The US has downplayed the emerging dominance of China in Africa, advising leaders of the continent to make the best out of the two world powers.
China’s trade with African states shot up about ten times in the last decade, with the total value tipped to hit $300 billion at the end of 2015, according to the Fourth China-Africa Industrial Forum (CAIF).
China’s trade with Africa recorded $10 billion in 2000. Last year, the figure grew to $220 billion. China is seeking to raise the amount to $400 billion by 2020. Statistics show China’s trade with the European Union stood at 467.3 billion euros in 2014 and $590.68 billion with the United States.
Speaking to a cross section of the African media via teleconference from the US, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield said there are immense opportunity in Africa for every investor hence it behooves on African countries to weigh “what is in the interest of their people and strike the best deals.”
“It’s not a new development, first of all. And secondly, I would say that the opportunities on the continent of Africa economically, as far as resources are concerned, investments are concerned, those opportunities are immense, and there is space for us, other investors, as well as the Chinese.
“So it is important, in my view, for African countries to look at potential investors from China as well as from the United States and other places and determine what is in the interest of their country and what is in the interest of their people and strike the best deals that they can strike for their people moving forward.
“So again, it’s not a competition. It’s about African countries determining what their priorities are and what their vision for economic growth and prosperity in the future requires from investors that are coming from overseas,” Thomas-Greenfield noted.
Below are excerpts from the interaction:
MODERATOR: Very good. So let’s begin with these – the first question. Our first question is from Christine Holzbauer, The New African in French, from Senegal: “How can the U.S. better help the African states that are the most hit by Boko Haram to defend themselves? And secondly, despite massive aid from USAID to the northern part of Mali, the rebellions have been recurring in this region, now threatened by affiliates of al-Qaida. How to improve the impact of aid provided by USAID over the years and make sure that it will reach the populations of these regions?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me take the first question and I’ll turn the second question over to my colleague. On Boko Haram, we have been working very, very closely with the countries of the region, particularly Nigeria but also Nigeria’s four neighbors, on helping them to address the terrorist threat that Boko Haram has posed against the people, particularly the civilian populations, in these countries. We see this as a multifaceted effort. It’s not just about dealing with the security issues, but it’s also dealing with root causes. So we have assisted all four governments on the security side, beefing up and providing training, providing intel support, providing coordination and advisory support to all four governments and particularly as it relates to the Multinational Joint Task Force that’s based in Chad.
But we’re also working with all four governments on addressing the humanitarian challenges that have resulted from the Boko Haram attacks. More than a million Nigerians have been forced from their homes. Close to 100,000 Nigerians are living outside of Nigeria as refugees. Thousands of families, ordinary people, have been impacted by Boko Haram. And these people have serious concerns that need to be addressed.
We’re also working with governments to look at broad economic development in the regions affected by Boko Haram, encouraging businesses to invest in those areas, and also ensuring that those who have been victims of Boko Haram receive the assistance that they require to rebuild their lives.
MODERATOR: Okay. I’m just going to ask the question here concerning your personal experience at this most recent African Union summit. Could you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to attend these events and what were the challenges as well as the victories in your experience there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s a great question, and I think both of us can address that question. It was very intense. For us, the African Union summit is a major event in the year for our relations with Africa, because all of the African heads of state – at least almost all of Africa’s heads of state attend, and certainly all the foreign ministers are there. So it’s an opportunity for us to meet with almost every government on every issue that is a priority for the U.S. Government. But it also gives us an opportunity to engage with our partners on where we might cooperate and how we can complement each other.
Some of the things that we worked on, I think, relentlessly during the conference, we had a number of meetings on South Sudan. I have to say those meetings were extraordinarily frustrating and extraordinarily disappointing because we have a peace agreement, and the two sides have not taken the necessary steps to implement that peace agreement. And as a result, the people of South Sudan continue to suffer.
We had a number of meetings on Burundi. We were initially disappointed at the decision that was made by the peace and security commission not to move forward with the African force going into Burundi. But they did decide the next day to send a high-level delegation there, and we’re looking forward to the results of those meetings.
Again, it’s a great opportunity for us to meet everyone. We’re extraordinarily busy. We go from 7 o’clock in the morning and sometimes till midnight, and then we start all over the very next day. I think this is Linda’s first one, so
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: Yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: — I’d be interested in hearing her views on her experience.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: I think it’s incredible to see the African Union and all the heads of state, the foreign ministers together tackling some of the most difficult issues that are facing the continent, and I think how embracing they were to having the U.S. delegation there as an observer mission, but also willing to engage us on a number of the most important questions facing the African continent – anywhere from global climate change to the areas of democracy, human rights, and governance, to the role of women, to agriculture. And I think we were also very excited that right after the summit that our Congress passed Electrify Africa, so there was a lot of conversation also about what was going on with Power Africa and the role of the United States Government in partnering with African governments and expanding access to energy throughout the continent. And so there was a lot of energy, as Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield mentioned. We were up from 7:00 in the morning and late into the night, really trying to look forward to how we can bring all of these leaders together on some of the issues that we’re most pressed with here in the United States, but also, what the continent has actually been leading on, on some of the most pressing development challenges.
MODERATOR: Very good, thank you. Okay. Our next question is from Ajong Mbapndah. He’s with Pan African Visions, an original publication: “As President Obama wraps up his presidency, what are some of the things left on his check-off list when it comes to Africa? And what are the prospects of continuing continuity and some of the initiatives he started in Africa, like YALI?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much for that question. We’re all very engaged on formulating and solidifying the Obama legacy on the continent of Africa, and I think there are some things that we have reason to be tremendously proud of, that will have lasting and sustainable impact on Africa.
The assistant administrator just mentioned Power Africa. I cannot tell you the extent to which there is enthusiasm for this initiative on the continent of Africa. And there was tremendous support for Congress passing Electrify Africa. The fact of that legislation, I think we all know, solidifies Power Africa for the future, and that will be long-lasting after the Obama Administration.
Certainly, the Young African Leaders Initiative – this is an initiative that has bipartisan support and it is an initiative that has had a major impact on the continent of Africa. We – through this initiative, we’re bringing extraordinarily ambitious and exciting and creative young people to the United States for six weeks for leadership training. And with that six weeks of training, we give them the additional tools that they need to move forward in the future and contribute to their country’s prosperity.
That initiative will have long-lasting value across the continent of Africa, just as some of the initiatives like AGOA. AGOA started during the Clinton Administration, it was extended for 15 years during the Bush Administration, and it has now been extended for 10 years under the Obama Administration. This legislation, again, will have a major impact. We don’t know what will happen after 10 years, but my view is after 10 years, Africans won’t need AGOA. They will already be very much a part of the global economy and won’t need these special benefits. But again, this is a legacy that I think is important from the Obama Administration.
Linda – and I know there are others on the aid front that you would like to comment on.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: Yeah. I mean, under the Obama Administration, a lot of changes were made as far as how we do business with African governments. And so when you look at all of the major initiatives on the development side for this Administration, they focused in Africa a lot, but they’ve really focused on partnerships. So Power Africa is 12 U.S. Government agencies partnering with African governments, multilateral organizations, the private sector, to actually solve one of the toughest infrastructure challenges – getting energy to Africans in a way that is transformative in – it’s a very different approach than we’ve taken before. It’s also served to catalyze a number of other efforts – on the part of the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and others to actually focus on different pieces of the question of how we can actually improve access to energy throughout the African continent. So the sustainability is also in the fact that we’ve seen a number of other governments really take this up as a major challenge and move forward with their own complementary – they’re part of Power Africa, but also making sure that within their own legislatures, their own parliaments, they’ve actually taken up the call much the way that our Congress did with Electrify Africa.
And then we see with Feed the Future as well, again, partnering with the private sector, really focusing, again, on agriculture as a means of growth. There had been this really strong turn to urbanization and thus turning away from rural agriculture before, this Administration. And really focusing on it – value chains and how you can actually get the private sector, agribusinesses, communities all tied into a new model for doing development that actually feeds people without actually having international donors have to come in with bags of food is transformative and something that has also enjoyed bipartisan support on the Hill. And so we’re looking to see that hopefully is institutionalized also on the Hill.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that YALI – very exciting, because you see that this generation of young people across the African continent are really taking control of their future and really looking at all of the different development initiatives and coming forward to us a lot more than we had expected. A lot of the YALI graduates have come back to USAID and presented us with different challenges or opportunities that we’ve also taken on board, and some of these we’re continuing to fund because they’re new ideas that we hadn’t thought of before.