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Issues in the recent U.S strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa

By Charles Onunaiju Just before the visit of the U.S secretary of State, Mr Anthony Blinken to Africa early last month (August) that took him…

By Charles Onunaiju

Just before the visit of the U.S secretary of State, Mr Anthony Blinken to Africa early last month (August) that took him to South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, Washington released its newest strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa. In typical imperial patronage, a long characteristic of the U.S approach to Africa, Washington’s recent outline of her “strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa” states that “Open societies” in Africa, ostensibly modeled in Washington’s vision “would likely attract greater U.S trade and investments, but importantly “counter harmful activities by the People’s Republic of China, Russia and other actors”. 

The characteristic imperial arrogance of the U.S establishment in unilaterally knowing and defining “harmful activities by the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and other actors” in Africa, simply means that nearly five decades, after former Nigerian leader, General Murtala Mohammed famously retorted to the former U.S president Gerald Ford impulse letter, warning him that “Africa has come of age and is no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power”, the current occupiers of the White House seemed to have learnt very little, when it comes to engaging with Africa. General Mohammed has then warned that “for too long has it been presumed that Africa needs outside “experts” to tell him who are his friends and who are his enemies”, stressing “the time has come when we should make it clear that we know our interests and how to protect those interests, that we are capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers which more often than not, have no relevance for us nor for the problem at hand”.

Considering the “unedifying role that the U.S has played in Africa’s liberation struggle and in strongly objecting “to the patronizing interests which President Ford has suddenly developed”, the Nigerian leader then warned that it “should be made clear that African memory is not as short as the American government thinks”.

And for Africa, a 21st century partnership cannot be down to just rallying it to counter the “harmful activities” of Washington’s perceived “strategic competitors and adversaries in Africa.

During the visit of the U.S Secretary of State to South Africa and in his meeting with his counterpart following the release of the U.S strategy toward Sub-Africa”, South Africa’s foreign minister Ms Naledia Pandar said she has had “very frank discussions, where at times we don’t agree but it has not broken this friendship”, though she added, “there has been a sense of patronizing and bullying”.

However, a strategy designed to rally the continent to “counter harmful activities of the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and other actors”, cannot but amass a diplomatic offensive that would include “patronizing and bullying”.

But a U.S strategy towards Africa can certainly craft more meaningful and productive engagement if it is less obsessed with countering China in Africa. Curiously, the U.S Africa’s policy circles have yet to make a pragmatic assessment of China’s cooperation with Africa, because they have been largely driven by ideological bigotry and fixated on big power muscle flexing. Africa in the 21st Century seeks a partnership that engages the existential challenges of the continent that revolves around sustainable and inclusive development, considered broadly in Africa as the ultimate guarantor of peace, political stability, and social solidarity. 

The practical contributions to key questions of sustainable and inclusive economic development generally rank among many as the net input to securing Africa’s prosperity and any meaningful strategic partnership for Africa can be defined only by the measurable and tangible contribution of these indices. Both in peacekeeping, the contribution of strategic mineral resources, deepening and broadening multilateralism, scaling up the frontiers of the fourth industrial revolution, strategically moderating international political temperament and upholding the centrality of the United Nations System, and advancing law-based international order, Africa is holding a balance that is both indispensable and pivoted to the emerging global consensus on building a community of shared future for all humanity and therefore, not a pushover or a mere strategic accomplice in the pursuit of anyone’s national security interest.

China-Africa relation is not new though it has gained phenomenal traction and global visibility since the turn of the 21st century, especially with its massive contributions to the national aggregates of the respective countries in Africa. The China-Africa cooperation has responded in practical terms to one of the key historical deficits in the continent’s struggle for integration. The historic challenges of infrastructure connectivity within and among countries in Africa are in practical resolution, with more than 13,000 km of roads, bridges and railways built.

Furthermore, 80 large-scale power stations, several sea and airports, 45 sporting venues, over 130 medical facilities, and 170 schools with nearly 200,000 personnel trained in addition to parliament buildings, special economic zones, agricultural demonstration centers built in the past twenty years by China through multidimensional cooperation with African countries. When the U.S Secretary of State and other top western officials visit Africa, it is most likely they would have landed at China’s assisted airports, travelled on China’s supported road networks. 

It would, therefore, take extreme cynicism to describe China’s engagement with Africa as “harmful activities” that need to be countered”. If the U.S Africa policy designers are so “blinkered” by ideological bigotry and big power rivalry to see the actual and practical outcomes of the China-Africa comprehensive partnership, they can tap into the wisdom of their African peers to see. The enabling roles of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) since its founding in 2000 in advancing cooperation at many strategic levels that have considerably boosted Africa’s renaissance have reached new heights.

With Africa as the region with the largest number of countries in the partnership of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the continent’s infrastructural base is on the upswing. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest country and its largest economy would in the few months ahead have its first ever deep seaport go into full operation that would turn the country into a regional maritime hub. The Lekki Deep Seaport is one of the major harvests of Nigeria-China cooperation under the Belt and Road partnership. It would be a wonder in political salesmanship for U.S Africa policy crafters to convince Nigerians among whom, over 200,000 persons would get direct jobs from the deep sea port to take seriously the alleged “harmful activities of the People’s Republic of China” in Africa that needs to be countered, let alone the various levels of government in the country that would accruing more than $200 billion in taxes, royalties and duties from activities of the port.

Though it is nearly fifty years since the Nigeria leader, General Murtala Mohammed warned the U.S and other western powers that Africa “has come of age”, Washington in crafting its recent “strategy towards the Sub – Saharan Africa”, seemed to take the lessons of history very lightly otherwise seeking to draw Africa into a battle to “counter harmful activities of the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and other actors”, in Africa would be very much unnecessary in a 21st Century strategy for partnership.

Mr Onunaiju, is the Director, Center for China Studies, Abuja, Nigeria