The US Should Acknowledge China’s Positive Contribution to Africa’s Development

This month, United States of America’s top diplomats visited a number of African countries in what some American analysts described as Washington’s attempt to counter what the US sees as growing Sino-Africa cooperation. Secretary Anthony Blinken’s visit is the latest. It follows earlier visit by US’ Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

During the visit which included countries like South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, Secretary Blinken unveiled the so-called U.S-Sub-Saharan Africa strategy. In his public lecture in Pretoria South Africa, Secretary Blinken praised it that it will enhance the US-African relations by creating what he called creating open societies, supporting economic cooperation, promotion of democracy and addressing climate change concerns.

Despite Secretary Blinken’s claim that “absolutely, this is about our relationships in Africa. It’s not about other geopolitical issues,” if critically analysed, not any of US diplomat in Africa or even Washington believe those talking points. Even in the little two-page executive summary of this strategy which White House released a head of Blinken’s visit, geographical issues are mentioned. It references China and Russia’s engagement in Africa.

While the US wants its Africa strategy play that Washington’s foreign policy in Africa is not driven by broader geopolitical issues, it is evident the endgame is not what works for Africa but, how can the US re-assert its failing hegemony in Africa. The 2022 US Competes Act says it all. US’ foreign policy key goal is to Counter China.

Whereas Blinken emphasized that the US will “not dictate” African countries, his diction is telling. He claimed that “African nations have been treated as instruments of other nations’ progress, rather than the authors of their own.” Of course, he was diplomatically saying leave those countries for treating you as instruments of their progress.

If we compare the US and China’s method on how the two shape their relations with African countries, the US’ method is selfish and dictatorial. It is a ‘big-brother’ affair while China’s is equal-partners style. For example, the 17page US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa was developed without the input of African countries. On the other hand, through The Forum on China- Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China engages African stakeholders on any initiative the country is to take. Put differently, China’s method is participatory while the US’ sort of dictates.

If we analyse recent speeches by US’ top diplomats, it is naïve one to believe the US is ready to end dictating Africa countries on how to run their foreign policies. While in Africa, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield made this much pretty plain. While in Uganda, Linda warned African countries against dealing with Russia claiming this would be against US’ unilateral sanctions. “If a country decides to engage with Russia, where there are sanctions, then they are breaking those sanctions. And we caution countries not to break those sanctions because then, if they do, they stand the chance of having actions taken against them,” Linda warned.

During his Pretoria lecture where he elaborated US’ Sub-Saharan Africa strategy, secretary Blinken discussed what he described as Africa’s strategic importance and singled out the continent’s voting bloc in international bodies like United Nations, continents minerals, a vibrant youthful population. Blinken explained that among others, these three attributes makes Africa a priority in US’ foreign policy.

However, if critically analysed, at best, the diction of this strategy seems like some aesthetic improvements. It almost seems like its authors were trying, but they just couldn’t quite get past US’ strategic ambiguous language. Hence, it does not offer concrete commitments. In other words, it comes out as a lecture to Africa on how the continent should run its affairs.

This makes one to imagine that diplomats in the US are yet to understand global south moods.

African leaders lost interest in US lectures on the so-called values, democracy and human rights which despite preaching them, the US has spectacularly failed to live by. Blinken’s consistent presumption that African governments are autocratic is informed by what can be described as Washington’s think tanks dubious metrics in defining what democracy is. From a critical perspective, relying on Western epistemic communities to draw conclusions about Africa the home of over 1.4 billion people is not only a disregard of Africa’s agency but also an insult.

Washington should understand that while its governance systems maybe ideal for the US, it cannot be used as a gold standard for the rest of the world.

Going through this strategy, the US presents Africa as a place of competition presenting the continent as a pawn in what US considers competition between Washington and Beijing and recently Moscow. Three times Blinken described Sino-Africa relations negatively. The “People’s Republic of China (PRC), by contrast, sees the region (Africa) as an important arena to challenge the rules-based international order, advance its own narrow commercial and geopolitical interests, undermine transparency and openness, and weaken U.S. relations with African peoples and governments,” Blinken claimed. Blinken added that the US is committed to “Countering harmful activities by the PRC, Russia and other foreign actors.” He added that “the (U.S.) Department of Defense will engage with African partners to expose and highlight the risks of negative PRC and Russian activities in Africa.”

This shows that US’ strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa is not win-win but rather seeks to help Washington advance its selfish interests by dividing the world through cold war mentality of bloc formation while forcing countries to choose and take sides.

Blninken also talked about US’ Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) which is backed by G7 countries. While PGII is a good development since it will help to address infrastructure funding gaps in global south, the sprit in which the US brought this idea is negative. Many analysists see PGII as a rival against China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has helped in addressing Africa’s infrastructure funding deficits. US criticise it claiming it is not open and is likely to undermine African countries’ sovereignty.

However, such claims if put to fact-checks, non would stand. Some analysts argues that criticism is nothing but US’ political smear campaign against China-Africa relations.

Historically, Sino-Africa relations have stood test of time, and these relations are based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation. China’s contribution to Africa in context of trade, investments, development finance and social development cannot be ignored.

In addressing challenges like COVID-19, while developed countries like the US chose vaccine nationalism, President Xi Jinping declared COVID-19 vaccines a global public good. China made millions of vaccine doses available to Africa and other developing countries, on top of offering financial assistance.

Blinken emphasized that their strategy will address challenges like insecurity in Africa. While security is a prerequisite for sustainable development, China has always walked the talk. Early this year, Beijing appointed special envoy for the Horn of Africa and mid this year, a security summit was held in Ethiopia to address the region’s security challenges. Also, China proposed two initiatives namely, Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative which if critically analyzed, are in line with Africa’s interests.

Relatedly, under UN peacekeeping missions, China remains the biggest peacekeeping contributor in Africa under. Compared with the US, China has over 1,400 peacekeeping troops in Africa compared to 29 personnel.

In conclusion, the US should learn that Africa is a continent with over 50 independent  countries. They should stop taking Africa to be a paw and area where Washington believes it should counter other countries Africans choose to relate well with.

Allawi Ssemanda, PhD is a Senior Research Fellow at Sino-Uganda Relations Research Centre.


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