US's New Africa Policy Targets China

The United States announced a new Africa strategy that would seek to counter the growing influence of “great power competitors” China and Russia. The new Africa Prosper strategy was outlined by the Trump administration’s National Security Advisor John Bolton on December 14th in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC. 

There were three broad elements to the Africa strategy. 

One, the US would advance free and fair trade and commercial relations with the continent in a manner that would be different from what he saw as the more exploitative methods of China. 

Two, America would continue its present military campaigns against terrorism and militant violence in Africa. 

Three, the US would ensure that its provision of aid to Africa would be done so “efficiently and effectively.” For example, Bolton said the US would not use its funds to help regimes that were corrupt or violated human rights, making special mention of the strife-ridden regime in South Sudan. Other reports said the US would put a special focus on promoting entrepreneurship and the private sector to help propel Africa’s economic success. Joshua Meservey, the Heritage Foundation’s Africa specialist, was quoted in separate reports as saying US corporations would be encouraged to invest in select African countries.

Bolton also spoke of the need for reconfiguring United Nations peacekeeping efforts in Africa and that the US would not support existing operations that were “unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable”.

The new Africa policy, it was made clear, was designed to counter the expanding influence of Beijing and Moscow in Africa. He said the two countries were seeking to gain a “competitive advantage” over the US in the continent. Bolton was especially harsh about China’s Belt and Road Initiative. He said, “China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands.”  

The speech indicated a remarkable turnaround for the Trump administration which had come into office speaking of cutting US foreign assistance by 30 per cent, downplaying the importance of African countries to US interests, with its indifference culminating in the US president’s reference to “shithole” African countries. Bolton’s speech underlines how Washington is increasingly seeing itself in a global competition with China, with Africa as one of the key areas of contention. 

NBC News said that Kenya and several other countries would be declared “anchor states” in the new US strategy. One close Western ally, Morocco, however, will be unnerved by Bolton’s support for a referendum of the North African kingdom’s annexation of Western Sahara, a pet interest of the US official. 

The Brookings Institution wrote “this throwback to great power rivalry runs counter to the most significant current trend in Africa’s external relationships, which have more diversity than at any time since the end of the Cold War.” While Washington’s criticism of peacekeeping operations were not without merit, it said the US had “to be more specific about the actions it will take to address this issue and join efforts to reform and empower rather than weaken U.N. peacekeeping operations.”

While some African commentary welcomed renewed White House interest in the continent, some local leaders expressed wariness. Ex-Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote that “Africa is likely to resist making a choice between China and the United States. The US is asking African countries to choose sides at a time when many don’t have this luxury.” He warned that “the history of superpower rivalry in Africa is messy, destructive and occasionally bloody.”


December 29, 2018

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About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhury

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times, and Distinguished Fellow & Head, Strategic Affairs, Ananta Aspen Centre

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.