Since the cold war, Africa has been relatively unaffected by global polarization, giving it time to prioritize its development agenda. Africa was open to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) arriving from any part of the world, until it was caught up in the divisive Russia-Ukraine war.
Following the near-world-war clash in Ukraine, the flow of FDI business delegates to Africa stalled, but more political leaders of the global north are flocking to Africa.
Antony Blinken’s presence in South Africa two weeks ago was only next to the shuttle diplomacy to Africa that included Sergey Lavrov, Macron, and the flock of special envoys frequenting Africa. The USA, Europe, and allies have been urging Africa to turn back on Russia. The underlying factor is also the west’s new move to uproot China from Africa.
Blinken’s Africa visit, which came out just a week after Lavrov’s, was not only about demonizing Russia and China. He rolled out America’s new policy for sub-Saharan Africa, dubbed “US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa’. The new policy, which came out more than a year after Biden took office, replaced the existing one, which was introduced by Barack Obama in June 2012.
The new policy sets out four major objectives. The first is “Fostering Openness and Open Societies.” Under this objective, the policy states: “The United States has an abiding interest in ensuring the region remains open and accessible to all and that governments and the public are able to make their own political choices, consistent with international obligations. Open societies are generally more inclined to work in common cause with the United States, attract greater U.S. trade and investment, pursue policies to improve conditions for their citizens, and counter harmful activities by the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and other actors.’
Africa has already demonstrated its defiance of this policy.
A majority of African countries voted against or abstained from supporting a UN motion tabled to ban Russia from UNHR. Further, the AU maintained its “non-alliance” principle and continued relationship with Russia, despite America’s warning Africa not to even buy from Russia except wheat and fertilizer. America also introduced the ‘Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act,’ a bill aimed at punishing African countries that are Russia’s allies.
While speaking about the new US policy in Pretoria, South Africa on August 8, 2022, Blinken said, “The Russian invasion is an aggression against the entire international order.” But on the same stage, he stated, “The United States will not dictate Africa’s choices.’
The immediate response came from Naledi Pandor, the South African minister of International Relations, who was giving a joint press conference with Blinken on the day. “Just as much as the people of Ukraine deserve their territory and freedom, the people of Palestine also deserve their territory and freedom. We should be equally concerned. We have not seen an even-handed approach,” she fired back.
Naledi also rejected the “Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act’ as the ever continuing policy of the west to hand-twist Africa. “From some of our partners in Europe and elsewhere, there has been a sense of patronizing bullying, ‘you choose this or else.’ And in the recent legislation passed by the US House of Representatives, we found a most unfortunate bill.”
Though almost all African countries could think the same, few could speak like South Africa and never face consequences, which include aid-cuts or US-backed regime change.
The second objective in the new US policy for sub-Saharan Africa is to “Deliver Democratic and Security Dividends.” By reaffirming that democracy delivers tangible benefits, the United States can offer positive choices to Africans as they determine their own future. We will help Africa deliver democratic and security dividends,’ it states, listing how US intends to do so.
The third objective is to “Advance Pandemic Recovery and Economic Opportunity.” To this end, ‘promoting a stronger growth trajectory and debt sustainability to support the region’s economic recovery, including through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), Prosper Africa, Power Africa, Feed the Future, and a new initiative for digital transformation,’ are strategized. PGII is recently launched by the G7, pledging 600 billion to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The United States pledged to mobilize $200 billion of that total, with the remainder coming from Europe and other G7 countries.
Alemayehu Geda (PhD), professor of economics at AAU and expert in international finance, stresses that the western pledge is purely a political package designed to beat China in Africa. “Unlike BRI, the G7 pledge will be attached to lists of western political and economic interests in Africa. It will not be a pure investment but part of the west’s carrot and stick policy. The money will be released only when the African countries agree to US terms, including liberalizing their economies to western companies. The project is then given to American or European companies. So that money goes back to the funders. Africans will also have no chance to have access to western technologies.”
“Our commitment to a stronger partnership with Africa is not about trying to outdo anyone else,” asserted Blinken, during the joint press conference in Pretoria on August 8, 2022, where he also unveiled the new strategy.
The fourth objective of the US new policy is to support conservation, climate adaptation, and a just energy transition.’
Content-wise, there is less deviation from the existing US strategy in sub-Saharan Africa, which was introduced ten years ago. Similarly, the existing US policy on sub-Saharan Africa had four major objectives. The first is to “Strengthen Democratic Institutions’. The second objective is to “spur economic growth, trade, and investment.’ The third is to “advance peace and security.” The fourth objective is to “promote opportunity and development.”
For Constantinos Berhutesfa (PhD), former senior official at the AU and UN, the new “US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa” is an old wine in a new glass. “Nothing has changed from the old policy,” he told The Reporter.
Experts agree that though Africa is keeping its options open, most African leaders prefer working with China rather than the west when it comes to the development agenda. This is mainly because US policy blunders development with its interests while China’s is always business-oriented.
“America can never change the reality that the west wants Africa for its resources. Secondly, they now also need Africa’s vote of 54 countries in the UN, to win any decision against Russia or China. Hence, America and Africa can never be equal partners like China. If the West really wanted development in Africa, they would have been in Africa long before China. But their legacy is the underdevelopment of Africa by the west,” said Constantinos .
For a political analyst at the African Union, the new strategy is clearly full of a “carrot and stick’ approach, which indicates the US can never deviate from its exploitative mentality.
“The good thing is that Africa is wiser today,” said the analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “China also has her own stick, which is the debt. But at least China has built infrastructure across Africa in all sectors. For instance, USAID has been in Ethiopia for around 70 years. It has developed no infrastructure but is always giving aid. JICA has done a lot, comparatively, in a few decades. It is clear who really wants to see Africa free, sovereign, developed and self-reliant. “
However, the longer the Russia-Ukraine war is, the more bidders knock on Africa’s door. But this time, the competition to win Africa’s hearts includes more serious offers, including nuclear power. Russia is warming up to developing a nuclear plant for Egypt. Ethiopia is also reportedly part of the plan.