US’ Africa policy driven by convenience


On August 21, Somalia’s Ambassador to the UN Abukar Osman signed an agreement with Christian Bourge, executive director of Arizona-based lobbying firm Sonoran Policy Group. Under the deal, the government of Somalia will pay the firm $400,000 through the end of this year to help it regain military funding from the US.

Being viewed as a failed state, Somalia has no other choice but to make this move. Since US President Donald Trump took office, he has drastically cut aid to Africa. Early this year, he even referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries, triggering widespread outrage. In late March, in response to Rwanda raising tariffs on used clothing and footwear from the US, the Trump administration caught Africa’s textile industry in the crosshairs of the president’s global trade war, suspending and eventually cancelling duty-free privileges on eligible Rwandan clothing.

So, what is the political logic behind the Trump administration’s policy adjustment on Africa?

In my latest book, The Stirred Strategy Bottom – Analysis of US Policy toward Sub-Saharan Africa and Its Evaluation after the Cold War (1990-2016), I analyzed how the US put its Africa agenda at the bottom of its foreign strategy and how it readjusted its Africa policy in response to factors outside the continent.

Washington’s extensive involvement in African affairs started during the Cold War era. The US tried to control and woo Africa through political, economic and military means so as to gain an upper hand in the continent and squeeze the Soviet Union out.

After the Cold War and with the influence of the Soviet Union waning, the US government re-evaluated Africa’s strategic value and placed it at the bottom of its foreign strategy. In face of continuous wars and humanitarian crises in Africa, Washington gradually pulled itself out. The US not only extricated itself from the humanitarian disasters there, but also turned a blind eye to its economic needs and cut aid to the continent.

As European countries re-established ties with African countries and emerging economies reached out to Africa, the US was prompted to refocus on the continent.

But the US’ Africa policy that is driven by external pressures has congenital disadvantages. For instance, its security cooperation with Africa cannot turn it into a terror-free continent; the trade structure between the US and Africa is simplistic; development cooperation with Africa makes the US’ image in African countries skewed.

Therefore, the US has always put competition with other countries above its relations with Africa. On the contrary, China has been developing ties with Africa out of needs from both sides. It shares its development experiences and pushes forward modernization of Africa by exploring the continent’s development potential and cultivating its self-development abilities.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) just wound up in Beijing. China is set to coordinate its stance with African countries over the current international political and economic situation.

In face of common concerns like the prevalent trade protectionism, reduced aid to developing countries by developed ones and African countries’ lack of funds during their modernization process, China and Africa will create opportunities for the economic development of developing countries and seek a way out.

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius in July, these countries showed their willingness to join China’s Belt and Road initiative. FOCAC will address their needs.

In the future, the Belt and Road initiative can accelerate trade and infrastructure connectivity between China and Africa, push forward financial cooperation and speed up industrial capacity cooperation projects. It will help Africa better enjoy China’s development dividends and experiences and create a joint community with shared future.

Then how will the US readjust its Africa policy? We would like to see the US government adopt a rational approach – getting rid of the mentality of the Thucydides Trap, realizing the limitation of its Africa policy driven by external factors, and exploring feasibility of China-US cooperation in Africa.

The author is an associate research fellow with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce of China. 


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