The use of Africa as a pawn in the competition between the United States and China, Russia and other major powers, rather than sincerely promoting the interests of the African people, goes way back, and does not appear to be changing. Analysis

The US strategy towards Africa – announced by the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, during his recent visit to South Africa is nothing new, and the US paternalistic approach towards Africa goes back to the past. It is basically the use of Africa as a pawn in the competition between the United States and China, Russia and other major powers, rather than sincerely promoting the interests of the African people.

It is clear, however, that the United States is not succeeding in trying to strengthen its relations with Africa by inciting anti-Chinese sentiments, as is the case within the amorphous European ruling classes and in tow of the White House. The People’s Republic of China and Africa have long established a solid partnership, bringing tangible benefits to the African continent, which cannot be wiped out by any trite rhetoric of the Yellow Peril.

During his visit, Secretary of State Blinken announced the White House’s vision for sub-Saharan Africa when he delivered his speech in Pretoria. He said that the strategy aimed to strengthen the USA-Africa relations by building an open society, promoting democracy, fostering economic cooperation and addressing climate change.

Blinken emphasised the importance of Africa in terms of its young population, critical minerals (to be exploited), and strategic maritime areas (where to deploy US fleets), as well as the votes of the fifty-four African countries (the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic is not in the UN) in international organisations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation.

He said that these attributes would make Africa a priority of US foreign policy. Disappointingly, however, the vague strategy avoided specific commitments and responsibilities. This traditional, but mild strategy is the latest in a paternalistic wave of do-gooder preaching from the West, and the United States in particular, about how African countries should manage their own affairs according to the aforementioned diplomacies, like puppets in a European puppet theatre.

Blinken did not seem to have a good understanding of the situation on African soil. African leaders – surely frightened by the ways in which Western countries impose “democracy” in Near and Middle East Libya and in other countries, with military alliances and “humanitarian” bombs – no longer have any interest in listening to lethal prattle about idealised forms of “democracy” and “human rights” that not even the United States itself has been able to achieve in its own country.

Just see the ways in which black people are treated; the para-bantustans for native Amerindians; the pockets of poverty in which you can find even white US citizens; the health services for which you must absolutely pay, without caring about those who cannot do so; corruption in politics, voting regarded as a mere formality, etc. – all issues on which we have already dwelt.

Blinken’s inferences about the deficit of African democracy are based on dubious indicators proposed by Western non-governmental organisations such as Freedom House. Relying on Western cognitive networks to understand and draw conclusions about Africa is somewhere between contempt for African governments and ridicule for African and other political observers. We can see that the United States still regards its own system of governance as the gold standard to which all countries of the world should aspire: the well-known manifest destiny to impose itself on the Earth.

It should be added that one of the most disappointing, but also unexpected aspects of the US strategy for Africa is the one that sees this continent as the chessboard on which the pieces are placed for endless triangular games in the competition with great powers such as the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation. We get the clear impression that Africa’s value to the United States is largely derivative rather than intrinsic.

Blinken mentioned China’s relationship with Africa in three different instances – and all negatively. He stated that “the People’s Republic of China views the Africa region as a challenge to the rules-based international order, promoting its narrow commercial and geopolitical interests, undermining transparency and openness, and sabotaging US relations with African peoples and governments”. Hence the White House is engaged in what it calls “combating the harmful activities of the People’s Republic of China, Russia and other foreign players”.

He further said that the US Department of Defence would work with African partners to explain to them the risks of adverse activities by the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation in Africa. Blinken also publicised the Global Partnership for Infrastructure Investment, a global initiative supported by the Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States) widely seen as an attempt to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (the Silk Road).

The United States has been one of the most vocal critics of the Belt and Road Initiative, arguing that the People’s Republic of China is using it to undermine the sovereignty of developing countries, while promoting China’s national interests. After all, we have already pointed out in previous articles that since 2011 the war in Syria has been an attempt to undermine the Silk Road.

The US claims have not been substantiated and do not stand up to simple fact-checking. They are just a political smear campaign against the People’s Republic of China. China and Africa have established a solid partnership rooted in traditional friendship and equal treatment between the two sides, dating back to the Bandung Conference (1955), to the period of Egypt’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China (1956), and the construction of impressive railway facilities in Africa, built by China since the time of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution without asking for anything in return.

The People’s Republic of China is an important part of Africa’s economic recovery in the 21st century, including trade, investment, finance and social development. On thorny issues such as peace and security in Africa and the fight against the new COVID epidemic, the People’s Republic of China has always done what it promised in its collaborative efforts.

The People’s Republic of China is one of the largest contributors to African peacekeeping missions, with over 1,800 soldiers. A contingent that is larger than that of the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council combined. Despite Blinken’s declared commitment to peace and security in Africa, the United States has sent only 29 staff units to UN peacekeeping missions.

While the new COVID epidemic hit the world, the People’s Republic of China was at the forefront in helping Africa fight it through supplies and donations. Unlike the US vaccine nationalism, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that the COVID-19 vaccine was a global public good and ensured access to it in Africa and in other developing countries.

China’s proposals such as the Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative – China’s recent proposals for world peace and global security – are particularly in line with Africa’s interests in sustainable development as well, rather than imposing an alien way of thinking on other countries.

In its cooperation with Africa, the People’s Republic of China has consistently adhered to the principles of respecting the sovereignty of African countries and non-interference in internal affairs. These principles demonstrate China’s confidence in the African countries’ to choose the path of development for themselves. The reason why African leaders today lean towards the Middle Empire is because China-Africa relations have brought tangible benefits to the African continent, which cannot be wiped away by the neo-McCarthyist rhetoric of Cold War anti-communism.

Anti-China rhetoric has long consumed US foreign policy, culminating in the US Congress adoption of the China Competition Act, which is essentially an effort to counter China’s growing importance in global affairs, including in Africa. The moves lead us to thinks the USA is more interested in undermining China’s growing influence in Africa than advancing African interests. In the eyes of the US establishment, Africa is nothing more than a geopolitical arena.

By making Africa choose between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, Blinken has clearly learnt nothing from the past nor from Kissinger’s lessons.

African leaders are no longer interested in the zone-of-influence politics of the 1960s-1990s, when the relationship between these powers forced them to choose a scenario and then be left on the sidelines. Africa has learnt to manage various partnerships based on its own merits and the interests of the continent, even with the help of external forces.

The United States cannot build strong partnerships with Africa by fuelling anti-Chinese sentiments. It would be better for everybody if the United States could complement what China has already been doing in Africa for some time.

Giancarlo Elia Valori