US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said on Thursday that African countries should be careful not to forfeit their sovereignty when they accept loans from China, the continent’s biggest trading partner.
Tillerson is using his first diplomatic trip to the continent to bolster security alliances on a continent increasingly turning to Beijing for aid and trade.
He may also seek to smoothen relations after US President, Donald Trump, who reportedly dismissed some African nations as “shithole countries” in January. Trump later denied making the comment.
“We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese dollars from Africa,” Tillerson told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital. “It is important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those agreements and not forfeit their sovereignty.”
The US is the leading aid donor to Africa but China surpassed it as a trade partner in 2009. Beijing has pumped billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, though critics say the use of Chinese firms and labour undermines their value.
But according to Tillerson, Chinese investments “do not bring significant job creation locally” and criticised how Beijing structures loans to African governments.
If a government accepts a Chinese loan and “gets into trouble”, he said, it can “lose control of its own infrastructure or its own resources through default.”
The growing Chinese lending to the continent has also attracted criticism from some Africans who say China’s agenda is to feed its appetite for African raw materials like oil, timber and minerals, and secure contracts for its firms.
Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, visiting Zimbabwe on Thursday, told reporters it was inappropriate for Tillerson to criticise China’s relationship with African countries.
“It was not appropriate to criticise the relations of his hosts – when he was a guest there – with another country,” he said.
Many African governments enjoy close ties with both Washington and Beijing. Kenya, for example, inaugurated a $3.2 billion railway funded by China last year. In the last three years, Kenya has received more than $100 million annually in US security assistance.
According to the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Geoffrey Onyema, the Federal Government received a provisional $6 billion loan offer from China in 2017 to fund infrastructural project across the country.
In 2013, former President Goodluck Jonathan, also signed a $3 billion loan from China at an interest rate of less than 3 per cent over a 15 to 20-year period targetted at infrastructure development.
Some of investment include ongoing remodelling and reconstruction of international airports terminals; the Total Egina FPSO oil and gas project; and railway projects in Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Ibadan, Kaduna among others.
The Chinese are also funding various projects in Nigeria’s electricity, agricultural and manufacturing sectors as part of efforts to support the country’s economic diversification of the economy. There are also plans by China to invest additional $40 billion in subsequent years in Nigeria.