by Joseph Hammond
America’s battles with China and Russia are not confined to trade and oil– they are now shaping the country’s policies in Africa.
National Security Adviser John Bolton unveiled the new strategy in a speech last week at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. “Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa,” Bolton said. “They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States,” Bolton said.
According to Bolton, the United States has provided $8 billion in aid to Africa in each of the past two years. That figure is dwarfed by Chinese investments in Africa. China promised some $60 billion in various investments and financial aid to Africa at an investment summit in Beijing earlier this year. The summit attracted more African heads of state then the United Nations General Assembly weeks earlier. Bolton made clear that the United States will no longer merely give development aid without strings attached to ensure progress toward democracy and the rule of law. He also criticized United Nations missions which go on year-after-year without revivew.
In response the Trump administration is launching a new program: The $60 billion International Development Finance Corporation or IDFC, which was announced in October, will facilitate American investment in Africa at a time of growing Russian and Chinese investment on the continent. Bolton’s speech directly placed America’s role in the continent in the context of what he and others see as the predatory nature of Chinese and Russian engagement in Africa.
“China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands,” Bolton said. “Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as U.S. developmental programs.”
Peter Pham, a U.S. Special Envoy to Africa, was the first Trump Administration official to comment on the new Africa strategy from Africa following Bolton’s remarks. Speaking in Marrakech, Morocco he began by noting ted that Trump’s strategy was unveiled roughly two years into his administration whereas the Obama Administration took four years to articulate its Africa policy.
“This should put to the rest the Canard that the Trump administration is not interested in Africa,” Pham said to an audience which included members of several African governments and representatives of U.S. Africa Command last Thursday in Marrakech, Morocco.
Pham also highlighted that the U.S. is interested in Africa security, not just Islamic terrorism, which has been a focus until now. Since taking office President Trump has loosened engagement rules for drone strikes in Somalia which have increasing the number of attacks. Earlier this year a U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed while fighting Al-Shabab militants in the Horn of Africa country. Last year four U.S. Special Forces were killed in an ambush in Niger.
Bolton also addressed terrorism in his Hudson Institute speech, describing the efforts of the G5 Sahel – a group of five Western African countries designed to combat terrorism – as a regional success. The United States Africa Command has sought to increase the capacity of African militaries in recent years so that African militaries can respond to regional security challenges – with less direct help from the United States and NATO allies.
“It is important to address African issues, and the Trump admiration has taken a pragmatic approach,” said Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, a former foreign minister of Mauritania and a United Nations diplomat, “though some African leaders might not like it to see the emphasis on regional approaches. This idea to make Africa a single entity might be counterproductive to Africans themselves.”
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