Many are questioning the U.S. approach to Africa, especially after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton revealed the White House’s new Africa strategy. In simple terms, the U.S. wants Africa to choose between America and China. But, as Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, said, this approach won’t work.
The U.S. plan actually accuses China and Russia of “predatory” practices saying they are “deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage.”
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Bolton clamed China’s dealings with the continent of using “bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands.”
“China’s relationship with the continent is not all bad. Nor can we say the US’ relationship with Africa is universally beneficial,” he wrote in Quartz. “The strategy calls for an end to the dissipation of aid across a multitude of projects and in the name of many causes.”
It’s not that the U.S. hasn’t contributed to Africa. In fact, the U.S. is the largest provider of development assistance world-wide and to Africa. America spent $8.7 billion in Africa in 2017. Also, the USAID operated more than two dozen regional and bilateral African missions.
And, it’s not that Obasanjo doesn’t agree with some parts of Bolton’s plan, but points out that it is shortsighted. “As Ambassador Bolton correctly noted, one of the comparative strengths of the Marshall Plan was in its targeting of key economic sectors. Yet problems in the operational ineffectiveness of aid is not only confined to Africa. It is also at least as much a donor problem as one of the recipients. The high transaction costs of aid reflect the multiple domestic constituencies in the donor countries that need to be assuaged, highlighting institutional priorities and politics that are seldom African in origin,” Obasanjo wrote.
President Donald Trump speaks from the Oval Office of the White House as he gives a prime-time address about border security Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Washington. (Carlos Barria/Pool Photo via AP)
China has not been shy about spending money in Africa and forging partnerships across the continent. “As a result, China’s trade relationship with Africa has grown this century from just $10 billion to nearly $200 billion, and its continental investment stake is now greater than that of the United States at $35 billion by 2017, with over $140 billion in Chinese loans committed to date,” Obasanjo wrote.
According to Obasanjo, there are major concerns about the new U.S. strategy.
“The document stresses the need to combat terrorism, and to use foreign aid to open up US markets to African partners, with little recognition of the different levels of development, sophistication and threat across the continent’s 55 states,” Obasanjo wrote. “Some fear that US relations with Saudi Arabia point to how Washington will approach African countries – you can do what you want (and get a lot from us) as long as you act as a partner.”
Obasanjo feels the U.S. policy does not see the full potential of Africa and what an asset it would be to be a full partner with Africa.
And in the end, Obasanjo doesn’t see America taken over from China.
“The United States is unlikely to beat China at its African game of delivering low-cost infrastructure in exchange for resources and contracts. Not only is the weight of population numbers on China’s side, but aid conditionality is likely to drive a race to the governance bottom, not the top,” Obasanjo wrote.