Alsir Sidahmed – Sudanow
Almost two years in office the Trump administration came out with a new African policy last week. It was left to National Security Advisor John Bolton and Tibor P. Nagy, Jr.*Assistant Secretary,*Bureau of African Affairs to articulate the new policy. The first before and elite audience at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank and the second before a House foreign affairs committee.
Nagy went at length to show the legislators why Africa is important describing it as the continent of the future and started with the forecast that it will be facing a demographic tsunami as its population are expected to top 2.5 billion by 2050, 50 percent of them will be under age 24 years.
He pointed out to three focus areas that will be the gist of the new Africa strategy: To promote trade and commercial ties and build on growth achieved during the past period, where US investments grew from $7 billion to $29 billion between 2000-2016. The second focus will be to invest in Africans through training and exposure under the Young African Leaders Initiative program and the third focus was to work towards bringing peace and security to various parts of the continent.
Bolton in his address added his typical hawkish rhetoric by stating clearly that part of the goal of the new strategy is to face up to the Chinese and Russian influence in Africa. He called the business practices of the two countries “corrupt” and “predatory”. He went on to add that, “China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demand. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption.”
“Across the continent, Russian advances its political and economic relationships with little regard for the rule of law or accountable and transparent governance,” Bolton added.
This new strategy faces three main problems: the first relates to President Donald Trump himself who harbors unfriendly feelings towards Africans describing them in disparaging remarks. The second problem is that it is trying to compete with China, which is one decade ahead of the Americans in strengthening its presence in the continent. And finally while the strategy and Bolton in particular are criticising Beijing for its bad practices, many of the continent’s countries have bad memories of American and generally western intervention into their own domestic affairs. Though such intervention is projected under the banner of human rights, democratic transformation and rule of law, but in the end it is their self-interest that is being served primarily. That is understood since diplomacy is not exercised as a charity in the first place.
However, the missing point in all this is the role of the Africans themselves that has been largely ignored despite scant references here and there. The way it is presented especially by Bolton is that a new scramble for Africa is in the offing, but instead of a new race between European countries as witnessed in the nineteenth century, the new race is between new dominant world powers of the United States, Russia and China.
In fact even with these three powers, the continent at one point have tasted their competition, namely during the cold war era, where newly independent African countries made use of that period to ally with the western or eastern bloc to get some gains.
However, with the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union the world entered into the stage of one super power that is the United States and its western satellites. And this is the period where the new world order emerged with western pressures on African countries to adopt multi party political systems, respect human rights and rule of law.
In October Trump signed a legislation creating a $60 billion lending agency that is intended mainly to compete with the Chinese, who through Silk Road mammoth project are making substantial inroads in the continent.
However, over the past several months a new spirit of détente and cooperation started to blow across the continent especially in the Horn, where decades of animosity are being reduced and normalization of relations is taking the front seat without any serious foreign input. It is this kind of activity that Africa needs and along these lines aid from the Americans, Chinese or Russian can be welcomed.
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