia). Furthermore, it has the state of the art weapons like the F-16 fighter jets, the Apache Attack Helicopters, Main Battle tanks, Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, and Frigates.


The Winner of the Contest

Nigeria could become Africa’s only global superpower. It is Africa’s largest economy and has an outstanding record of regional engagement in West Africa.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is presently a crisis-ridden country essentially impeded by weakness in the criminal justice system, endemic corruption, insecurity, no coherent foreign policy, disgraceful lack of infrastructure, high unemployment, the failure to deal with the fundamental problems in the Niger-Delta.

South Africa is the only African member of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the G20. However, the country is not expected to grow in power and influence in Africa. It contributes fewer peacekeepers to United Nations missions than Ethiopia, Egypt, and Nigeria. Furthermore, the country struggles to address apartheid-era imbalances like affordable housing, power, education, health care, and other infrastructures.

While Nigeria and South Africa have serious internal problems, Egypt has a powerful voice in the Middle East and Africa. Thus, Egypt is the Winner.

Located at the juncture of Africa and Asia, Egypt’s military strength is the strongest in Africa and one of the best in the Middle East.

The Egyptian military provides security protection to much of the Arab world. Also, it controls the Suez Canal that connects the Mediterranean and the Red Sea for trade between Europe and Asia. About 10% of all international trade goes through Egypt’s Suez Canal, cutting down ship journey time.

© 2021 Meziechi Nwogu

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