U.S. exploitation of Africa knows no limits
When Biden claims that the U.S. is focused on “priorities that matter most to Africa,” it must first take responsibility for its own doublespeak on Africa.
Washington is not “all in” on Africa’s future. The three-day U.S.-Africa Summit hosted in America has been wrongly touted as an enduring commitment to the continent’s future. The U.S. has put its Africa diplomacy on ice for years, pushed nations to weigh divisive great power competition choices, and undermined Africa’s access to legitimate financing and resources by keeping global institutional frameworks out of reach. Some $55 billion in U.S. investment does nothing to respect the continent’s most prized possession, its autonomy, which the U.S. has willingly breached for years.
Look back to 2014, when former U.S. President Barack Obama slashed U.S. foreign aid to the region, neglected core issues of health and food insecurity in plain sight, and conditioned U.S.-Africa expectations on what Washington insisted was stability. The continent, having borne the brunt of colonialism for long, has been exposed to U.S.-backed terror and militia groups over the years. The resulting instability has kept equitable growth prospects at bay, but quietly facilitated U.S. regime change desires in countries that it judged as democratic outliers.
Offering a tease through the African Union’s inclusion in the Group of 20 (G20) won’t be enough. This is because Africa’s own priorities for development should not depend on U.S. approval, as seen in the past. Given America’s history of tightening influence over financial institutions, it has used similar economic groupings to frustrate multibillion dollar assistance. The $55 billion offered to African countries would need to be unconditional for genuine gains. This is the point where U.S. refusal is clear as day.
In the words of David Shinn, former ambassador to Ethiopia with extensive diplomatic experience across Africa, “Africa has always been at the bottom of the U.S. foreign policy priority list.” What does that neglect say about concrete common-ground between U.S. and mega-diverse Africa? If anything, it confirms that the notion of “strengthening partnerships” with Africa is mere optics from the U.S.
Such partnerships have struggled to secure complete buy-in from the continent’s leaders or been absent altogether. A case in point is the current extension of people-to-people ties between U.S. and Africa, as well as seasonal U.S. emphasis on inclusive trade – much to the continent’s own disadvantage because of discontinuity. This is also the first U.S.-Africa Summit in eight years, a testament in itself to blatant U.S. neglect towards Africa in entirety.
On the other hand, the geopolitical reality of Washington’s Africa courtship is clear. After all, the Biden administration has given clear indications of leveraging the summit to rival what hawks claim as Chinese influence in the region. Such cold war mentality is at the heart of sweeping promises about “transparency” and “democracy” in Africa. Washington is aiming to target several African sectors that have successfully delivered China-Africa development gains long-term, hoping to use investments for a conflict of incentives.
Blatant exploitation of Africa in America’s great power rivalry designs is also difficult to miss. Look no further than Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin, who offered falsehoods about Africa’s active development partners and touted their “destabilising” effects on the continent. Note that these are the same countries that the U.S. has billed as geopolitical rivals on the world-stage. Biden wishes to use Africa as a theater for zero-sum competition, and African states must sense the temperature.
“In our [Washington’s] view, our new shared vision statement lays out a forward-looking foundation for the 21st century partnership between Africa and the United States,” claimed Biden at the U.S.-Africa Summit Leaders Session recently.
Africa’s deep skepticism of U.S. promises deals a blow to such platitudes. It is a hard fact that the U.S. has overlooked major financing that is key to building Africa’s future through sustainable and inclusive economies. The continent’s vast market potential has also been denied the same degree of traction in U.S. policy circles when compared to other priority markets towards the East. U.S. foreign direct investment in Africa has been flat for years, and Washington refuses to accept Africa’s embrace of a diverse pool of international investors with a healthy stake in the continent’s future.
Dangerous fiction that a “debt trap” will takeover African economies is one that received a cold reception in key African capitals. Now pushing African states to fit a U.S. narrative of great power rivalry ignores that African leaders don’t want to take any sides, chiefly between the U.S. and China. The Pentagon still keeps great power exploitation in Africa on its mind, making it clear that there is no case for credible U.S. engagement amid geopolitics.
Much of the talk around U.S. debt-relief for Africa also merits critical scrutiny. Consider the fact that the U.S. has repeatedly failed in the past to offer meaningful debt-relief support to African economies, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, when needed most. Washington must be made to answer for its meager contributions to G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), an initiative to support economies in stress but barely built upon for Africa.
So when Biden claims that the U.S. is focused on “priorities that matter most to Africa,” it must first take responsibility for its own doublespeak on Africa. That includes a painful legacy of economic exploitation, foreign interference, zero-sum competition, and diplomatic neglect as the U.S. unjustly keeps Africa at the bottom of its foreign policy priority list.