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In-depth Analysis: United States turns focus to Africa in shifting global landscape

During the US-Africa Summit held in December 2022, the United States pledged to invest a staggering $55 billion in Africa within the upcoming three years (Photo: U.S. Department of State)

By Alemitu Homa @alemituhoma

Addis Abeba – In the ever-evolving landscape of the African continent, a formidable pushback against Western powers is surfacing and steadily gaining momentum. As nuances and complexities arise, Africa and the Western world now stand at a crucial crossroads, caught in the midst of a profound socio-political shift that necessitates a reexamination of long-standing relationships and traditional ideologies.

A telling manifestation of this emerging trend can be witnessed in the recent policy shift by the United States government, signaling a desire to retain relevance and significance on the continent. The US-Africa Summit held in December 2022 served as a pivotal moment in this endeavor, bringing together forty-nine African leaders for a three-day summit aimed at forging new partnerships and identifying areas of cooperation.

Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the special presidential representative for the US-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation, outlined the important focal points that would guide the redefined policy. These key areas included digital transformation, trade and investment, healthcare, climate and energy, democracy and human rights, as well as food security. Utilizing these pillars, the United States has pledged significant financial support, with an investment of $55 billion planned over the next three years. The majority of these funds will be directed towards initiatives such as combating HIV/AIDS and improving access to electricity throughout Africa.

The political and economic relationship between Africa and the United States has undergone remarkable changes since the end of the Second World War. In the aftermath of the war, many African nations began their journey towards decolonization and independence. The US supported African countries’ efforts to break free from colonial rule, contributing to the rise of newly independent nations across the continent.

During the Cold War era, the US provided military assistance, economic aid, and political support to African nations, particularly those strategically important in the global power struggle between the US and the Soviet Union.

After the end of the Cold War, the US became an important partner in Africa’s economic development agenda. Notable initiatives such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the establishment of the US-Africa Command demonstrate the intention of the world’s most powerful country to deepen ties with the continent.

Jennifer Cooke, Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for African Studies at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, is among the experts who criticize the previous US approach toward Africa. During discussions with journalists participating in a reporting tour held last month in Washington, D.C., Cooke highlighted that “misconceptions and a lack of understanding about Africa have hindered the development of a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.” According to Cooke, this has led to the relationship being tailored to a transactional and short-term approach.

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As one of the top strategic allies of the US, Ethiopia has benefited from many of these initiatives. However, a foreign relations expert close to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlights that these initiatives often focus on humanitarian aid and educational programs, falling short of achieving significant transformative economic development.

However, the shift in global dynamics has forced the United States to adapt its strategy and reassess its role in Africa’s future development. In recent years, Africa has emerged as a new arena for global superpowers to assert their influence and secure their geopolitical interests. The continent’s vast resources, strategic location, and untapped market potential have made it an attractive battleground for major players such as the United States, China, Russia, Gulf nations, and the European Union.

In particular, US policy towards Africa is influenced by China’s growing economic involvement in the continent. Cooke articulates this, stating, “In global geopolitics, there is a strategic competition between the US and China.” She added, “While it extends beyond Africa, the continent has become a significant arena for this rivalry, with far-reaching consequences.”

The African Union headquarters in Addis Abeba, constructed with Chinese assistance at a cost of $200 million, serves as a testament to China’s growing influence in Africa (Photo: newarab.com)

The political and economic relationship between Africa and China has undergone significant transformations in recent decades. Founded on the principles of mutual benefit and cooperation, this partnership has witnessed remarkable growth since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000.

According to Cooke, an expert on African matters, China holds an advantage in economic engagement with Africa due to its ability to strategically relocate state-owned companies, a power the US lacks. Additionally, American investors face a perceptional risk gap due to limited knowledge about the African market.

This growing competition for Africa was publicly acknowledged by the US in 2018 when former national security adviser John Bolton highlighted China and Russia’s deliberate and aggressive targeting of investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the US. “The US plans to counter the rapidly expanding Chinese and Russian economic and political influence in Africa,” Bolton was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Citing Bolton’s statement, the foreign relations expert, speaking anonymously with Addis Standard, argues that the US policy towards Africa revolves around containing the influence of China and Russia on the continent. “The Biden administration’s approach to Africa is a continuation of the Trump administration’s efforts to engage with the continent economically to counter the influence of China and Russia.”

The expert also criticizes the lack of recognition of Africa’s strategic importance, not only due to China’s presence but also because of its rapidly growing population, which represents a future consumer base and workforce.

Cooke suggests that the United States should invest in education and skills development to tap into Africa’s potential workforce, benefiting both the US and the world. She argues that the US should align its actions with the aspirations defined by Africans themselves to maintain its relevance and influence in Africa. Cooke believes that resolving Africa’s problems lies in addressing its developmental needs through prioritizing economic development.

John James, a member of the US House of Representatives and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs African Subcommittee, supports Cooke’s approach. He emphasizes the need for the US to become the partner of choice for African nations, offering a viable alternative to China and Russia’s dominance in the market.

However, a question arises concerning whether the US should compromise its long-standing commitment to human rights and democracy to compete with China and Russia. Cooke argues that maintaining strong ties with African governments should not come at the expense of compromising values. Representative James shares this opinion, stating that good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights are crucial for advancing the US-Africa relationship.

The foreign relations expert notes that Africa still lacks a unified voice on the global stage. While African leaders participate in various summits, their primary aim is to advance their respective national interests, hindering the creation of a cohesive and collective narrative for the continent’s interests.

To address this, the expert proposes the establishment of an organizing body within the African Union to coordinate and articulate African interests, ensuring collective representation in global multilateral systems and strategic engagement with global superpowers.

There is growing recognition that the US is receptive to the needs of African leaders, urging them to seize this opportunity by articulating their demands. Representative James echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that strengthening the relationship requires commitment from African nations as well. AS

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