Insanity—US Foreign Policy in Africa

May 4, 2022 Updated: May 5, 2022


“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Why is U.S. policy in Africa insane? Because we repeat doing things, thinking that Africans will be pro-West, pro-democracy, pro-America, anti-authoritarian, and anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Well, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) is wrong.


In a recent discussion on Africa, Carla Jones, an African expert and a professor at Sam Houston State University, made the following observation:

“The sentiment of some African citizens is that they favor democratic government ideals, yet they really appreciate the advancement that non-democratic governments have provided that facilitate growth and trade. The approach for building stronger partnerships with African countries can no longer be looked at as though both parties play by the same rules. China competes like they’re competing in a zero-sum game so the US should not continue in the future the same way it has in the past.”

The current administration appears to be on autopilot in Africa, thoughtlessly maintaining a preset heading. Below are some of the actions the U.S. government has been doing:

  • The U.S. Information Agency conducted cultural diplomacy for decades and was disbanded after America “won” the Cold War. The remaining U.S. cultural diplomacy programs are the International Visitors Program, Fulbright Program, African Leaders Initiative program, American Centers and American Corners.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development provided $9.6 billion in aid to sub-Saharan Africa out of $31.7 billion in 2021. Of the total global aid, $23.3 billion was focused on health and humanitarian aid. This is great for people living on the edge, but it is more of the same assistance we have provided for years.

On the economic front, one statistic for 2021 highlights another problem:

  • China-Africa trade totaled about $254 billion in 2021, an increase of $67 billion from 2020, and U.S.–Africa trade was $64 billion. China holds about 62.1 percent of Africa’s debt, which could lead to debt-trap diplomacy.

Paul Nantulya, an African expert at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, said that the CCP’s political investment in Africa is quite substantial: “Over the last 10 years … the Chinese leaderships have visited Africa 85 times.”

In his eight years in office, Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, visited Africa four times (traveling to seven countries). Donald Trump did not visit Africa during his four-year term.

Epoch Times Photo
A quayside bridge loads cargo for the China-Africa liner “Shengli Grace” in Yantai Port, East China’s Shandong Province, on Dec. 21, 2021. The annual cargo volume of China’s liner ships to Africa from Yantai Port has surpassed the 1 million ton mark for the first time, up 89.6% year on year. (Tang Ke/Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

It Is the Ideology

In Africa, the CCP’s efforts center on ideological indoctrination. The CCP has Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road”) projects all over Africa to transport Chinese goods to Africa and raw materials from Africa to China. The CCP has shifted attention to political indoctrination and assisting Africans in political organization.

Nantulya observed that “through the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) mechanism, China is currently training and providing professional political training, ideological training to African entities and political parties more than any other industrialized country … between 80,000 and 100,000 training opportunities once every three to four years.”

He added that “it’s not just Chinese delegations going to Africa, but African delegations going to China and China also establishing institutions on the ground on the African continent to train and reach a larger number of elites, and these elites are not just political elites but also media … China is offering a 14-month media fellowship for African journalists. They go and intern in different Chinese media organizations.”

CCP Educational Warfare

U.S. domestic pressure to investigate the CCP-funded Confucius Institutes’ (CIs) agenda has contributed to the closure of many CIs. In 2017, 103 CIs were in the United States; today, the number has declined to 18, and more CIs will close. This is good news. Overseas, the trend is different.

In 2000, there were no CIs in Africa. Today, there are almost as many CIs in Africa as France’s Alliance Française (active in 34 African countries with 116 locations). The following statistics show the growing CCP ideological influence as of November 2021:

  • 61 CIs and 48 Confucius Classrooms are in Africa.
  • More than 30 African universities have established Chinese language departments or Chinese language majors, and 16 African countries have incorporated Mandarin language courses into their national education systems.
  • Since 2004, China has sent 5,500 Chinese language teachers and volunteers to 48 African nations.
Epoch Times Photo
A Chinese language teacher talks to students at the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos in Nigeria on April 6, 2016. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images)

CCP Ideological School Opens in Tanzania

Nantulya noted that the Mwalimu Nyerere Ideological School in Tanzania was built and funded by Beijing for $40 million and by the CCP-funded revolutionary African movements of CCM (Tanzania), ANC (South Africa), SWAPO (Namibia), MPLA (Angola), Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe), and Frelimo (Mozambique).

Political leaders from Tanzania and those six CCP-funded movements were present for the opening of the school on Feb. 23, which is “to train political party officials in southern Africa … as part of Beijing’s efforts to export its model of governance” and to “serve political parties in the region and be a platform for China to enhance exchanges with them as a form of ‘party-to-party diplomacy,’” according to the South China Morning Post. Initially, the six countries will be sending their youth and leaders for training.

Yun Sun, director of the Stimson Center’s China program, observed that the CCP had trained African leaders and officials for decades. In her 2020 Congressional testimony, Yun noted that the new CCP school “will train around 400 military and civilian cadres from the former Liberation movements of southern Africa each year. Already, over 2,000 party and military cadres from Africa train in Chinese political schools each year.”

Wait, There Is More!

Not only will the ideological school help Africans move closer ideologically to the CCP, according to Yun, but the CCP has also promised to provide “50,000 training opportunities to African countries, including government officials, opinion leaders, scholars, journalists, and technical experts. These are essentially the African political, economic, and social elites as well as opinion leaders that will shape the future of the continent and its relations with China.”

Xi Jinping and African leaders
Chinese leader Xi Jinping poses with African leaders, including Malawi’s President Arthur Peter Mutharika (2nd row, 2nd R), during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, China, on Sept. 3, 2018. (How Hwee Young/AFP/Getty Images)

In addition to providing “education” to Africans, Yun warns that Beijing is “contributing to the growth of digitally enabled authoritarianism in Africa through the sale of advanced surveillance technologies and is making a concerted effort to shape African media to promote pro-China narratives.”

Shooting Ourselves

The U.S. government also encourages U.S. citizens to study in China under DOS-endorsed Fulbright and Gilman Scholarship programs and other U.S. government programs such as Boren Scholarship and Project Go for ROTC students.

Fulbright Program

Since 1999, Washington sent (taxpayer-funded) up to 200 American students, professors, teachers, and mid-career professionals per year to China and up to 100 Chinese citizens to the United States under the Fulbright Program. The U.S. Congress has allocated $105.5 million for fiscal years 2022–2026 for the global Fulbright Program.

While the Trump administration canceled U.S. government-funded exchange programs with China and Hong Kong in July 2020, including Fulbright and Peace Corps, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in February 2022 to restart the Fulbright program in China. Reps. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) amended H.R. 4521—America COMPETES Act of 2022—which would restore the Fulbright exchange programs with China. The U.S. Senate and the House are now in conference, deciding the wording of the final bill to present to President Joe Biden.

A privately-funded program is the Schwarzman Scholars program, which started in 2015. Stephen A. Schwarzman is the CEO of Blackstone Group, a private equity company with $731 billion in assets under management (as of Sept. 30, 2021) with heavy investments in China. He is listed in Bloomberg’s “Billionaires Index” as the 35th richest person in the world with $33.7 billion in assets. The Schwarzman Scholars program sends 200 graduate students (Americans–40 percent, Chinese–20 percent, and others from around the world–40 percent) for a one-year fully funded master’s degree in global affairs at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Tsinghua University graduates have been CCP elites, and alumni include current Chairman Xi Jinping, former Chairman Hu Jintao, former Chairman of the National People’s Congress Wu Bangguo, former Premier Zhu Rongji, and former Vice Premier Huang Ju. Why did Schwarzman choose Tsinghua University?

China annually hosts more than 490,000 students from around the world. These students present what military planners might call a “target-rich environment”—an opportunity to indoctrinate students with CCP propaganda and build long-term alignment with the CCP. Luckily, some universities in the United States are shifting their Chinese language programs from China to Taiwan.

Yun Sun noted that the purpose of the ideology push in Africa was to demonstrate that “China uses its own development model, which combines political authoritarianism and economic capitalism, to show to African countries that economic development and political stability can coexist without a democratic system.”

This may be the message underlying the studies of nearly half a million students each year studying in China and the over 1 million Chinese students studying abroad (300,000 in the United States).

The famous quote attributed to Vladimir Lenin comes to mind: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Guermantes Lailari is a retired USAF Foreign Area Officer specializing in the Middle East and Europe as well as counterterrorism, irregular warfare, and missile defense. He has studied, worked, and served in the Middle East and North Africa for over 14 years and similarly in Europe for six years. He was a U.S. Air Force Attaché in the Middle East, served in Iraq and holds advanced degrees in International Relations and Strategic Intelligence. He researches authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that threaten democracies. He will be a Taiwan Fellow in Taipei during 2022.