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America Can’t Continue to Ignore Africa

From March 12, 1947, to December 26, 1991, the global power and dominance struggle was a covert war between the United States and Russia. It was a period of geopolitical tensions between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies. Then in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. As a result, the United States and its allies won the Cold War.

But ever since Vladimir Putin assumed the helm of affairs in Russia, his dream has been to rebuild the Soviet Union. So, when he ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, he made his intentions clear to the world. As a result, the world is about to witness another era of struggle for dominance. But this time, it would not be covert. Instead, it is an all-out war, one we hope will not evolve into a nuclear war.

But while Russia and the United States struggle for influence in Europe and the Pacific, China is on the verge of becoming the dominant influence in Africa. If the United States wants to win its current global war against Russia, it must not continue to ignore Africa. In 2021, Gen. Stephen Townsend, Commander of U.S. Africa Command at the time, recognized the danger. He warned that the United States ignores Africa at its peril. “China and Russia don’t ignore Africa, and that alone should say something,” he said.

Yet, the Biden administration is still to implement an African policy that will curb or compete with China’s growing economic influence in the continent. But instead, the administration has continued on the old policy path. In doing so, the Biden administration has continued the reactionary American policy on Africa.

Historically, the United States still needs to have a clear policy on Africa. The sustained argument has been that the United States has no genuine interest in Africa. As a result, its policy on Africa continues to swing between neglect and exploitation. During the cold war years from 1947 to 1991, the United States showed what many regarded as superficial interest only because it wanted to expand its sphere of influence beyond that of the Soviet Union.

As the world inches to the precipice of another war for global dominance between Russia and the United States, the latter must do more in Africa. But, first, it must show that its interest in Africa goes beyond the gratuitous historical engagement. And it looks like the United States has finally woken up. Last month, in February 2023, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen took a 10-day trip to Africa. She said it was the beginning of a year of sustained high-level U.S. engagement to demonstrate that the Biden administration is “all in on Africa and all in with Africa.”

Why is Africa strategically important to the United States?

In March 2023, the United Nations estimated that Africa’s population is 1.427 billion. According to the United Nations report, this population represents 16.72% of the world’s population. With a rising educated and urbanized population, the United States recognizes that Africa is on course to shape the future of the global economy.

Moreover, as Africa grows with informed and more digitally connected youths, it provides a larger market for U.S. goods and investment opportunities. But, for now, China is outcompeting the United States in Africa. If the United States cede Africa to China, in the next dozen years, China’s economy will surpass the United States by double-digit factors.

But a more profound reason why Africa is strategically important to the United States is China’s growing alliance with Russia. Consider Zambia, for instance; more than a third of Zambia’s debt is owed to Chinese lenders. Already, China is making it difficult for Zambia to refinance its loans to access a 1.3 billion loan received by the International Monetary Fund to build the future.

The situation with Zambia is not isolated. The U.S. estimates that Chinese lending to Africa ranges from $350 billion to a trillion dollars. And, in most instances, many grey areas in Chinese lending can leave a legacy of debt. For example, it is rumored that in some of these lending, African leaders signed documents that jeopardized their country’s sovereignty.

Beyond lending, China is also taking advantage of the business opportunities in Africa. During the Cold War, the United States had a significant business presence in Africa. For example, the Xerox Corporation, International Business Machines (IBM), Coca-Cola, Ford Motors, Citicorp, General Motors, and many more are American companies with substantial African presence. But most of these corporations disinvested in Africa.

China is fast becoming Africa’s neocolonialist. As China’s friendship with Russia grows, growing with it is the fear that African countries will adopt the friend of my friend is my friend mentality. Already, South Africa held a naval drill with Russia and China days before the anniversary of the Ukraine war. Africa is critical if the U.S. must win another global dominance war against Russia.

What the United States should do.

The U.S. plan to compete in Africa must be on two fronts – cultural and economic. But, while the cultural plan must be immediate, the economic goal should evolve. As a matter of urgency, the U.S. must find ways to increase social and cultural interactions with Africa. The influence of American culture in Africa is a significant factor in its relationship with Africa.

The American culture of freedom and liberty aligns more with African values than communism. It may be why China’s domination in Africa has been slow. The United States must increase and encourage immigration and tourism from African countries. It is an excellent way to infuse core American values into Africa.

The United States must take decisive and bold steps on the economic front. Today, China manages and operates one in five seaports in Sub-Saharan Africa. It gives China a military and economic advantage over the United States in Africa. The United States must also reevaluate its part in African politics. It must ensure that democracy in Africa is transparent and reflects the people’s aspirations. It is one way to build goodwill for mutual collaboration.

Finally, all is not lost, but time is running out. Unfortunately, the current global political and economic situation does offer the United States the luxury of continuing the America First policy. Anyone who argues the contrary needs help to understand the trend or is playing willful ignorance.

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