Biden Administration Must Break from Past Practices, to Collaborate with China in Fostering Economic Development in Africa

CGTN published an abridged version of my article under the title: Biden administration should work with China to boost growth in Africa. https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-12-16/Biden-administration-should-work-with-China-to-boost-growth-in-Africa-WgaMXPhB0A/index.html

Read below my complete article entitled: 

Biden Administration Must Break from Past Practices to Collaborate with China in Fostering Economic Development in Africa

Lawrence Freeman

December 16, 2020

For the incoming Biden/Harris administration to make a real difference and have positive impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of African still living in poverty, they should work in partnership with China. This would require rejecting and reversing the anti-China mindset of the Trump and Obama administrations, echoed by the current chorus of voices spewing from officials of both the Democratic and Republican parties. A repeat of the defective policies of the last twelve years coupled by the shrill geo-political motivated propaganda against the nation of China, will not only do little for Africa, but it will also harm the United States, and endanger strategic relations. It should be obvious to qualified leaders, as it is to me, that the horrific conditions of life for a majority of Africans, reflects the scope of the continent’s deficit in vital infrastructure. Over 600 million are without access to electricity, over 400 million Africans live in poverty, and several nations are currently threatened with famine. If the two economic power houses, China, and the United States, worked in partnership with African nations, this impoverishment could be eliminated.

US President Donald Trump (L) and China’s President Xi Jinping speak during a joint statement in Beijing on November 9, 2017. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

Failures of Trump and Obama

Presidents Trump and Obama similarly failed to understand the necessary requirements to create real-physical economic growth to improve the conditions of life, for America or Africans. Neither comprehend the principles of the American System of economics that built the foundation of the industrialized U.S. Their conception of economics remains dominated by a belief that the wealth of a nation is measured by Wall Street’s monetary values.

US President Donald Trump (L) and China’s President Xi Jinping speak during a joint statement in Beijing on November 9, 2017. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

Trump began his presidency establishing an amiable relationship with Chinese President, Xi Jinping. Unfortunately, that quickly deteriorated as Trump propitiated the anti-China prejudices of his supporters.  Although President Trump’s road to the White House was achieved by his status as an outsider to the Washington establishment, it was evident by the second year of his administration that he had acquiesced to the same geo-political world view of his predecessors. Geo-political doctrine speciously asserts that nations are either winners or losers in a zero sum game with the world as a chessboard. That the only interest of a superpower is achieving hegemony, rejecting any conception of a shared common interest among nations. His choice of neocons, Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State, and John Bolton as National Security Advisor in April 2018, left no doubt the direction of President Trump’s foreign policy.

On December 18, 2018, speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC, Bolton unveiled President Trump’s so called Africa Strategy. In his presentation Bolton defined the goal of U.S. policy in Africa, to wit: stopping China’s advances on the continent. In less than an hour, he attacked China and its Belt and Road seventeen times.  President Trump did not disavow Bolton’s assault on China, nor his demeaning treatment of Africa as a game board for geo-politics. Read President Trump’s Non-African Strategy: Published in AU’s “Invest in Africa” magazine

Prior to President Obama’s anti-China Asian Pivot in January 2012, his administration launched the most destructive military operation against an African nation by any U.S. President. In October 2011, President Obama, advised by UN Envoy Samantha Powers, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, toppled the government of Libya. This irresponsible military adventure resulted: in the death of Libyan President, Muammar Gaddafi; the destruction of the nation of Libya, turning it into a failed state for the last nine years; and unleashing hordes of violent extremists across the Sahel into Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria, causing tens of thousands of deaths and displacing millions of Africans.

Courtesy CSIS China Power Project

China Delivers Infrastructure

Contrary to U.S. squealing and whining about China’s influence in Africa, Deborah Brautigam of the DC based China Africa Research Initiative, precisely presents the paradox: “China still addresses Africa’s hunger for structural transformation in a way the West does not.” (1)  China has increasingly been engaged with African nations over the last two decades to build vitally needed infrastructure in rail, energy, ports, airports, roads, etc., and the U.S (West) has not.

Courtesy CSIS China Power Project

Take rail for example. Examine China’s commitment to building railroad tracks in Africa, as reported by the Washington think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). (2)

Between 2008 and 2019, China built an average of 5,464 kilometers (km) of railway track per year. Roughly half of the new track added was high-speed rail. At 35,388 km, China’s high-speed rail network is the largest in the world.” China has built an additional 100,000 km of non-high speed rail track.

According to the CSIS report,

“Chinese companies signed $61.6 billion worth of rail construction contracts from 2013 to 2019 – more than double the value of the previous seven-year period (2006-2012) coinciding with the launch of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2013.”

“Africa received the second-highest amount of [China’s] rail contracts from 2013-2019. At $20.8 billion, this accounted for 33.8 percent of the total… About $7.5 billion worth of rail-related construction contracts (36.1 percent of the amount in Africa) were signed with Nigeria, where China is constructing a series of lines that comprise the 1,300 km-long Lagos-Kano Railway Modernization Project. This massive undertaking has made Nigeria the world’s top recipient of Chinese rail construction contracts during the 2013-2019 period.”

Courtesy of dica.logcluster.org

China’s construction of Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway and the Addis Ababa to Djibouti railroad are exemplary of crucial infrastructure projects for Africa.

Michelle Gavin in her December 3 post, The United States and Europe Should Work Together to Promote a Prosperous Africa, expresses the dilemma for U.S.-Africa policy:

“There is no doubt that U.S. influence—and therefore U.S. capacity to achieve various foreign policy goals—suffers when China’s investments in the tangible, visible infrastructure of African prosperity appear (sic) to dwarf U.S. development efforts.” (emphasis added)

Speaking in China on December 8, Rahamtalla Osman, the Permanent Representative for the African Union in China, said, “The goals of the BRI coincide with the AfCFTA,” referring to the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The “Same Old” Will Not Do

As the inauguration of the new U.S. president nears, many words are written extolling how a Biden administration will bring a return to “normalcy, global alliances, international diplomacy.” We should think for a minute. Do we want to return to war, regime change, sanctions, and drone assassinations as the core of U.S. foreign policy? Early indications are that under a President Biden, the U.S. will pursue with our allies, a more belligerent policy with China. How will this realignment shift the world to a higher platform of development? How will it stimulate economic growth in Africa?

Presidents John F Kennedy and President Kwame, Washington DC, Head of State visit- March 1961.

The Biden-Harris agenda for Africa is vague with no specifics to address Africa’s urgent needs. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is President Elect Biden’s nominee to be envoy to the United Nations, has a deep background in Africa and is respected by many African leaders. Having played a prominent role in the Biden transition team, she may be an individual who can put a focus on Africa in the new administration. However, it is unclear what those policies will be.

The last U.S. president to fully engage in Africa’s development was John F Kennedy, who established a personal relationship with Ghanaian President, Kwame Nkrumah, and gave crucial backing for the construction of the Akosombo Volta Dam complex.

For the incoming administration to genuinely support Africa, the new president should audaciously break from past boundaries of previous thinking and join with China in launching a great mission for mankind: the elimination of poverty in Africa within the next generation through massive infrastructure expansion. That is my mission.

(1) African countries will remain best friends with China, https://www.economist.com/the-world-ahead/2020/11/17/african-countries-will-remain-best-friends-with-china

(2) How Are Foreign Rail Construction Projects Advancing China’s Interests? https://chinapower.csis.org/rail-construction/

 Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com