Why is the United States paranoid about China’s growing role in Africa?


“The Chinese are foiling the United States’ maneuvers in some African countries,” said General Stephen Townsend, AFRICOM commander. Associated press in April. He said the Chinese “were looking for a place where they could rearm and repair warships …”

Deborah Brautigam, director of the China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, disputes this claim. She wrote in the Washington Post that “a lot of things our politicians believe about the Chinese engagement are not really true.” She added that China’s economic commitments in Africa are not predatory in nature, but are “very much in line with the economic interests of these African states, providing jobs for residents and improving public infrastructure.”

Brautigam also debunked the myths of Chinese “land grabbing” in Africa, in his book Will Africa feed China? “Interest in China’s role as a foreign agricultural investor in Africa has generated hundreds of newspaper and editorial articles,” Brautigam wrote. “Sensational statements and strong myths but surprisingly few investigative reporting.” His study found that out of more than 6 million hectares of alleged Chinese land acquisitions, only 252,901 hectares of land had actually been acquired. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found in a 2021 study that Chinese companies working in Africa are making concerted efforts to engage in responsible agriculture.

Growing role in Africa
Map of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative

China’s Belt and Road Initiative’s maritime “route” extends to East Africa, which has facilitated major infrastructure projects there, such as ports and modern railways. What the United States sees as a threat, African leaders view in a positive light. They see the benefits as economical, not military – unlike the United States

US Africa Command maintains a military presence in fifty African countries and has organized coup d’etat at least seven times over the past decade – Libya in 2011, Mali in 2012, 2020 and 2021, Egypt in 2013 and Burkina Faso in 2015. US trade and financial policies and practices over recent decades have culminated in a neocolonial regime often referred to as a “debt trap” which has impoverished most African countries. Until the mid-1980s America’s closest African ally was apartheid South Africa. The United States and its European allies, primarily Britain, France, Portugal and Belgium, have fiercely resisted or sabotaged Africa’s decolonization efforts since the end of World War II.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in 2018 that “We are very keen as a country, and I also believe as a continent, to work closely with China.” Liberian Economy Minister Augustus Flomo said “China is a very, very important partner in our development strategy.” The two leaders were speaking at the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which was attended by almost all African leaders.

While China’s commercial interest in Africa is clear – it needs mineral resources and oil – it in turn offers significant value.

In May 2021 at the United Nations in New York, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced, along with African countries and the African Union (AU), the launch of a partnership initiative for Africa’s development. The emphasis is on “giving greater impetus to the independent and sustainable development of Africa”. It focuses on COVID-19 response and post-COVID reconstruction, trade and investment, environmental protection, debt relief, agriculture, agribusiness, development sustainability, infrastructure, energy and transport, scientific and technical cooperation, digitization and industrialization. He calls for more vaccines for Africa and to help build African capacity to manufacture vaccines by forgoing intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. As of April 2021, China had donated vaccines to more than 80 countries and exported vaccines to more than 40 countries. Since March 2021, China had shared 48% of vaccines produced in the country with other countries through donations and exports.

The statement indicates that Africa is a stage for international cooperation, not an arena for competition from the great powers: “this initiative adheres to multilateralism and is open to all countries and international organizations of the world … ‘.”

Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa increased from US $ 75 million in 2003 to US $ 2.7 billion in 2019. Chinese FDI in Africa has exceeded that of the United States since 2014, which is declining since 2010.

Growing role in Africa

Sino-African bilateral trade has grown steadily over the past 16 years, reaching $ 192 billion in 2019. The largest exporter to China from Africa in 2019 was Angola, followed by South Africa. South and Republic of Congo. Nigeria bought the most Chinese products in 2019, followed by South Africa and Egypt.

As China’s trade with Africa has grown over the past decade, trade between the United States and Africa has plummeted from a peak of $ 113.5 billion in imports in from Africa to $ 23.7 billion in 2020. US exports increased from $ 28.39 billion in 2008 to $ 22.15 billion from around $ 46 billion, or just over a quarter of a mile. fifth of China’s trade with Africa.

China’s global foreign aid increased steadily from 2003 to 2015, from US $ 631 million in 2003 to US $ 3 billion in 2015. Between 2013 and 2018, 45% of China’s foreign aid went to Africa. For the United States, total global “economic and military aid” was about $ 50 billion in 2017, of which about $ 15 billion was military – about 30 percent – according to USAID. Foreign Aid Explorer website. Total US economic aid to the top eleven African recipient countries in 2017 was around $ 7.5 billion; military aid amounted to around $ 1.5 billion, according to the same source.

Africa’s debt to US banks and multilateral lending institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – is another story. “Structural adjustment programs”, or SAPs, have been the primary mode of financial relationship between the United States and Africa. These programs have forced African countries to repay their debts with increases debt in exchange for austerity measures and privatization. African countries have paid more than four times the amount of their original debt to World Bank and IMF lenders since 1980.[1] These debt payments bleed Africa by billions of dollars every year.

China’s economic cooperation includes concessional loans, at lower interest rates, grants and interest-free loans than trade. China has debt canceled to the least developed countries of Africa.

While China’s commercial interest in Africa is clear – it needs mineral resources and oil – it in turn offers significant value. Infrastructure projects such as seaports, airports, railways, highways and digital connectivity are making headlines. Sharing China’s experience in poverty reduction, desertification reversal and green energy is also important. The same is true of industrial and agricultural aid programs.

China’s officially declared principles for development cooperation include:

  • Respect each other as equals: “When cooperating with other countries for development, no country should interfere in their efforts to find a development path suited to their own national conditions, interfere in their internal affairs, impose their own on them. will, attach political conditions or pursue their political autonomy. – interest. “
  • Focus on development and improve people’s lives, it increases investments in poverty reduction, disaster relief, education, health care, agriculture, employment, environmental protection and response to climate change, and actively participates in emergency humanitarian relief operations.
  • Provide the means for autonomous development, China shares its experience and technologies, and trains local talents and technicians, to enable them to exploit their own potential for diversified, independent and sustainable development.
  • Conduct effective cooperation in various forms, including: full projects, goods and materials, technical cooperation, cooperation in human resource development, medical teams, outgoing volunteers, emergency humanitarian aid and debt relief.

China is committed to a multilateral approach. By the end of 2019, it had launched 82 projects within the framework of the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund, in cooperation with 14 international organizations, including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Food Program (WFP) , World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for migration (IOM) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The two main program areas are agricultural development and food security (37.89%) and poverty reduction (37.71%)

China has also established funds within the World Trade Organization and the World Customs Organization to build trade capacity and help developing economies, and in particular least developed countries, to grow. integrate into the multilateral trading system.

China is not seeking war with the United States. And “China does not intend to build a parallel international economic system, in competition with that led by the United States. China has been a key beneficiary of globalization in recent decades and has a great interest to continue this open and integrated international system “. The Belt & Road initiative – of which much of China’s engagement with Africa is a part – could “not only dramatically increase the standard of living of 64% of the world’s population … but also become a new segment of the world. the global supply chain, contributing to the global economy. growth.”

Such a development should be seen as a positive and not a threat.

Dee Chevalier

[1] “Is American ‘aid’ aid or theft? The case of Africa ”, in American exceptionalism and American innocence, by Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong, Skyhorse, New York, 2019.


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