There is a new wind of change in Africa blowing Africans towards working harder than before to achieving economic prosperity for their people. This wind has equally ignited a new struggle for opportunities to invest on the continent by foreign countries. While other countries are grabbing the opportunity to invest in growing African economies, the U.S is struggling to keep up. It took President Donald Trump two years before finally appointing an assistant secretary for African Affairs in July last year. And his administration moved on to commit a series of diplomatic blunders in its relations with the continent, such as snubbing the Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission in a botched visit to Washington and punishing Rwanda for imposing tariffs on secondhand clothes from the United States. Meanwhile China continued to strengthen its commitments to the continent as evidenced by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, during which China and African countries strengthened their cooperation on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative .
For years, the United States presidential administration, Democratic and Republican alike, have partnered with African governments and regional institutions based on the premise that helping Africa prosper also served the interest of the U.S. When Rwanda troops needed to be airlifted to the Central African Republic in 2014 to support an all peacekeeping force, they called on the U.S. Air Force for support. The U.S. seem to be losing that privileged position of being a “partner of choice” to Africa in the face of France and China’s investment in long-term relationship with Africa. To change this trend, the U.S. National Security Adviser, John Bolton, in a speech last December at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Think Tank, announced a new U.S. African strategy . Bolton wants to advance U.S. Trade and investment, suppress terrorism and conflict, and ensure that U.S. aid is well spent. That is serving the interests of the United States.
France, however , is not resting on its oars in this new scramble for self-serving opportunities in Africa . In 2013, the French Senate published a report, entitled “Africa is our Future” “(L’ Afrique est notre avenir), highlighting 10 priority and 70 measures to improve French-African relations . And since his election is 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron has placed Africa at the cornerstone of France’s foreign relations policy. Macron has stated a desire “to partner with, not dominate African States”. France in the hope of boosting its trade volume with Africa, plans to increase its aid to the continent to 20billion euros in 2019. The French government has also recently allocated more resources to development aid since the migration crisis began making international headlines and straining French-African relations. This aid has mostly been focused on counter-terrorism. The European Union and France recently announced a total of $1.5 billion to fight violent extremists in the Sahel.
But the fact remains that the priorities of Washington and Paris in developing relations with Africa are based on their need for unrestricted access to natural resources of African States. This goal is achieved under the guise of providing various assistance regarding combating terrorism, migration and improving human rights situation on the continent . Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Metteo Salvin, on January 23 this year, affirmed this when he derided France’s “apathy” toward stabilizing Libya, claiming “probably because it has oil interest that are opposed to those of Italy”.
Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi Di Malo , supported this position two days later by claiming that French economic policies prevented African States’ development and contribute to increased migration from the continent. At the heart of the new U.S. African strategy, however, is about countering China, and ousting undesirable African regimes that might not play along with the U.S. as they engage others who would readily help them spur growth of their economies through provision of capital and much-needed infrastructure. Bolton attacked Beijing for its “predatory” role in Africa and vowed “a determined response”. He noted that part of Beijing’s strategy has been to extend large loans with opaque terms to African countries, giving China leverage over national governments.
The U.S. could actually deliver on its new determined response to achieve its economic interests and national security goals in Africa because is far freer from commitments in Africa South of the Sahara than in any other region of the world. Following the political leadership of North Africa States on the Arab uprising’s scenario, Washington is now able to spread the practice of destructive imposition of democratic principles and freedom to the West of the continent, where elements of its military structure, Africom, are already present. Historically, West Africa has traditionally been a zone of political influence of France. But recently there has been a gradual diminishing of Paris influence in the region where Washington is increasingly using the methods of “force diplomacy”. While the U.S. have deployed Special Forces and drones both unarmed and armed in support of Niger and the Nigerien government against terrorism, the French Forces are also engaged in counter terrorism operations against military groups in Niger, Libya and Mali as part of its operation Juniper Shield.
“We’re helping you; and more, you’re doing our bidding; reportedly said one active-duty Green Beret officer with recent experience in West Africa as he described the secret programs carried out under a legal authority known as Section 127e. Clearly there is an upcoming battle for the spheres of influence between Washington and Paris in Africa.
Among European countries, France has the highest levels of military engagement with Africa. France has military bases located from western Senegal to the Horn of Africa. The country recently reinforced its ground troops in the central African Republic, stationed there since 2008 as part of an operation to stabilize the country and train local soldiers. It has also been active in Chad since 1986, and this base is key to its current Sahel operations against alQaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Dine. However economic relations between France and African countries are defined by a variety of trajectories, and, since the 2005, there has been a tentative shift away from France with diversification of partnership. Now given the future implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, AFCFTA, the economic partnership agreements negotiated between the European Union and the African, Carribean , and Pacific groups of countries may have to be revisited.
But the United States now wants more than ever to match its military might on the continent with its economic prowess in the spirit of its new “determined response” to others scrambling for emerging new opportunities on the continent. Last July it unveiled its Prosper Africa initiative to focus on synchronizing the efforts of U.S. government agencies to facilitate more deals between U.S. and African businesses , and to address trade and investment barriers.
Sanni writes from Kano