It has taken China’s unstoppable rise for the US and allies to appreciate that Africa have plenty of opportunities to offer and should be treated with some respect. The 35km Entebbe Expressway, New Nile Bridge, Expansion of Entebbe airport, new Kabaale logistics international airport, 1442 km EACOP, Isimba and Karuma hydro-dams, many industrial parks and road networks rising out of bushes to facilitate Uganda’s socio-economic transformation.
Closer in Kenya, the Expressway stretching over 27km winding like a giant snake through Nairobi’s heart, connecting Jomo Kenyatta international airport, State House and the national museum. Then the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR easing traffic time and business costs are what Africa needs from global summits. China usually spends less time on bureaucracy and lectures reducing project completion turn-around time.
This week’s US-Africa leaders’ summit with 49 heads of government and the AU billed as building ‘new’ partnerships for peace, security, food security, energy, investment and trade is against the backdrop of Russia-Ukrainian conflict, Afghanistan fiasco, China’s journey, climate dispute, and US visible stagnation. The first was in 2014 under Barack Obama who many consider fooled Africans.
Africa has had many such summits with China dubbed FOCAC, Japan, Russia, India, and former colonists and exploiters-Britain and EU now turned benefactors giving lectures on democracy, human rights and governance although held no single election over seven decades of brutal occupation. The meetings are mostly held in rich capitals so that African leaders and their oversize delegations travel with own hard-earned money to spend there, which makes economic sense to the hosts.
Since Bill Clinton’s AGOA to support economic growth and trade, George.W. Bush’s Pepfar to fight HIV/Aids, and Obama on Power Africa project, US policy towards Africa has sea-sowed from paternalistic, condescending, meddling, and aggressive bullying that haven’t been helpful. Obama actually slashed HIV/Aids funding to Africa, while Trump didn’t bother. The benign neglect reached its climax with last year’s belated delivery of Covid19 vaccines. The US sees Africa as its playground, an attitude prevalent among its decision-makers who still believe that Africa doesn’t have its own interests in the world except to serve America’s geo-strategic games.
Hopefully, now facing decline in global stature, and deadlocked in domestic politics where no President since Obama has had a decisive majority in Congress, US establishment gurus are perhaps being compelled to re-think new forms of engagement with Africa. Consequently, just before the summit US announced a three year $55bn assistance package but only $20bn delivered. There was talk to support an AU permanent seat on the G20 and possibly representation at the Security Council, which while good are not by themselves to move forward, there must be overhaul on the rules of engagement in world finance, investment, trade, technology transfer, political, military and diplomatic relations.
China isn’t just offering sweeteners but critical infrastructure development in energy, water, health and education, and Africa is now having manufacturing centres spreading wide, utilizing locally available raw materials, exporting finished high value and quality goods. China is sub-Saharan Africa’s number one Foreign Direct Investment and trading partner through everything from textiles to high-tech and purchasing massive volumes of African agricultural products and commodities including copper and oil. For the last two decades China has been helping in building roads, ports, railways, airports, industrial and investment parks in Africa’s remotest parts using available local materials, manpower and rising revenue, yet at simultaneously increasing its aid and lending with few strings attached.
As a starting point Joe Biden moved back to re-engage with the UN and its institutions in better ways than Donald Trump who had walked away in the futile belief he could by himself Make America Great Again. Trump, discovered that even Uncle Sam could no longer dictate to the world on whims as Venezuela, Syria, and Afghanistan proved.
Biden and the NATO collection are gradually finding out that America isn’t that much loved around the world. And in the deadlocked US Congress, Biden’s pledges are more of symbolism in a catch-up race behind China. It’s unlikely that much will come from Biden who faces an uncertain political future as Republicans take control of Congress in January 2023.
But to gain while demanding equal partnership in the global dynamics, Africa must shift from being the ever present problem of the world with a begging bowl in hand, who even when its slop-sided debts are forgiven still cannot rise from the dark pit.
Africa cannot gain much from trade with US, EU, Russia, China when it cannot effectively trade within its various regional blocs like the EAC, SADC, ECOWAS, let alone the much touted Africa Free Continental Trade Area (AfCFTA). Its Agenda 2063 “The Africa We Want” a master plan to deliver inclusive and sustainable development, unity, self-determination, freedom and collective prosperity could remain hollow.
The vision to deliver an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its citizen that represent a dynamic force on the global stage while noble, remain a long shot because African elites remain beholden to external solutions, or at best in a crisis of self-confidence.
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