My Say: How Not to Make Friends and Influence People
After four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” isolationism, US President Joe Biden has announced “America is back”. His White House has since tried to find allies against China and Russia.
But he did not find many, especially in the countries of the South. His summit with Southeast Asian leaders in May was well attended but held little promise. Worse still, his Summit of the Americas in June revealed the loss of American influence in his longtime backyard.
The latest US strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) presented in August was expected to do better on the continent of Trump’s “shitty countries”. But he delivered little more than rhetoric. As with its Indo-Pacific economic framework for prosperity, it is considered “a hamburger without beef”.
Biden’s strategy is explicitly aimed at “countering harmful activities” by China and Russia, and “exposing and highlighting the risks of negative activities by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and Russia in Africa. “. But he offers no evidence of such threats.
He says China “sees the region as an important arena for challenging the rules-based international order, advancing its own narrow commercial and geopolitical interests, and undermining transparency and openness.”
Likewise, he insists that “Russia sees the region as a permissive environment for parastatal and private military companies, often fomenting instability for strategic and financial gain.”
Outlining Biden’s SSA strategy in South Africa, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, “Our commitment to a stronger partnership with Africa is not about trying to outdo the others. He stressed that “our aim is not to say that you have to choose”.
While “glad” that the United States is not forcing Africa to choose, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor reminded the Blinken mission that no African country can be “bullied” or threatened like this: “either you choose this or else”. The host also reminded his guests of the plight of the Palestinian people and life under apartheid.
Visiting Rwanda just before Blinken’s announcement, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield threatened: “Africa could face consequences if it trades in US-sanctioned products. United.
Pandor described the US Congress’ bill, “Clamping Malicious Russian Activities in Africa Act”, as “offensive legislation”. The bill, the Strategic Competition Act of 2021 and the US Innovation and Competition Act have all been criticized by Africans, including governments, as “Cold War-like”.
Calling for diplomacy, not war, Pandor urged: “African countries that wish to have relations with China, let them do so, whatever the particular form of relations.”
The credibility of the United States in doubt
Biden’s SSA strategy has four explicit goals: fostering openness and open societies; deliver democratic and security dividends; advancing pandemic recovery and economic opportunity; and supporting conservation, climate adaptation and a just energy transition.
The US strategy paper refers to the G7 Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) of 2022, pledging US$600 billion (RM2.7 trillion). Convinced that the PGII will “advance the national security of the United States,” the White House pledged $200 billion “to carry out groundbreaking projects aimed at strengthening economies.”
After all, the promise of the G7 Summit in Gleneagles in 2005 – to double aid by 2010, with $50 billion a year for Africa – has still not been fulfilled. Actual help was terribly short with no transparent reporting or accountability.
More than half a century ago, rich countries pledged 0.7% of their national income in development aid. The US has long ranked last in the G7, spending just 0.18% in 2021. Additionally, US aid effectiveness is the worst among the world’s 27 richest countries.
Meanwhile, rich countries are far from meeting their 2009 pledges to provide US$100 billion in climate finance a year through 2020 to help developing countries adapt and mitigate global warming.
After Biden’s stillborn Build Back Better World initiative, many doubt the amount of congressional approvals and what will be available for the SSA. Similarly, before mid-2021, the Biden administration pledged pandemic containment support.
But he did not back developing countries’ demand at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for a temporary waiver of related patents. The June 2022 WTO compromise was nothing short of “shameful”.
Sourcing Covid pandemic needs from China and Russia has been decried as “vaccine diplomacy”. Sanctions against Russia halted the contractual delivery of 110 million doses of its vaccine. This jeopardizes Unicef’s efforts to vaccinate many countries, including Zambia, Uganda, Somalia and Nigeria.
With 43.87 vaccine doses per 100 people – less than a third of the global average of 157.71, or less than a quarter of the US average of 183 doses per 100 people – Africa had the vaccination rate Lowest Covid-19, by far, as in mid-August 2022.
The SSA strategy document highlights partnerships between the United States and Africa on HIV-AIDS. But he says nothing about the fact that Big Pharma has received a threat of US sanctions against South Africa for producing generic drugs against HIV-AIDS. The United States only retreated after a global backlash as Nelson Mandela held firm.
The West is still exploiting Africa
Biden’s SSA strategy promises to “engage with African partners to expose and highlight the risks of negative PRC and Russian activities in Africa” in line with the US National Defense Strategy 2022.
But he does not know why Africa remains underdeveloped and poor. After all, Africa has about 30% of the world’s known mineral reserves and 60% of its arable land. Yet 33 of its 54 nations are considered least developed countries.
The New Colonialism report showed that British companies control Africa’s major mineral resources, with 101 mainly British companies listed on the London Stock Exchange having mining operations in 37 SSA countries.
Together they control over $1 trillion, while US$192 billion is drained from Africa each year through profit shifting and tax evasion by foreign companies.
France retains control of the monetary systems of its former colonies, forcing them to deposit foreign exchange reserves with the French Treasury. He never hesitated to overthrow “unfriendly” governments through coups and his army.
Recently, the United States promised to continue to provide France with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support over Africa, using its advanced drone and satellite technology.
While former colonial powers continue to control and exploit SSA, policies imposed by donors, the International Monetary Fund and multilateral development banks have ensured its continued underdevelopment and impoverishment.
Once a net food exporter, Africa has become a net food importer. With more pronounced Washington Consensus policies since the 1980s, food insecurity has worsened. SSA has also deindustrialized, making it more resource dependent and vulnerable to international commodity price volatility.
Forget the past?
Many Africans have suffered greatly because of colonialism, racism, apartheid and other oppressions. Pan-Africanism contributed a lot to the non-aligned movement during the former cold war. Julius Nyerere said in 1965: “We will not allow our friends to choose our enemies”.
Half a century later, Mandela reminded the West not to assume that its “enemies should be our enemies”. Older Africans still remember the former Soviet Union and China for their support in past struggles when most of the West remained on the wrong side of history.
Africans are rightly wary of the new “Greeks bearing gifts” and promises. While most don’t want a new Cold War, many see China and Russia offering more tangible benefits. Unsurprisingly, 25 out of 54 African states did not support the March 2022 United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions from 2008 to 2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former professor of economics, was United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic Development. He is the recipient of the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.