Nature abhors a vacuum, and will often work overtime and at the weekends to fill one. In political and civilizational terms several vacuums seem to have opened up recently. We can only imagine what new-fangled entities will be called forth to occupy them.
For example, what will replace the vast, perennially gaping hole that seems to exist in Continental Europe? The collapsing Eurozone is just the latest in a succession of weird and outlandish political entities, ideologies, and 'solutions' that have tried and failed to fill that particular void over the last 2000 years. On past records, the restoration of the Holy Roman Empire looks like the best bet for stability, so Franz Joseph the XXVIIth, or whatever his name will be, has got my vote.
In the Muslim world, the gradual collapse of the post-colonial, thug-in-a-suit politics of the Mubareks and Assads has created another vacuum that seems to be generating an upsurge in radicalized Islam, showing that the process of filling vacuums often seeks inspiration in the past.
But while Europe and the Middle East are rich in past polities and ideologies with which to fill the gaping maw of the vacuum, Africa isn't. Of course, the inhabitants always had their tribalism, but this state of pristine – and, yes, brutal – innocence was forever ruined by contact with Arab slavers, White colonists, and the establishment of economic lines of contact that reached beyond "the rotting elephant by the big termite mound under the baobab tree that was hit by lightning seven suns ago."
Tribalism in its original form is simply not workable in the modern world, but the problem is that neither is anything else, not even the temporary multinational suzerainties established by Western multinationals to extract Africa's goodies. Western systems that are imported, without maintenance from Westerners, simply break down, rather like machinery left to rust in the sun.
With the civilizational vacuums that exist elsewhere, solutions can be sought within the accumulated histories and cultures of those regions, but in the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, with few exceptions (the Abyssinian monarchy, perhaps?) all you have beyond the impossible micropolitics of tribalism is the law of the jungle or direct rule by foreigners.
There has been much talk about the Chinese colonization of Africa, but this is just the State Oriental form of the temporary extractive suzerainties of Western multinationals. Once the deal sours or the copper runs out, so will the Chinese.
More disturbingly, for those of us who like our Liberals ineffectually camped in their own shit in a park near Wall Street or shackling themselves to a giant tree that is about to be sawn down, some of them are even starting to guardedly advance the idea of colonization in the guise of "charter cities," which is definitely a step above the usual slough of unimaginative, touchy-feely dross that has come to define Liberal intellectualism.
Although the concept of "charter cities" is still rather wooly, and the devil definitely would be in the detail, these would effectively be city-sized zones, established in places like Haiti or Africa, run by a kind of benign liberal fascism tailor-made for local conditions. The obvious inspiration seems to be cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, and once again the Liberals seem to be ignoring the factor of race rather in the same way as a blind man ignores a cliff. For these "charter cities" to work in Africa would require the kind of control methods that Liberals could never stomach.
The sad fact, however, is that Africa is like China in the 19th century, in that no-one will allow anyone else to colonize it. Any positive action, whether it is the establishment of Chinese bases or liberal-inspired "charter cities," will require violence and brutality of some sort, thus creating a fertile basis of criticism of the 'oppression' of the 'poor Africans,' etc., etc. Sneaky economic deals that preserve the illusion of African sovereignty are all that is allowed.
This leaves Africa with only one option: the law of the jungle. But the jungle itself seems to be changing. It is now no longer the one of popular imagination – the Heart of Darkness we are all familiar with from Conrad's novella. Instead it is a semi-urban shanty-town jungle. This is the texture on the ground of the vacuum that was created by the premature decolonization of Africa in the 1960s. So, what new gods or monsters will this vacuum create?
Mike Smith in his excellent blog on South African problems gives us something of a hint with a recent article on an intelligent and highly organized life form that is already successfully colonizing the chaos and getting ready to make its move on the top spot in this most dysfunctional of continents.