If the new strategy is only about competing for Africa's 'goldmine' with China, then African leaders must be smart.
The new strategy for Africa in essence, seeks to counter China's growing influence on the continent, as well as Russia's attempts to gain footholds in resource-rich, unstable countries, especially in East and Central Africa.
The strategy will call for bolstering U.S. ties with countries deemed potentially vulnerable to overtures from China and Russia, as well as seeking to fend off attempts by North Korea and Iran to make inroads through economic investments or arms sales.
The plan, drafted by the White House National Security Council and due to be presented this week at a Washington think tank, will signal a shift by the administration seeking to push back Chinese influence in Africa.
"Counterterrorism is no longer the organizing principle," said one senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
"It's about geopolitics and countering the influence of China and others."
Trump's gaffes, travel bans and derogatory remarks about Africa have created friction with African governments. In January, Trump referred to Haiti and African states as "s---hole countries" and last year in a meeting with several African leaders, the president referred to Namibia as "Nambia."
Former U.S. diplomats and regional experts say the strategy is long overdue. Until now, the Trump administration has made few public statements on Africa and appeared preoccupied with nuclear diplomacy with North Korea, trade disputes with China and reimposing sanctions on Iran. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, the president has announced no signature initiatives for Africa so far.
It took more than a year for Trump to meet an African head of state and to fill key U.S. diplomatic posts for Africa, with some ambassadorships still vacant. African governments have interpreted the slow pace of appointments as a sign that the White House places little importance on Africa, experts and former U.S. diplomats said.
The planned Africa strategy does not call for devoting more funding for U.S. diplomacy, intelligence gathering or aid, but instead argues for using existing resources more effectively, an administration official and a defense official said.
Given that the White House has no plans to dramatically expand U.S. resources devoted to Africa, it's not clear how the administration will succeed in countering China, Russia or other adversaries, experts said.
The White House strategy is expected to name several countries as anchors for the U.S. strategy, and experts close to the administration expect the list to include Kenya, a longstanding U.S. ally. For U.S. counterterrorism efforts, the administration will seek to continue a number of key partnerships, including with Somalia, Libya and Mali, officials said.
Experts say Washington is lagging behind China in Africa, where Beijing has invested billions in infrastructure projects and used its economic might to boost its security interests. China has built a sprawling military base in Djibouti, just miles from where the U.S. has an important base that serves as a launching pad for U.S. special operations forces.
American lawmakers and senior military officers are worried about the future of the U.S. base and that China could soon oversee operations at a key port in the country formerly run by a Dubai firm, giving it a crucial perch at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.
China has built roads, laid down fiber-optic cables and delivered other massive infrastructure projects over the past decade, but often under loan terms that have left some impoverished governments saddled with large-scale debt, giving Beijing decisive leverage in coming years.
"The Chinese government or its state-owned companies have extraordinary power to dictate to these African countries," said Joshua Meservey, a senior policy analyst at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, adding that China is "the most consequential foreign actor in Africa."
Apart from China's well-documented rise as Africa's top trading partner, Russia has moved swiftly over the past year to cultivate ties across the continent, with high-level delegations negotiating arms sales and military cooperation deals. In September, Moscow announced an agreement to build a logistics base in Eritrea on the Red Sea and Russian companies have clinched mineral deals in Sudan.
The caveat for African businesses here is that if the new strategy does not allow the growth of local industries, but rather dwell on providing aids and cut import duties, Africans will have mortgaged it's future once again. Healthy rivalry is a good thing, but there must be a red line for trade that will be a Win-win for all.
Header Image Credit: Foreign Policy
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