Great Powers in Africa: A Battle for Influence
Africa, a continent in dire need of development, yet, a rising economic power, is becoming a zone for an economical battle between the two giants, U.S and China. Neglecting Africa during the Trump years paved a way for China to step forward. The Build Back Better World (B3W) announced in June 2021 by the G7 countries was a countermeasure to the BRI project and the growing Chinese influence.
An Era of Neglect
Africa witnessed neglect in the Trump years, as the administration had shifted its focus to confront the enemy, instead of expanding influence. America was being isolated in the international arena thanks to the Republicans. The National security Strategy did not bring many benefits, as it was aimed at countering adversaries. However, towards the end of his tenure, he realized the Chinese advancements in the African continent and hence was forced to launch his new Africa policy promising development and attention to the region.
In 2018, the Chinese held a two-day Beijing Summit hosted by the Forum On China- Africa Co-operation (FOCAC). Representatives of 54 out of the 55 African nations were present, hence making it the biggest gathering of African leaders. Over the years, China has become the leading trade partner of Africa with $170 Billion worth of trade in 2018. China is also the biggest lender of loans to the African nations, often granted for infrastructural purposes. Loans worth billions of dollars have been granted to the African countries by China, approximately $143 Billion from 2000 to 2017, hence the increasing Chinese influence. The African Union headquarters in Ethiopia was also built by China.
The African nations cannot evade the attractiveness of the Chinese developments or the BRI project. For a continent whose population is estimated to grow to 2.5 billion by 2050, unemployment, underdevelopment, diseases, lacking health facilities and illiteracy are major concerns. The Chinese investments and loans would help develop critical infrastructures, such as dams, health facilities, roads, railways, and ports, etc. Hence the deprived African continent can be seen tilted in favor of China.
America is Back
The Biden administration promised development for Africa after a lack of interest by the previous administration. The travel restrictions on six African nations were lifted soon after he came to power. The new administration is looking to renew bilateral trade negotiations with Kenya, hence paving the way for a renewed African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Fighting a losing Battle
However, the hardline approach towards China still exists in this administration. The B3W project was announced in June as a means of countering BRI. Whilst the BRI focuses on the strategic infrastructure, the B3W also focuses on health, climate, digital technology, and gender equity and equality in addition to infrastructure development. For years, the U.S approach towards Africa has been limited to humanitarian assistance and the containment of diseases and terrorism. This lack of interest in a potential economic power can harm the U.S interests further, and drive it out of Africa completely.
Nigeria In Deep Chaos
The African continent is a battleground for influence between the great powers. This is a battle, which the U.S is losing. The Chinese have gained ground in Africa, promising $60 Billion worth of loans to the continent in the 2018 Beijing Summit. With the primary focus on development, unlike the U.S policy of containment, China has gained immense importance for Africa. Its first offshore base is also located in Djibouti, in the horn of Africa. Hence, whilst the U.S was busy engaging China, China was busy expanding ties elsewhere.
Implications for the U.S
The U.S needs to treat Africa as a priority if it is to remain important in the continent. It should focus on renewing Africa Continental Free Trade Areas, and focus on a continental approach rather than a regional one. Unemployment is the major problem for most of the African countries, hence the U.S should focus on job creation, which will be helped by Biden’s new approach of ‘Foreign Policy for the Middle Class’. Health facilities and infrastructure, as well as exchange programs, can help curtail the spread of diseases and hence improve the living condition of the people in general. Investment is necessary for the education sector to produce skilled labor and hence can be a means for development, as can be an investment in small and medium scale industries to lift the middle class.
The African continent, due to its vast majority of untouched natural resources and a growing youth population, can be a huge reward for the one who wins this battle of influence. For the African continent, this competition brings benefits in all forms as it is expected to increase the living conditions. One can, however, not predict the future of Africa, as with the economy, comes the military. The Great powers may have a possible showdown in Africa, and the economical warfare may turn to a new Cold War. If not possible, another scenario could be a complete dominance by one party, forcing the other one to leave. Whatever be the outcome, Africa will prosper, as the great power competition will reap immense economic benefits for the whole continent.
Author: Zeeshan Naveed
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editoral policy of Global Defense Insight.