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US-China fight for influence in Africa continues amid threats

June 25, 2019 at 02:30 pm | Opinions & Features

Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei | Head of Content

June 25, 2019 at 02:30 pm | Opinions & Features

US President Donald Trump, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US President Donald Trump's national security adviser John Bolton and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a working dinner after the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina Dec. 1, 2018. Photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

As Africa gears towards its economic independence and liberation from Western agencies and countries to be able to trade as a single body with whoever it wishes, the United States of America and China are competing for influence in the continent.

After threatening Africa in its “Prosper Africa” strategy that states that countries that “repeatedly” vote against the U.S. in international forums or “take action counter to U.S. interests” are not entitled to U.S. aid, the Trump administration has issued another threat amid China’s growing relationship with Africa.

“We went through, just in the last 20 years, this big debt forgiveness for a lot of African countries. Now all of a sudden are we going to go through another cycle of that?” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa for African Affairs Tibor Nagy told reporters in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sunday with reference to the 1996 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative which helped clear poor countries’ billions of dollars worth of unsustainable debt.

“I certainly would not be sympathetic, and I don’t think my administration would be sympathetic to that kind of situation,” he warned African countries as agencies like the IMF have cautioned against a potential debt crisis that could hit the continent which is largely indebted to China which is Africa’s largest lender with investments totalling 100 billion dollars and covering almost every country.

“All of these countries are sovereign states, so it’s for them to decide who they want to trade with. We feel we have an obligation to point out to them when we believe they are getting into severe economic difficulties,” Nagy added.

China quickly denied the U.S. claims of creating debt traps in the continent through its cooperation with African countries.

“For some time, however, some outside forces have tried to vilify and undermine China-Africa cooperation by cooking up (accusations of) so-called neo-colonialism and debt traps, which are totally groundless and are not accepted by African people,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told senior African ministers on Tuesday in Beijing.

“Such attempts expose a total lack of respect for Africa, lack of understanding about China, absence of knowledge about the true friendship between China and Africa that has stood the test of time.

“We need to take forward project cooperation in such a way as to ensure real economic and social benefits and respect market principles. The African continent is the independent homeland for the 1.4 billion people of Africa, not a sphere of influence for any major country,” he added.

China’s investments in Africa surged by more than 100 times from 2000 to 2017 and the total trade volume increased by 17 times. In 2017, China’s trade with Africa surged by 14 percent year on year to 170 billion U.S. dollars with Chinese direct investment hitting about 3 billion dollars annually on average.

Last year, a USD $60 billion commitment was made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the form of grants, loans and special funds to Africa, as well as, the investment of $10 billion by Chinese companies in Africa through 2021.

Jinping also said that the government debt from Chinese interest-free loans due by the end of the year (2018) would be written off for the poorest African nations. A gesture convincing Africa that China does not pursue selfish gains within the continent and would never impose its will on others.

The U.S. has always maintained that China is using its influence in Africa to serve as a security threat to them and they will do everything in their power to end China’s cooperation.

“China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption, and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as U.S. developmental programs.

“Such predatory actions are sub-components of broader Chinese strategic initiatives, including “One Belt, One Road”—a plan to develop a series of trade routes leading to and from China with the ultimate goal of advancing Chinese global dominance,” explained U.S. national security adviser, John Bolton, early this year.

While the war of influence rages on, Africa is steadily pursuing economic independence with its iconic African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement which would turn the continent into the single largest free trade market in the world after the market is launched on July 7, 2019.

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