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The fight for Africa

By Ralph Geeplay   

 

US  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recent Africa tour, which ran for 11 days indicates that Washington is determined to reassert itself on the continent, after a lackluster Obama first term that put forward no real Africa agenda. Don’t forget that America had extensive connections on the continent during the height of the cold war.

Clinton’s trip, which included stops in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal and South Sudan, came days after China assembled six African heads of state and ministers from 50 countries.

Her first stop was in Dakar, Senegal. She wasted no time when she let loose the cannon, telling university students that the US was committed to “a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it” from Africa. She said, unlike other countries, “America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep the resources flowing.” Although she name no names, it is clear the US Secretary was throwing a jab at communist China.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua complained immediately, that the United States were trying to “drive a wedge between China and Africa.” Xinhua went as far as terming her remarks as “rude,” and uncalled for.

China’s investment in Africa has been growing rapidly, and has also built diplomatic relations. Three years ago, China overtook the United States as the continent largest trading partner. While Washington attaches political strings to the aid it gives African countries China has no such policy.

Trade between the Asian giant and Africa reached 166.3billion in 2011; it also gave Africa 20billion in loans during the recent Africa – China summit. Add that to the 200million African Union headquarters it built in Addis Ababa as a gift to the continent and then you begin to understand the importance that China attaches to the AU and its member states.

When President Hu Jintao enthusiastically welcomed his African guests during the fifth Forum on China – Africa Cooperation in May this year, he called for a fresh paradigm between his country and the continent, stating, “We should oppose the practices of the big bullying the small, the strong dominating over the weak and the rich oppressing the poor.”

President Hu Jintao promised that China would be “a good friend, a good partner and a good brother.” Remarks some say the US thought was directed at Washington, given American unilateralism in world affairs during the past years that heightened under President George W. Bush and his neo-conservative assistants.

Critics say China, hungry for minerals to feed its growing economy, is extracting raw materials while exporting cheap products and manufactured goods to a continent that is just finding its foot economically. It is no secret that Clinton’s recent visit to Africa was meant to remind Africans that the United States was still a friend to the people of the continent. And by doing so, a U.S. policy in tandem is trying to slow China’s sway.

Speaking to the voice of America, American University Professor Emilio Viano validated these claims when he said, “One of the major objectives of the visit is to compete with China and try to limit China’s influence, business making and political power in Africa.”

On her African tour, Secretary of State Clinton took along American business leaders as well. Among the deals wrapped up reports say was a 2billion pact that the Export-Import Bank signed with the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, to provide clean energy and infrastructural improvement to Africa’s biggest economy.

Analysts say though Clinton was right in asking African governments to seek the path of democracy in today’s world where China is now the leading investor in Africa. They also contend that the United States directly or through proxy fomented most of the continents wars by propping up dictators on the continent during the cold war.

For example, Liberia’s Samuel Doe was a staunch ally of the United States, so was Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. But when Africa went in flames the U.S. was silent if not quiet, often giving excuses when its leadership was needed.
The double standard of the west also alarmed Africans when the U.S. used its unipolar power during the last decades of the 20th century, to ignore those high conflict areas in Rwanda, Liberia and the Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo, and other hot spots on the continent during the 1990s, but was eager to intervene in such places as Bosnia and Kuwait.

The U. S. always cited its “special interest,” sometimes merely to be expedient, other times just turning a blind eye even in the face of dire humanitarian needs to civilians as they were slaughtered to their graves, wars that saw despicable crimes against women and children and with soldiers as young as 10 years old. The United States offered an official apology through President Clinton, though, for ignoring Rwanda.

While China seeks to exploit these memories and especially Western European colonial hegemony and imperial links on the continent as evident by Jintao remarks, it does so by invoking the wrath of western powers who still have long standing so-called traditional and grand relations with African governments that dates back to the 1800s when Africa was partitioned. But China too is now without blame, according to observers.

Africans have already begun complaining about China, and the rifts can be seen in the microcosm that is the Zambian mines. Last year Chinese supervisors shot 13 coal miners in what amounted to wage quarrel; and then this year, rioting Zambians murdered a Chinese manager “Wu Shengzai, aged 50… by protesting workers after being hit by a trolley which was pushed towards him by the rioting miners as he ran away into the underground where he wanted to seek refugee,” said the BBC.

The challenge Africa today faces says observers, is whether the continent can learn from its past and forge its own future by clearly defining its own national interests as it welcome investors without being outdone by these powers again. “It would be interesting to see what new peddle will be put to the metal in Addis Ababa as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma takes on the AU Top Post. Unless Africa put in place a clear policy, by defining its own interest in dealing with foreign powers, I am afraid it will still be a puppet with strings attached” says a political science professor at the University of Liberia.

Africans should brace themselves, say analysts, because the journey has just begun. Today it seems the continent is the new bridesmaid in town with all this wooing from foreign powers who have always protected their own interest when dealing with Africa. Rich in mineral resources (that attracted the European colonists to feed their markets in the first place) and a growing population that is young, can leaders on the continent managed the change and not squandered this opportunity?

The ordinary African was let down say pundits at the dawn of the 1960s when independent fever grip the continent ‘as indigenous now took their destinies into their hands, independent and free from colonialism,’ while expelling the European governors with much fanfare and zest, in what became a great disappointment to the average African from their own leaders during the succeeding decades: senseless civil/bush wars, famines, stooges for cold war powers, economic mismanagement and military dictatorships and coups.

Pundits say if the AU were to tax luxury good alone across the continent, it could fund its own development projects and not look to external partners to fund the AU budget, financial muscle that could enable it to give humanitarian, peace and security assistance to its member states, and probably repay China the 200million for the AU headquarters and not merely be contend to receive it as a gift.

The continent can never be truly independent when it is always holding the cap in hand, looking up to powers for help, say observers. China can look at the US and make a bluff, because America owe them about a trillion dollars. The AU, others say is lamed because it is broke. They also say at the core of Africa’s development is the need to feed itself, the first priority of any region or country that seeks industrialization.

As Gwynne Dyer recently warned, this short and long term economic growth currently on the horizon will mean nothing, unless “African governments invest enough in agriculture now,… keep everybody fed; if not, the long-term future of the continent is probably widespread violence and gradual economic collapse.”

Ralph Geeplay can be reached at akklamm@gmail.com

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