Author’s Note: In what I expect will be periodic commentaries on U.S. policy in Africa, I aim to offer unorthodox, paradigm changing, thought-provoking and controversial policy recommendations and prescriptions to the Trump Administration in its Africa, and particularly Ethiopia, policy. I expect to develop the core theses herein at great lengths in my future commentaries. As Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s Secretary of State once said, “Controversial proposals, once accepted, soon become hallowed.”
Of course, I do not expect the Trump Administration to pay attention to my analyses or policy recommendations on Africa. But that does not matter to me particularly in light of the fact that the man I and many other Ethiopian Americans helped elect president of the United States in 2008 ignored and scorned our pleas and petitions. To add insult to injury, Barack Obama had the audacity to insult the intelligence of all Ethiopians and Africans in July 2015 by calling the ruling Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) in Ethiopia “a democratically elected government”.
The T-TPLF took Obama’s unqualified and preposterous endorsement as the green light to unleash a campaign of massacres and mass detentions in Ethiopia. In October 2016, Obama’s T-TPLF declared a state of emergency, and by its own admission, has jailed 11,607 people. Of course, the actual number is much more than the T-TPLF figure.
In my August 2015 commentary, “Barack Obama! Tell the Truth About Ethiopia!”, I prophesied, “Barack Obama has become Death, the destroyer of Ethiopia!” That I believe to be true today. Behold the death and destruction wrought by the T-TPLF in Ethiopia today!
Obama did not tell the truth about Ethiopia, but the truth does not cease to exist because it is ignored, overlooked or scorned. The courage to tell the truth does not depend upon the cowardice of the listener.
As I reflect on the Obama Administration’s Africa policy (admittedly with a great deal of bitterness), I agonize over Obama’s betrayal of his promise of hope and “Yes, we can!” which vanished in his abysmal hypocrisy. When Obama called the T-TPLF thugs “democratically elected”, he opened a momentary window to his soul for me. I saw the real Obama for a fleeting moment, a principle-less man and a stranger to truth.
I have wondered many times whether Barack Obama, Sr., who suffered so much at the hands of the tyrant in Kenya because he stood for the truth would have felt hearing his son lie about something so important that it had the potential to determine the fate of a nation. Obama wrote in Dreams From My Father, “After [Jomo] Kenyatta fired my father he was blacklisted in Kenya, found it impossible to get work, and his life deteriorated into drinking and poverty.” Obama Sr. got into trouble with Jomo Kenyatta because “he would tell people that tribalism was going to ruin the country and that unqualified men were taking the best jobs.”
Would Obama Sr. have been proud of President Obama’s endorsement of a regime that is founded and solely dedicated to tribalism and black apartheid rule complete with “kilils” (Bantustans) in Ethiopia?
Someone once said, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.” So much for now about Barack Obama and his Africa policy.
One inconvenient truth is that Donald Trump will be President of the United States on January 20, 2017; and that is an immutable fact of political life. So, I have stoically adopted the practical attitude that “It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” To borrow another metaphor from card games with a pun, I should like to “turn up trumps” with Trump in his Africa policy. When the going gets tough, the tough gotta get going!
To be sure, I expect absolutely nothing from Trump by way of improvements in the current Africa policy, which is based on aid welfare mentality. That also means there is no chance that I could be disappointed by the Trump Administration’s failure to do the right thing in Africa. I fully expect President Trump, just like President Obama, to watch Africa mired in corruption, human rights violations, bad governance, wars, conflicts and violence with indifference and nonchalance. If I am proven wrong in the slightest, I “shall eat crow”, the ultimate blasphemy a vegan could possibly commit. Despite my pessimism, I should like to think (wishful thinking, that is) there is a glimmer of opportunity, hitherto unavailable, for those seriously interested in influencing U.S. policy in Africa.
The traditional organs and agencies of U.S. foreign policy are currently undergoing Sturm und Drang (trials and tribulations) just thinking about Trump at the helm. When Trump recently spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen by phone of Taiwan, he did not even extend the courtesy of touching base with Secretary of State John Kerry. It appears Trump (“I alone can do it.”) is likely to do his own thing or seek advice and counsel from sources other than the establishment bureaucratic cartel that has had a chokehold on U.S. foreign policy for as long as anyone living can remember. It is likely that unconventional and unorthodox views could resonate with Trump and his crew. Again, this is just pure speculation and wishful thinking on my part. But I can safely say that the era of Susan Rice, Gayle Smith, Wendy Sherman and the rest of their crew is, thankfully, over. Suffice it to say that what is an existential crisis for some could be a windfall opportunity for others.
In the twilight of the Obama Administration, I have taken a karmic attitude. Those who defended and supported the thugs and dictators in Africa and turned a blind eye, deaf ears and muted lips as they watched poor Africans suffer and die have finally faced karmic justice, poetic justice. They thought they could outsmart everyone and continue playing their games with African dictators and thugtators. Well, game over for them! So I relish the saying: “No need for revenge. Just sit back and wait. Those who hurt you will eventually screw up themselves and if you are lucky God will let you watch.” Well, I have a front-row center seat!
U.S. out of…
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump strongly intimated the U.S. should get out of NATO because “NATO is unfair, economically, to us, to the United States. Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share… [W]e don’t have money anymore because we’ve been taking care of so many people in so many different forms that we don’t have money…” He also accused certain NATO members of failing to “fulfill their obligations to us”.
Trump also signaled during the campaign that the U.S. should get out of Northeast Asia and issued a warning to Japan and South Korea: “Japan is better if it protects itself against this maniac of North Korea”, and “We are better off frankly if South Korea is going to start protecting itself … they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.” Trump said he would put a chokehold on China to change its ways. “They suck the blood out of us and we owe them money.” But “We have tremendous economic power over China. And that’s the power of trade.” He promised to “bring trade cases against China, both in this country and at the WTO [World Trade Organization].
In the Middle East, Trump doubted whether the U.S. should continue to support Saudi Arabia. “If Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection, I don’t think it would be around.” He said he would scrap the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal): “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
Trump has been talking isolationism throughout the campaign though he does not like the word. He said he is “not isolationist, but I am America First. I like the expression.”
Trump promised a complete overhaul in the way the U.S. deals with the rest of the world. “I am proposing a new foreign policy focused on advancing America’s core national interests, promoting regional stability, and producing an easing of tensions in the world. This will require rethinking the failed policies of the past.” He also promised to renegotiate existing trade deals that “get a better deal for our workers. Trump has said virtually nothing about Africa, although there is a lot of fake news about the derogatory things he has supposedly said about Africans.
Does Trump’s “isolationism” or “America first-ism” rhetoric portend the U.S. will be out of Africa leaving the continent to sink or swim on its own? Is it possible there could be major policy changes in U.S. policy towards Africa?
U.S. out of Africa?
Is it likely President Trump may decide to get the U.S. out of Africa?
There are those biting their nails over the possibility that the election of Donald Trump could endanger the “strong bipartisan consensus in Congress that has been the cornerstone of U.S. policy toward the continent for the last three administrations.” They fear Trump could “weaken and overturn” such legislation such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) allowing duty-free imports to the U.S. from eligible sub-Saharan countries, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Power Africa Act.
Trump’s predecessors have approached Africa with consternation, muted impatience and private frustration. They were ultimately resigned to the fact that Africa will amount to nothing more than an object of perpetual charity and a continent perpetually racked by violence, hunger and disease.
In 2003, George Bush’s speech in Senegal gave insight into his views on Africa: “Against the waste and violence of civil war, we will stand together for peace. Against the merciless terrorists who threaten every nation, we will wage an unrelenting campaign of justice. Confronted with desperate hunger, we will answer with human compassion and the tools of human technology. In the face of spreading disease, we will join with you in turning the tide against AIDS in Africa.” Bush’s Africa policy sought to end civil wars in Sudan, Congo, Angola, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In his second term, Bush focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment and malaria eradication. Bush is said to have given more assistance to Africa than any other president.
President Bill Clinton’s Africa policy was notable for two monumental failures. In Somalia, he expanded his predecessor’s humanitarian intervention to “stop one of the great human tragedies of this time”. Clinton justified U.S. involvement to save Africans from war and starvation arguing, “A third of a million people had died of starvation and disease. Twice that many more were at risk of dying. Meanwhile, tons of relief supplies piled up in the capital of Mogadishu because a small number of Somalis stopped food from reaching their own countrymen.” That “peacekeeping” effort ended in disaster in October 1993 in the Battle of Mogadishu.
In Rwanda, Clinton failed to engage in humanitarian intervention to stop one of the greatest tragedies at the end of the twentieth century, later regretting that “if we had gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives [300,000] that were lost.” The person singularly responsible for turning a blind eye to the Rwandan Genocide was none other Susan E. Rice, Obama’s National Security Advisor. As I documented (with declassified materials) in my December 2012 commentary, “Susan Rice and Africa’s Unholy Trinity,” Rice was more concerned about election fallout than the genocide taking place in Rwanda under her watch. In a monument to utter moral depravity and conscience-bending callous indifference, Rice casually inquired of her colleagues, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ [in Rwanda] and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?”
Susan Rice is President Barack Obama’s “brain” on Africa policy. Obama launched his engagement in Africa in 2009 by making a clarion to African leaders that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”. He cautioned them not to be “on the wrong side of history”. In July 2015, he joined and fully embraced those on the “wrong side of history” when he declared the ruling T-TPLF party in Ethiopia, which claimed to have won 100 percent of the seats in parliament and has been criticized as one of the most repressive regimes in Africa, a “democratically elected government”. When Rice was asked if the T-TPLF was democratically elected, she responded: “I think the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was just elected with 100 percent of the vote… [It was] absolutely, 100 percent [a democratic election].” She then busted out laughing. For the Obama Administration, elections in Africa are a joke.
Obama presumably pursued a strategy of constructive engagement in Africa aimed at strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, increasing trade and facilitating collaboration on security and counterterrorism issues. As part of his charm offensive, Obama wined and dined in 2013, he proposed a $7 billion Power Africa initiative with the aim of providing electricity to at least 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.
Obama talked about spreading American values in Africa and condemned torture and crimes against humanity. In August 2014, Obama wined and dined at the White House the finest practitioners of torture, corruption experts and master criminals against humanity from Africa to talk business and American investments (not human rights or American values). He even had Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya who was on trial at the International Criminal Court on several counts of crimes against humanity.
Obama has been Pollyannaish on Africa. In July 2015, Obama said, “Africa’s middle class is projected to grow to more than one billion consumers. With hundreds of millions of mobile phones, surging access to the Internet, Africans are beginning to leapfrog old technologies into new prosperity. Africa is on the move, a new Africa is emerging.”
The facts speak otherwise. Internet users in Africa in 2016 constituted only 9.3 percent, compared to 54 percent for the rest of the world. Obama’s facts on the middle class are also questionable. In 2015, The Economist observed, “Africans are mainly rich or poor, but not middle class. Yet step beyond the air-conditioned malls that are popping up like meerkats across the continent, and it is clear how thin this emerging middle class is.”
Will Trump write-off Africa as a lost cause?
Some have suggested Trump “should make Africa a foreign policy priority”. Others have advised Trump to continue the policies of his predecessors and maintain Africa’s “fragile economic progress” and reconcile U.S. “national security interests with democracy objectives”.
Continuing business as usual in Africa would be a wasted opportunity for President Trump.
President Trump’s Africa policy should be guided by three considerations: Reduced aid, increased accountability and countering Chinese neocolonial hegemony on the continent.
In 1961, President John Kennedy pledged “our best efforts” to help “peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery for whatever period is required–not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.” Perhaps in 1961 when most African countries were overthrowing the yoke of colonialism and becoming independent such an aspirational declaration may have been appropriate. After six decades and tens of billions of dollars in aid and loans from the U.S. and other Western countries, Africa remains the “beggar continent” fatally addicted to handouts and alms.
Zambian international economist Dambissa Moyo has persuasively argued that foreign aid in Africa increases corruption and bad governance. “Aid flows destined to help the average African end up supporting bloated bureaucracies in the form of the poor-country governments and donor-funded non-governmental organizations… International donors were apparently turning a blind eye to the simple fact that aid money was inadvertently fueling graft.” Indeed, the “insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment.”
Ghanaian economist George Ayittey argues that aid is not exactly aid nor is it free. “There are a couple of misconceptions about aid that we need to clear up. First of all, aid, foreign aid, is not free. It is a very soft loan, which is given to a government at concessional rates. Now, the second thing about aid is that aid is tied. Eighty percent of U.S. aid to Africa is spent right here in America — on American contractors.
There is substantial empirical literature which demonstrates “that foreign aid exhibits a zero effect on growth or any other indicators of poverty.” American economist William Easterly argues that “$568 billion in today’s dollars flowed into Africa over the past 42 years, yet per capita growth of the median African nation has been close to zero.” Easterly further argues that “With little or no feedback from the poor, there is little information as to which aid programs are working. Nor is there much incentive for the aid agency to find out what works when there is little accountability”. Simply stated, free aid money only serves to fatten the bank accounts of the dictators who seek only power and wealth.
As I have previously argued in my March 2011 commentary, “The Moral Hazard of U.S. Policy in Africa”, U.S. aid policy has created a moral hazard in Africa, and is partially responsible for the spawning of failed states on the continent. By shifting the risk of economic mismanagement, incompetence and corruption to the U.S. and other Western donors, and because these donors impose no penalty or disincentive for poor governance, inefficiency, corruption and repression, African regimes are able to cling to power for decades abusing the human rights of their citizens and stealing elections. The U.S. has continued to bail out failed African states for one major reason. African dictators can guarantee them stability so that they can maintain their strategic interests. A few billions of aid dollars given every year to guarantee “stability” in African countries is more cost effective than helping to nurture genuinely democratic self-sustaining societies in Africa. The moral hazard in U.S. aid policy comes not just from the fact that it provides fail-safe insurance to repressive regimes in Africa but also from the rewards of increasing amounts of aid and loans to buffer them from a tsunami of democratic popular uprising.
Such is precisely the case of U.S. aid in Ethiopia today. The Obama administration has buffered the T-TPLF from the pressures of internal democratic forces. The T-TPLF sees no need to change because their Uncle Sam will write out a big check every year to keep them going. The Obama administration is the T-TPLF’s underwriter providing comprehensive insurance against any internal uprising, challenge, rebellion, dissent or resistance.
The Trump Administration should significantly curtail its aid and budget support programs which have served to prop up corrupt and repressive African regimes.
The best way America can help Africa is by letting Africa help itself, and by making sure the culture of panhandling on the continent is permanently ended. The Trump administration should provide aid to African regimes only if they meet stringent conditions of accountability and transparency.
The era of U.S. foreign policy of aid handouts and alms giving to Africa generously supported by American taxpayers, without accountability, must end or significantly curtailed!
During the campaign, Trump promised to have a bonfire of federal agencies and departments. He said he would eliminate or significantly scale back the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education and Energy.
I say Trump should start with USAID by completely restructuring that agency or preferably abolishing it. USAID controls an annual largesse of nearly $23 billion. USAID’s philosophy is based on ending “extreme poverty” by alms and handouts. In 2012, the USAID handed out nearly $12 billion in official development assistance to African countries.
But USAID has significant accountability issues. Last year, I registered my strong opposition to the nomination of Gayle Smith to head USAID.
USAID’s accountability problems are deep-rooted and endemic. In 1991, CNN broadcasted [p. 7] a report documenting “gross mismanagement of money” by aid recipients and exposing USAID officials “accused of receiving kickbacks from programs.” At the time, the USAID deputy inspector general was quoted as saying, “Our crime rate is essentially higher than virtually any other agency of the government and higher than most major cities in the United States.”
A 2010 report by the USAID Inspector General concluded that “because of weaknesses in the mission’s performance management and reporting system,” auditors “could not determine whether the results reported in USAID/Ethiopia’s performance plan and report were valid.” The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in 2013 found that USAID’s lack of effective oversight and monitoring placed hundreds of millions of U.S. tax dollars “at risk of waste, fraud and abuse.” A 2013 Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that a significant amount of the nearly $10 billion spent by the U.S. in Africa between 2002 and 2012 on various health projects, including malaria and HIV control, “has been partly hijacked by organized networks that steal large quantities of donated malaria drugs and ship them from East to West Africa, where they end up for sale at street markets.” In 2016, the Inspector General of USAID reported “significant deficiencies” in financial accounting including issues related to “complying with Federal accounting standards for reimbursable agreements, maintaining adequate records of property, plant, and equipment, and promptly investigating and resolving potential funds control violations.”
It is becoming increasingly clear that USAID has become a rogue agency unaccountable to anyone.
There is sufficient prima facie evidence to justify a complete restructuring of USAID so that it no longer serves as a mechanism for laundering American tax dollars to African and other tin pot dictators throughout the world. President Trump should demand strict accountability from USAID officials doling out American tax dollars in Africa and the African regimes pocketing the aid money and stashing it in off shore accounts.
Indeed, there is no reason why the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) cannot take over the functions of USAID in its entirety. Established by Congress in 2004 as an independent agency, the MCC is founded on the principle that U.S. aid should not be given out as political largess, but rather on the recipient country’s strong commitment to good governance and sound economic and social policies which aim to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.
In theory at least, the MCC approach to aid ensures American taxpayers get the maximum bang for their buck by investing only in those countries that invest in their people and their economies and are willing to be held to transparent standards of fiscal accountability monitored by an independent agency. Although the MCC has had a few “significant deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting for the FY year ending September 30, 2016”, the “MCC effect” nevertheless holds great promise for a new and innovative way of delivering U.S. aid to Africa in a way that is resistant to the usual corruption, fraud, waste and abuse that is part of the aid delivered by USAID.
Accountability for corruption control and human rights violations
During the campaign, Trump railed against corruption at home. In his Convention speech, Trump said, “I know that corruption has reached a level like never ever before in our country… I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens.” If Trump is serious about corruption at home, he should be just as serious with corruption wherever American tax dollars are given out in the name of the American people and exposed to fraud, abuse and waste.
Corruption is the principal cause of poor governance and state failure in Africa. According to the African Union, an “estimate[d] 25 per cent of the continent’s GDP (nearly 150 billion dollars) is lost due to corruption.” In 2013, Global Financial Integrity reported [p.3] between $1.2 trillion and $1.3 trillion has left Africa in illicit financial flows between 1980 and 2009”, roughly equal [p.4] to Africa’s gross domestic product for 2014. As of March of 2014, the top 20 most indebted countries in Africa carried foreign debt of nearly $390 billion. A 2016 UNECA report [p. xii] indicated that one of the major factors in the increasing levels of corruption in Africa has to do with the “the blind eye often turned to corruptors by western countries.” The report argued that the “international dimension of corruption in Africa” is “an intrinsic part of the policy landscape in many African countries since it comes through conditionality frameworks, which is often tied to official development assistance (ODA) packages.”
In 2010, the Obama Administration put on a road show and sent U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to meet Africa’s greatest kleptocrats in Uganda where Holder delivered a stunning message : “The U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations. We’re assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption, hold offenders accountable, and protect public resources.”
Like other elements of Obama’s Africa policy, nothing came of this project although I lauded it in my November 2011 commentary, “To Catch Africa’s Biggest Thieves Hiding in America!” To date, as far as I know, there has been only one civil forfeiture action filed by the U.S. Justice Department against the son of the corrupt dictator of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang.
The Trump Administration should go after the assets of African dictators, their families and cronies and supporters in the United States. If such efforts were undertaken, I am sure there will be hundreds of witnesses to point fingers at those “sleepers” of African dictators in America.
Obama talked about African “strongmen” and “the wrong side of history” when dealing with the issue of human rights in Africa. There are those who say Trump does not give a damn about human rights. There is substantial evidence in the form of statements Trump has made over the last three decades which supports the view that he does not care about civil liberties, civil rights and human rights.
The Washington Post’s view is that dictators around the world are betting Trump will abandon America’s role as a promoter of freedom and let them do whatever they want without criticism or censure. Trump takes a dim view of the press and he has waged a Twitter war on the N.Y. Times and the Washington Post. His position on expressive freedoms seems closer to African dictators than Thomas Jefferson who said, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.” Trump said, “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws.”
One cannot expect much from someone who has little knowledge of constitutional and civil rights law. But truth be told, Barack Obama, constitutional law professor, did not give a hoot about constitutional civil or and human rights either.
Containing China’s neocolonialism in Africa
Trump has taken a strong stand against China’s impact in the United States. He said China is “using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China.” He accused China of stealing jobs from Americans, for devaluing its currency and for engaging in state-sponsored cyber-hacking. He claimed climate change is “a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.” He even said, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing.”
By the same token, is China also “raping” Africa?
I know the chic thing to say is that China is economically transforming Africa and all that. But how is China “transforming Africa”?
Indeed, much of what Trump says about China’s role in the American economy is visible in the African economies amplified many more times.
In 2015, China’s trade with African states approached nearly $300 billion, a tenfold increase over the last decade. China imports crude oil, minerals and agricultural commodities from Africa. “China is Africa’s main export market and also its largest source of imports.” Between 2000 and 2014, the Chinese government, banks and contractors extended USD$86.3 billion worth of loans to African government and state-owned enterprises. The Chinese built a USD$4 billion dollar ghost city in Angola called Kilamba using Angola’s credit line. In 2012, China announced it would provide $20 billion in new loans to Africa. China uses “debt relief to obtain exclusive rights to a nation’s natural resources and build military bases”.
U.S. exports of goods to Africa in 2013 were nearly $24 billion, an increase of $8.8 billion since 2009. For the past decade, the U.S. has been nonchalant and complacent about China’s systematic economic penetration and predation in Africa. It was a complacency born of a combination of underestimation, miscalculation, hubris and dismissive thinking.
In 2012, China’s “gift” to Africa was a brand new USD$200 million African Union headquarters built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation. Then AU chairperson, Equatorial Guinea’s three-decade plus dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema, praised the “generosity of the Chinese government”, and described the building as marking “a qualitative leap in the relations between China and Africa”. He raved about the building as “a reflection of the new Africa, and the future we want for Africa”.
I said, beware of Chinese bearing gifts. Beware of the Trojan Horse in Dragon’s costume.
In 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang defensively denied any Chinese neocolonial designs: “I wish to assure our African friends, in all seriousness, that China will never pursue a colonialist path like some countries did or allow colonialism, which belonged to the past, to reappear in Africa.”
The question is whether China is transforming Africa as its new neocolonial master. That which some call “transformation” by any other name would smell as neocolonialism.
The facts about the Chinese invasion of Africa are clear and incontrovertible. Howard French argues, “For all of China’s denials that its overseas ambitions could be compared to those of Europeans or Americans, … what I was witnessing in Africa is the higgledy-piggledy cobbling together of a new Chinese realm of interest. Here were the beginnings of a new empire.” China is gobbling up iron ore, copper, and timber across the continent with trade agreements in which Chinese government-owned companies are granted rights to huge tracts of land for timber or exclusive access to copper and iron ore mines.” The so-called Chinese investments in Africa ultimately benefit Chinese enterprises which are notorious for importing cheap Chinese labor to sustain their construction projects. There is little benefit to upgrading the mass of unskilled African labor from the so-called Chinese infrastructure development in Africa. For instance, Chinese companies have invested some $2 billion in Zambia but the current President called salaries at Chinese operated Zambian mines “slave wages.” Chinese state-owned enterprises in Africa are criticized for poor working conditions, low wages, poor environmental practices and corrupt business dealings. It is said that the all-Chinese paid iconic Africa Union building in Addis Ababa was “constructed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation with over 90 percent Chinese labour.” As of 2014, there are an estimated 1 million Chinese living and working in Africa. They are building a “new empire” for China in Africa.
U.S. policy in Africa has, at least rhetorically, promoted economic liberalization and good governance along with structural reform and improvement transparency, human rights and the rule of law. The structural adjustments programs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have had a harmful impact by tying loans and debts to reductions in public spending to meet basic human needs.
Part of the problem is that American businesses do not want to engage in business in Africa, and not entirely unreasonably. They are turned off by the endless political instability, brazen corruption, inadequate and unreliable power supplies, poor infrastructure and the limited African markets.
The Trump Administration should level the playing field for American businesses in Africa competing with Chinese enterprises. Just as China subsidizes its enterprises in a variety of ways, the U.S. should do the same such as strengthening the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM). For instance, between 2009-2014, the EXIM bank supported less than $7 billion in transactions throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In 2012, China announced it would provide $20 billion in new loans to Africa. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency has provided just $90 million to facilitate American investments in Africa since 1981, an average of less than $3 million per year. That Agency claims its support has “resulted in over $1 billion in U.S. exports related to partnerships between African project sponsors and U.S. firms.”
The bottom line is that the Trump Administration should vigorously challenge Chinese economic hegemony and neocolonialism in Africa.
Is it possible…?
After all is said and done, is it possible that Trump might simply write-off Africa as a lost cause and decide the continent could benefit from a prolonged period of benign neglect?
My credo remains the same as always. The best way America can help Africa is by letting Africa help itself, and by making sure the culture of panhandling on the continent is permanently ended.
To be continued…