Experts advise the U.S. to learn from balanced Russian and Chinese experiences in Africa

John Bolton. John Bolton. Photo : REUTERS

NEWSROOM (ADV) – U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Thursday rolled out the Trump administration’s new Africa strategy. Analysts said that his speech, while stroking a hostile and competitive tone against countries like Russia and China, will not help the United States expand its business, political and military engagement with Africa.

Calling China and Russia’s commercial cooperation with African nations “predatory practices,” Bolton asserted that the two countries’ “stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with US military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”

The new strategy is faced with numerous challenges ahead, analysts said. Difficulties include legislative authority to back the plan up, inadequate details about its implementation, continuous conditional finance and assistance, and a persistent emphasis on bilateral trade deals with African nations, which would put these countries, most developing or under-developed ones, in a disadvantage.

“The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent,” Bolton said. “Countries that repeatedly vote against the United States in international forums, or take action counter to U.S. interests, should not receive generous American foreign aid.”

Paul Mcleary, an Africa analyst, tweeted after the speech that “Bolton issues direct threat against African countries who don’t adhere to U.S. policy goals.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s attitude towards engagement with Africa has been clear. He has neither visited the continent since assuming office nor showcased enough respect for and knowledge about countries on it.

Trump reportedly called some African nations “shitholes,” and made a highly controversial claim about the alleged white-owned farm seizures in South Africa, irritating many in Africa.

“The Trump administration has shown little or no serious interest in Africa and has gotten off to a rocky start in its relations,” Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary for African affairs during the Obama presidency, told the U.S. media. “Unveiling a new strategy may give the administration an opportunity for a course correction, but only if it begins to take Africa seriously.”

But compared with others, hostility towards China and Russia in the Trump’s foreign policy actions is the most worrisome, analysts argued.

Julian Hattem, another observer on African issues, noted that “from what I can tell, Trump’s (read: Bolton’s) strategy for Africa seems to be a 10-years-too-late and entirely rhetorical/unfunded recognition of ‘oh shit! China and Russia are beating us!'”

In sharp contrast with Bolton’s accusations, many African nations have argued that compared with the uncomfortable debt terms set out by Western nations, China’s finance with no strings attached is more welcome and shows more respect for these countries.

Many U.S. analysts said that it would be more advisable for the Trump administration to stop indulging in unnecessary and undue hysteria regarding China or Russia, and that Africa is big enough to accomodate both China and U.S. engagements.

Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Reuters that he was disappointed that China had dominated Bolton’s presentation, which already lacked details on U.S. plans.

“China loomed over everything, and loomed over really important issues on trade and investment, and transparency,” he was quoted as saying. “We didn’t get many details on what the ‘Prosper Africa’ approach looks like and how it would be resourced. Those should have been the headlines of the strategy.”

Devermont recently said in the Congress that “some of the current uproar over Chinese investment in Africa is overblown and ill-informed,” and many of China’s infrastructure projects address desperate needs.

“The United States scores few points by talking down to African counterparts about the perils of Chinese engagement,” he added.

Abraham Denmark, a former assistant secretary of defense now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, tweeted that Bolton’s approach on China is “particularly self-defeating” and it may drive more African nations toward Beijing.

“Can’t we just engage Africa on its own merits and not make it part of the grand China competition chessboard?” he tweeted.

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