The 21st Century seems to have ushered in a period of intense competition to woo Africa. Africa, with its vast untapped economic resources, is now the battleground for global powers, notably France, the US, and especially China. Each has established an African Forum, where African leaders are periodically invited to a discussion cocktail. They all purport to have a feeling and understanding for the African Problematique, to which they pledge support for resolution. So we have the US-Africa Summit; the Forum on Sino-African Cooperation (FOCAC); French-Africa Summit.
Not to be undone, the UK has its own version with Africa, signed into operation by Tony Blair, after the Gleneagles G8 Summit that failed to establish his dream International Finance Facility (IFF) of $550 billion, by which he intended wiping off Africa’s indebtedness. The Russians, a few years ago, invited African leaders to a similar forum in Sochi, Russia, where President Putin offered a Russian plan for engagement with Africa. Turkey has shown strong interest in Africa and is instituting its own African platform. In all these, the three front liners are the French, the US, and the Chinese
The Francophonie , involving France and the French-speaking former colonies had always been the platform for Franco-African relations. But since 2006, the French opened the doors to non-French-speaking countries, including Ghana. Each American President tries to meet with African leaders, the famous one being the one with President Obama. The Chinese kicked off with the 2005 FOCAC Summit in Beijing, which was attended by Thirty Five African Heads of State.The 8th ministerial conference of the Forum on Sino-African Cooperation (FOCAC) has just ended in Dakar, Senegal. Two days of summit discussed the question of vaccines and the fight against the pandemic of Covid-19. It also touched on especially the economy within the framework of the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative”, which Eritrea and Guinea-Bissau have just joined. It is clear that the deterioration of the security situation in Ethiopia and the US sanctions imposed on Eritrea must have probably accelerated the haste to join the FOCAC. By joining the “Belt and Road” initiative, Eritrea intends to take advantage of Chinese funding and infrastructure projects.The same goes for Guinea-Bissau, where Chinese companies are already very active in forestry or deep-sea fishing. The two countries joining the New Silk Roads on the eve of the Dakar summit was described as proof of expansion of Chinese diplomacy, a proof that is also expanding “ the big family of Sino-African friendship “.
Since 2009, China has consistently surpassed the United States and Europe as Africa’s largest trading partner. As China has emerged as the world’s 21st-century factory, its appetite for raw materials has provided a solid bedrock for relations with African nations, and it is likely to do so for many years to come. Its investment in Africa hit $200 billion in 2019. Indeed, its “Belt and Road” Initiative has been attractive. In response, the United States is looking to reinvigorate its engagements in the region to counter China’s influence where possible. For instance, the Build Back Better World program and the Blue Dot Network are focused on countering China’s ever-trumpeted Belt and Road Initiative. This is spiced with much propaganda about a‘China Scare’ – a smear campaign against China, Chinese goods, Chinese labour practice and morality, indeed Chinese behaviour. China has virtually conquered Africa in mining, transport infrastructure, construction, oil and gas, and manufacturing. And while China is not very much interested in political values, the US seems to be more interested in conquering Africa as part of their politico-security calculus. They are interested in bases and lily-pads, the latter of which they have thirty-nine in Africa. They are also interested in tuning Africa to Western political orientation.
Arguably, this myopic focus by the US on countering China’s economic engagements has blinded the United States to its own unique strengths. The prime example of this is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), due to expire in 2025, a non-reciprocal trade program that gives 39 eligible African countries duty-free access to U.S. markets. This has had catalytic effects on African industrialization, and many of the African manufacturers taking advantage of AGOA are exporting low-tech goods, like textiles, that they could not hope to export to China, as China still has jobs to protect in those same industrial sectors. Incidentally, Chinese firms are re-locating to Africa in order to take advantage of AGOA.
It is interesting that Dakar has hosted within a period of two weeks two giant Summits – a US-Africa Forum and FOCAC. This is indicative of the importance Africa plays in the geo-political calculations of these nations.
It is clear that Africa needs to steer a course that would be advantageous towards her development. In 2009, for example, President Abdulai Wade of Senegal hosted a US-African Forum on the theme “The United States of Africa and forum on the role and place of Africa in global governance”. He saw an opportunity to play the African card – African Unity. He called on Africa intellectuals to help turn such fora on the immediate needs of Africa. . “For far too long, African intellectuals do not come out to support African leaders on how to move the continent forward,” he said. .For Wade then, Africa’s integration should be a priority not what the Americans wanted. The forum led to the birth of two pro pan-African associations, namely the Provisional Pan African Scientific Council on the United States of Africa, a body made up of scholars and other stakeholders in African high education and research, and a Pan African Youth Alliance on the United States of Africa, comprising youths from 15 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe.
Surely, all those purporting to assist Africa through such fora and Summits have their own parochial geo-political agendas. Our leaders need the assistance of intellectuals to demand that Africa is not just exploited but assisted to develop.
By Vladimir Antwi-Danso (PhD)