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'Too Little, Too Late': US Not 'Flexible Enough' to Compete With China in Africa, Experts Say

© AFP 2023 / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKIUS President Joe Biden (C) participates in a family photo with the leaders of the US-Africa Leaders Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, on December 15, 2022.
US President Joe Biden (C) participates in a family photo with the leaders of the US-Africa Leaders Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, on December 15, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.12.2022
The 2022 US–Africa Leaders Summit, which took place from 13 to 15 December in Washington DC, was the second such event in history. It has been widely seen as part of an American attempt to counter growing Chinese influence in Africa. Sputnik asked various experts to assess Washington's chances of success.
America's intensified efforts to compete with China in cooperating with Africa face several obstacles, with the Chinese development model being more attractive to the developing nations than the US model, Dr Ezzat Saad, director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said in an interview with Sputnik.

"It is remarkable that China does not seek to impose its development model or governance system on other countries, but through a flexible Chinese policy that is compatible with the changing conditions [...] in Africa, and is based on a development pattern that meets the needs of the continent away from competition or any ideological considerations, in contrast to the American approach in this regard," he underlines.

Saad also notes that Washington treats Africa "as a bloc without states with their own interests and concerns", which "undoubtedly reflects the strength of the relationship between Washington and Africa".
The American strategy on the continent, which is characterized by a high level of politicization of relations, is connected to the US global political interests, says Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy adviser at consultancy Development Reimagined, specializing in geopolitics - with particular reference to Africa in the changing global order.

"I think the US, of course, would continue to increase its pressure campaign on China and try to recruit African countries to take part in western-sponsored UN resolutions and proposals also in the United Nations, the Human Rights Commission, to try to use the UN system to exert pressure on China. And that is likely to increase both. There's a concern that African countries are not going to play along," he notes.

There are all sorts of fields of competition among foreign powers in Africa. One of the most important is investment, as the continent is still "in dire need" of funding, mainly to develop infrastructure and human capital, says Nicholas Dweh Nimley, a writer and research scholar on China-Africa Cooperation who is also chief editor of Liberia's NEWCOM Television. According to him, if the US was serious about wanting to compete with the East Asian giant, it could provide low-interest loans to Africa or write off infrastructural loans as China does - but it is uncertain whether such measures would be approved by Congress, "because it is the US taxpayers' money".
For his part, Saad believes that the announcements made at the Washington summit - such as plans to invest at least $55Bln in Africa over the next three years, to allocate $2.5Bln for food aid and to lend up to $21Bln through the International Monetary Fund to low and middle-income countries - are too paltry to eclipse Chinese influence.

The bottom line is that the aforementioned western initiatives are 'too little, too late', even according to some western experts, and that inflation and domestic policies in major western countries will limit the funding that governments will provide, and the private sector in these countries will be very reluctant to invest in an environment of instability," Saad said.

China, in contrast, sees insecurity in Africa as a consequence of insufficient sustainable development, believing that economic and technical assistance as well as investments in infrastructure projects are necessary to achieve "stability, security, social peace and good governance in the countries of the continent", he underlines.
China is Africa's main direct backer, with its investment roughly double that of the US.
Chinese ambassador to the United States Qin Gang speaks at an August 31, 2021, event - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.12.2022
China Rejects Africa 'Debt Trap' Allegations, Calls for Dropping 'Geopolitical Games' on Continent
Another area where the US and China are rivals in Africa is trade. Chinese exports are dwarfing US exports to Africa because of the difference in approach, Nimley notes. In his opinion, "it is about quantity over quality", as China supplies Africa with products and services more suitable to the continent's purchasing power, which is still quite low.

"The US model speaks about quality over quantity, but looking across Africa, you will see the [African Union] headquarters, funded by China; ongoing ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] headquarters, funded by China; the African Center for Disease Control, funded by China; railways, bridges, being funded by the Chinese loans. So why does the US model speak more about quality work? The people of Africa are hoping to see the presence and for them to do more," he emphasizes.

China is Africa's largest trading partner, with the volume of trade between the Asian state and the continent reaching $254Bln last year - four times the value of trade between the US and African countries.
There are several more spheres in which the US seeks to counter China. One such is education, Nimley notes, with America often the more attractive for Africans because of easier integration "despite China being the favorite destination for African students thanks to the scholarships provided annually". The expert also noted climate change aid and military support as potential fields of developing US-Africa cooperation.
However, notes Saad, the history of US-Africa policies has made it difficult for Africans to trust Washington's promises, a situation which has been exacerbated by the US not following up on pledges made recently - for instance, the 2014 US-Africa Summit "did not result in concrete commitments". The expert also emphasized that the experience with western states, including the US, "does not inspire developing countries to trust the seriousness" of American investment initiatives.
Among notable discrepancies between the rhetoric in the 2014 summit when "America’s commitment to Africa’s security" took center stage, and the post-summit reality was the ongoing crisis in Sahel, which could not be tackled either by the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), or by America's European allies.
US President Barack Obama waves as he finishes a press conference at the end of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, on August 6, 2014. - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.12.2022
Have All the Promises of the 2014 US-Africa Summit Been Kept?
Dr Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, Ugandan independent researcher and political scientist with a special interest in political economics notes that in general, where policy is concerned, America's approach is to "lecture and bully" Africans whereas China's approach is better appreciated by Africans, and this is a great stumbling block is America wants to compete for Africa's affections, he believes.

"[Competing with China is] going to be very difficult [for the US], for as long as the Chinese are going to keep playing the game that they're playing right now – of flexibility, of non-interference, of willingness to invest money, I'm not sure the US is flexible enough to play the kind of game the Chinese are playing. I'm not even sure that the Europeans are able to play the same game. I think that the Chinese have been much more creative and shown much more foresight in what they want to do in Africa. And I don't think western powers are going to be able to catch up with them," Golooba-Mutebi notes.

Nimley says he does not think the US will achieve the role it wants to play in Africa in the medium term. He notes that America "is starting with $15Bln out of a total of $55Bln" whereas China has provided $60Bln to African countries through loans and other mechanisms. "So, for the US to regain its role, they need to help Africa to develop," the expert concludes.
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