US’s Africa Strategy Seeks to Balance China While Promoting US Interests, African Middle Class

December 16, 2018 Updated: December 17, 2018

WASHINGTON—The United States will be shifting away from aid programs and toward investment in Africa as it aims to promote stability and self-reliance on the continent.

The new U.S. strategy on Africa also aims to counter aggression on that continent by China and, to a lesser extent, Russia, both of which are focusing their investments  “to gain a competitive advantage over the United States,” national security adviser John Bolton said in a Dec. 13 speech unveiling the new strategy.

Speaking at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, Bolton accused Russia of trading arms and energy for votes at the United Nations, while keeping strongmen in power that “run counter to the best interests of the African people.” On China, he blamed the country for using “bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt” to hold African countries under its thumb.

He pointed to Djibouti, which owes 88 percent of its GDP in public debt, the majority of it to the Chinese state-owned China Exim Bank, according to the Center for Global Development.

U.S. officials are concerned that it may soon hand over the recently nationalized Doraleh Container Terminal, a strategically located shipping port on the Red Sea, to help pay off its debt, similar to the 99-year lease Sri Lanka gave to China on its Hambantota port in 2017.

“China’s engagement with Africa is a critical element in an evolving global strategy that has at its core the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,'” writes Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “This is part of a foreign policy that … seeks to be adept at exploiting opportunities.”

It’s also in Djibouti where China has set up its first African military base, just six miles from the United States’ Camp Lemonnier, and where Bolton said U.S. officials have accused China of beaming military-grade lasers into the eyes of U.S. pilots on at least 10 occasions.

There are some 7,200 U.S. troops on the continent. They are focused on eradicating terrorism, but also limiting “the malign influence of non-African powers,” according to the United States’ 2018 National Defense Strategy. 

Last month, the Pentagon announced that it would be cutting troops there by 10 percent over several years to “to maintain a competitive posture worldwide,” a spokesperson told CNN.

“The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization,” Bolton said, adding that the United States would re-examine its support for U.N. peacekeeping missions there. 

The move follows President Donald Trump’s signing of a bill that, among other things, created the United States International Development Finance Corp., with the authority to give $60 billion in insurance, loans, and loan guarantees to companies willing to do business in developing countries.

That dovetails with the new Africa strategy, that, in addition to focusing on fighting terrorism and doubling down on U.S. aid, focuses on advancing U.S. commercial interests in the region.

While he didn’t mention China directly, Bolton promised that U.S. business interests wouldn’t require “subservience” from African nations, and that the United States would work to promote self-reliance and independence.

“America’s vision for the region is one of independence, self-reliance, and growth—not dependency, domination, and debt,” he said.

Under a new initiative called Prosper Africa, the United States will support investments that develop Africa’s middle class and improve the business climate in the region.

Bolton also promised that U.S. investment and aid would target countries that fit U.S. strategic objectives. Under the new strategy, bilateral negotiations for security and trade will be the focus to “maintain maximum American control over every American dollar spent,” Bolton said.

The United States will look at a country’s record in promoting stability in the region, how it votes on key issues related to U.S. interests at bodies such as the United Nations, and enter into agreements that “ensure fair and reciprocal exchange.”  

The United States has often made improving human rights and combating corruption in the home country a prerequisite to tapping into U.S. aid and investment, a practice China doesn’t follow.

When asked if the United States would be taking a second look at that practice, in order to maximize its competitiveness on the continent, a spokesperson for Bolton’s office said they had “nothing to announce at this time.”






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