Is West’s renewed interest in Africa an attempt to check China?

By Mark Kapchanga Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/2 18:53:40

Barely a month before Beijing hosted the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the US, the UK and Germany went into an overdrive, holding bilateral discussions with key African leaders.

In the US, President Donald Trump met Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta on August 27. Infrastructure, trade and security in the Horn of Africa dominated their deliberations.

Two days later, British Prime Minister Theresa May flew to Nairobi in what signals the end of the "dark continent" tag that has for long been synonymous with Africa.

In her speech on August 28 in Cape Town, before touring Nigeria and Kenya, May pledged $5.2 billion in support for African economies to create jobs for young people. She further pledged a fundamental shift in aid spending to focus on Africa's long-term economic and security challenges rather than short-term poverty reduction. It had been 30 years since a UK prime minister visited Kenya!

It is becoming apparent that Africa is now a cornerstone of powerful countries' efforts to expand their global footprint. The continent, too, is changing as it undergoes a metamorphosis and projects itself as a primary destination of international investments.

In the last decade, African leaders' focus has been on increasing trade and the modernization of infrastructure rather than the usual globetrotting asking for aid. China has emerged as a leading country in the game of improving Africa's roads, construction of new railway lines and investment in massive energy projects such as Ethiopia's Gibe III.

At the time Africa was suffering, unfortunately, some Western countries did not come to its help. Through the World Bank and the IMF, tough conditions were imposed before funds were released to prop up Africa's "sluggish and hopeless" economy. Their firms shut down while others scaled down their operations in the continent, citing flimsy reasons such as lack of security, erratic power supply, lack of skilled manpower and poor roads.

In what lends credence to the assertion that France is warming up to Africa and its opportunities, by July, French President Emmanuel Macron had visited the continent eight times. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also made a trip to Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria last week. Besides seeking to check the rise of irregular migrants to Europe, her agenda in the West African countries sought to bolster Germany's economic ties in a continent it has had a tepid relationship with for a long while.

In what signals its desperation for opportunities in Africa, during the G20 meeting in 2017, Germany came up with compact with Africa and the "Marshall Plan" with Africa, seeking to re-energize Berlin's relations with the continent.

It is not wrong for Europe and the US to seek to rewrite their ties with the continent. However, they need to be honest with African leaders in their new engagement.

At a time Africa was suffering from poor leadership, dilapidated infrastructure, poverty and ignorance, these  developed countries sat on the fence without offering a helping hand. Once in a while, they would pretend to help Africa through tightly defined grants and loans, whose terms, such as the Structural Adjustment Programs, still haunt some African countries. It would be unfortunate if any renewed interest is driven by the intent to check China's perceived dominance of Africa.

FOCAC, which kicks off on Monday, is a strong platform for China and African countries to deepen cooperation. Europe and the US need to realize that China and other emerging countries have displaced them from Africa. These developed countries now need to partner and cooperate to make Africa better. Areas of cooperation may include roads, energy, education, health and housing. A stronger Africa would be good for international commerce with other regions of the world.

But for this dream to come true, protectionism should be seen as archaic. The Trump argument of "America First" and the pending Brexit defeat global cooperation between economies that African countries seem so much focused on.

The author is a researcher and expert on China-Africa cooperation based in Nairobi, Kenya. Follow him on Twitter @kapchanga.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus