The United States Assistant Secretary of African Affairs Robert Godec has said the United States will demonstrate to Africans that unlike the Chinese economic development model promoted in Africa, the United States will focus more on the interests of Africa, something that will draw a lot of interest in the continent.
Godec’s statement appears to indicate that the United States would urge African countries to choose between the world’s two largest economies.
This begs the question, what change will the new US government policy on Africa have, and what political game plan does the country intend to engage?
Politically, the United States has repeatedly warned Africa about China and even launched what looks like a targeted war on the political positions taken by some African countries.
The development of China-Africa relations at the moment looks unstoppable, and the United States is deeply concerned about improved relations between China and Africa, to an extent that it has issued a red alert about China’s political and ideological impact in the continent, especially to the countries that have signed up to be part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Economically, the United States is pushing for institutional and financial reforms aimed at reducing China’s economic impact in Africa. As a matter of fact, the United States is doing all it can to accuse China of neo-colonialism in Africa, while boasting of seeking to increase Africa’s financial independence to stop its over-reliance on foreign aid. Washington further suggesting that it will replace China’s current status in Africa and ‘do better.’
In March 2020, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Peter Nagy Jr. in a speech in Washington, said “We condemn China for expressing itself and for strengthening its public diplomacy. We remind the people of Africa that the contribution of the United States is so great that it cannot be surpassed by any other party,”
The truth of the matter is that the new US strategy for foreign countries is to deal with competition between major countries, and any policy it devises as well as every dollar spent is aimed at promoting the “America First” strategy.
In the area of security, the United States is also changing its military presence, increasing US aid to the security sector in Africa, and trying to prevent China from participating in peacekeeping operations on the continent.
In early September 2020, during a visit to Africa, former US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stressed that the US military in Africa has a clear mandate, one of which is to compete with China and Russia to reduce their impact on the continent.
African scholars have described Donald Trump’s presidency as “four years lost”, but the Biden government’s strategy for Africa so far also indicates an unwillingness to “bury Trump’s policies”.
There is no significant difference between the previous and the current US government regimes. Africa doesn’t feature prominently in the US global strategy, neither was it mentioned in the diplomatic policies announced a month after President Joe Biden came to power.
President Biden participated in the 34th African Union summit and even delivered a message via video conference, but his speech’s content was lacking in depth.
Similarly, the national security strategy released in March aims to change the strategy adopted by the Donald Trump-led regime, and to “directly address unprecedented challenges and seize rare opportunities”, and which Africa is also not a priority.
It is expected that in the current context, US policy on Africa will continue to prioritize US interests, increasing its influence in Africa on political, economic, and cultural issues through traditional diplomatic avenues such as economics, the fight against terrorism, and military support.
As regards the statement by the United States Department of State top official, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mr. Zhao Lijian said China and Africa are good friends and partners with a common destiny, and that developing friendly cooperation with African countries is always a priority and fundamental policy of Chinese diplomacy.
In the last 32 consecutive years, every Chinese Foreign Minister has adhered to the tradition of making the first annual visit to Africa. In the last 20 years since the launch of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the value of China-Africa trade has increased 20 times and China’s direct investment in Africa has increased 100 times.
Many African countries are currently facing numerous occasioned by the adverse effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. The international community must keep an eye on the situation in most African countries, taking concrete action, increasing support and investment to help these countries cope with the challenges and realize development.
The United States should not perpetrate rivalry with China in Africa and force Africa to be at a crossroads in choosing which side to back as this will jeopardize the interests of African countries and their people. Such attempts must be rejected by all and sundry.
Zakia Peng is a Beijing-based Multimedia Journalist and Current Affairs Commentator.