Africa: U.S.-Africa Relations – What America Needs to Learn and Unlearn

The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit held this past week is widely seen as America’s attempt to counter the influence of China on the continent.

Over the past two decades, China has grown strong, fruitful and mutually beneficial relationships with African countries.

China has invested in the development of infrastructure, promoted trade and assisted countries during the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

China’s approach to its relations with Africa is based on multilateralism and equality of nations.

It’s signature co-operation frameworks such as the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (Focac), the Belt and Road Initiative and lately the Global Security Initiative, are driven by recognition of sovereign equality of nations and mutual respect.

The Asian giant does not seek to dominate other countries or impose itself as the new hegemon.

Neither does it interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

China fosters peaceful development, and plays a unifying role with other developing nations of the world.

Naturally, this has won China many friends globally and in particular, in Africa.

So successful has been China’s policy that even among younger Africans, it is viewed more favourably than the US.

In this regard, the US — known for its interfering policies, unilateralism, imposition of sanctions, coercion and building of walls of intolerance — has lost considerable ground to China.

In seeking to recover the lost ground, the US has set a strategy that seeks to emasculate China in Africa and entice Africa’s leadership.

Hence, the discourses around the US-Africa Leaders Summit have been on one hand, an attempt to lecture Africans on who its “partner of choice” should be; and on the other hand, splurging lofty promises of money.

US officials have attempted to smear Chinese friendship with Africa with claims that China is “not always transparent” and its relationship and assistance “will be eventually destabilising”.

Africa does not need these lectures. Africans know what is good for them. Besides, the US record of warmongering, domineering, destabilisation and interference is well known from Libya in the north to Zimbabwe in the south.

However, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin this week gave an even profound riposte.

He said: “Africa is not a wrestling ground for major-country rivalry, still less a target of strong-arm tactic from a certain country or certain people. African countries and people have the wisdom and capability to choose co-operation partners who can help advance African interests.

They themselves, are best positioned to tell what is best for the continent.

“The US needs to respect the aspiration of the African people and take concrete actions to advance Africa’s development instead of being bent on smearing and attacking other countries.”

There is no doubt that China’s approach to international relations is cool headed and meant to achieve long term goals for mutual co-operation and common good.

This is why President Xi Jinping has outlined the philosophy of a “shared global future”.

The calm nature of China’s handling of global affairs is reassuring and is the reason why it is winning lots of friends.

On the other hand, the US continues to dig a hole because of arrogance. An interesting example is how the US continues to exploit its super power status and economic might to bully other countries and impose sanctions on them.

On the eve of the Leaders Summit, the US extended its sanctions on Zimbabwe. The decision was impolitic for obvious reasons.

Africa has consistently raised objections to sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the US and its Western allies.

China has also called for the lifting of the sanctions.

Extending the sanctions on the eve of the summit was a brutal show of strong arm tactics and arrogance that would surely offend the African side. Unfortunately, the US appears impervious.

Another important dimension of the Leaders Summit is how the US has been dishing out promises. This is not new.

Both America and Europe have been designing various packages to entice Africa with, from energy to infrastructure, but none has materialised yet.

Contrast with China’s highly successful programmes and projects under BRI and Focac.

A couple of days ago, the US pledged an additional $2,5 billion in emergency assistance and medium- to long-term food security assistance for resilient African food systems and supply markets.

President Biden claimed that he was working with Congress to avail US$55 billion towards agriculture.

He also bounced he would visit the continent “to strengthen” relations.

An objective assessment of these pledges show that the US is not going to achieve much and much of it is empty talk.

Previous initiatives such as former president Obama’s Africa’s Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) failed to make an impact.

The US will not have it easy with Africa. It has a lot to learn from China and also unlearn its arrogance.

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