Review of Biden’s US-Africa Strategy
What Is True Democracy?
August 29, 2022
Minister Naledi Pandor, Secretary Blinken, President Cyril Ramaphosa (Courtesy thehindu.com)
- Blinken’s Flawed Trip to Africa
Secretary of State, Antony Blinken’s six day visit to three sub-Saharan African nations, despite assertions to the contrary, was an attempt to strengthen U.S. geopolitical interests on the continent. Blinken traveled to South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda from August 7-12, in an effort to counter the growing influence of Russia and China in Africa. This is obvious to all serious analysts of U.S.-Africa strategy. His trip was proceeded a week earlier by U.S. ambassador to the United Nation, Linda Thomas Greenfield, who visited Uganda, Cape Verde, and Ghana. The U.S. is desperately trying to regain its authority to use African nations as pawns in its geopolitical war against its self-declared China, and Russia.
China’s positive impact on African nations is ever-present. China has invested and built more vitally necessary hard infrastructure projects in Africa than the entire Group of Seven combined. As a result, it has become the most favored nation among African youth. The U.S. has admitted that it cannot compete with China economically in Africa, even as it attempts to feebly counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The lack of support for President Biden’s war against Russia was a harsh wake up call. U.S. administration officials were stunned at the March 2 U.N. General Assembly vote, when almost half-48% of the African nations refused to condemn Russia for invading Ukraine. Of the 54 African nations, 17 abstained, 8 did not vote, and Eritrea voted against the resolution. The same sentiment was repeated in April at the U.N. when only 10 African nations supported the removal of Russia from the Human Rights Council.
Secretary Blinken’s trip to Africa occurred two weeks after Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov’s African tour of Egypt, Uganda, Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia.
A major purpose for Secretary Blinken’s second visit to the sub-continent within ten months was to release the new U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, though there is little new substance in this strategy. It reiterates the Biden administration’s intention to “weaponize democracy” against China and Russia.
Blinken’s International Order Challenged
In his opening remarks at a joint-press-availability on August 8, with South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, Secretary Blinken defensively stated that the U.S. does not view the African continent as “the latest playing field in the competition between great powers.” However, the content of his trip displayed otherwise.
The “international order,” which Secretary Blinken embodied on his three nation tour was rebuked often. In response to Blinken’s denunciation of Russia’s aggression, Minister Pandor raised the unfair and unequal treatment of the Palestinians,
“Just as much as the people of Ukraine deserve their territory and freedom, the people of Palestine deserve their territory and freedom. And we should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine.
We’ve not seen an even-handed approach in the utilization of the prescripts of international law, and we encourage that the world should have greater attention to ensuring that we are equal to everybody else.”
In response to a question from the Washington Post concerning U.S. efforts to get African nations to choose between China and Russia, and the West, Minister Pandor used what is considered strong diplomatic language against bullying sovereign nations,
“So indeed, it is important that all of us accept our ability to hold different opinions. We are, after all, sovereign nations that are regarded as equal in terms of the United Nations Charter…And one thing I definitely dislike is being told ‘either you choose this or else.’ When a minster speaks to me like that…some have, I definitely will not be bullied in that way, nor would I expect any other African country worth its salt to agree to be treated. (Emphasis added)
So, this fear [about Russia]that we exist under some push is…a really unfounded belief in the relationship that we have with either country. And we’ve been quite clear in saying we really advocate peace [between Russia and Ukraine] because we knew what would happen. We knew there’d be destruction, there’d be death, there’d be desolation. And that’s what we’re all seeing. And what we’ve always asked is: where is this [war] going to end? Let us make every effort to get peace.” (Emphasis added)
Pandor Advocates US-China Cooperation
In her closing remarks Minister Pandor identified interference by external forces and the looting of Africa’s resources as contributing to the instability of African nations. She concluded by calling for cooperation between the U.S. and China to achieve economic growth,
“But to come in and seek to teach a country that we know how democracy functions and we’ve come to tell you, you do it, it’ll work for you – I think it leads to defeat, so we need to think in different ways.
“I also think that…one of the experiences we should draw lessons from is the reality that there has been a lot of external interference in Africa. And a lot of that external interference has fueled conflict in many African countries, has fueled instability and supported opposition groups against liberation fighters and so on…This is a reality.
“It’s a world phenomenon which results from Africa’s rich mineral wealth that has made it a significant target of external players that don’t always have the interests of Africa at heart.
“We can’t be made party to conflict between China and the United States of America, and I may say it does cause instability for all of us because it affects the global economic system. We really hope that the United States and China will arrive a point of rapprochement where all of us can look to economic development and growth for all our countries because that’s extremely important for all of us. They’ve got to find a way of working together to allow us to grow.” (Emphasis added.)
I fully support and would highlight Minister Pandor’s perspective. If the U.S. and China adopted the shared mission to collaborate with African nations in achieving elevated rates of real economic growth; poverty and hunger could be eliminated on the continent, along with instability.
Rwanda Defends Its Sovereignty
Secretary Blinken’s last stopover was Rwanda, where, after meeting with President Kagame, he spoke at a joint-press-availability with Rwandan Foreign Minister, Vincent Biruta. During their exchange, Minister Biruta defended Rwanda’s sovereignty regarding the trial of Paul Rusesabagina.
When asked about the incarceration of Mr. Rusesabagina, Minister Biruta insisted that he was tried and convicted for crimes committed against Rwandan citizens. He was arrested “lawfully under both Rwandan and international laws. Therefore, Rwanda will continue to abide by our rules, and the decisions that were made by our judiciary. And we request our partners to respect Rwanda’s sovereignty, Rwanda’s laws, and its institutions.”
Secretary Blinken then responded with two veiled threats. First, he threatened to use the Khashoggi Ban to impose visa restrictions on individuals and their families whom the US has deemed to have participated in persecution against dissidents.
“We established what is called the Khashoggi Ban to make clear that any country that engages in repressive actions against those who criticize it, if those persons are in the United States, they face consequences for those actions.”
Second, Secretary Blinken slyly indicated that how Rwanda deals with this issue could affect future relations with Rwanda.
“I’ve shared all of this with President Kagame today [concerns about Rusesabagina]. It’s not for me to characterize his response, but these are concerns that I shared. And I did that, again, in the context of making clear our desire for an even stronger, even more productive relationship between the United States and Rwanda, building on what Rwanda has done so successfully, building on what we’ve already done together. But these are issues that we care deeply about, our Congress cares deeply about, the American people care deeply about.”
Minister Biruta was unperturbed by Secretary Blinken’s comments.
- U.S. Strategy Not Addressing Africa’s Interests
Acknowledging the global role of Africa for the remainder of this century, President Biden issued a new U.S. Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa.. The document fact sheet US Strategy Toward sub Saharan Africa identifies the geopolitical reasoning that compelled U.S. to respond to the growing influence of China and Russia. To wit: the continent has almost one third of the planet’s reserves of critical minerals; an advantageous location for international trade, contiguous to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and the Gulf of Eden; a regional voting bloc of 28% of the nations that comprise the United Nations; and the fastest growing population in the world.
Contrary to claims by the U.S. that its new policy is to promote democracy in Africa, the geopolitical intent of this administration’s policy for Africa is revealed in the document’s second page under the title, Strategic Environment. Here the U.S. nakedly exposes its strategy to use the African continent as another arena for its war against China and Russia. It states:
“The People’s Republic of China (PRC), by contrast, sees the region as an important arena to challenge the rules-based international order, advance its own narrow commercial and geopolitical interests, undermine transparency and openness, and weaken U.S. relations with African peoples and governments. Russia views the region as a permissive environment for parastatals and private military companies, often fomenting instability for strategic and financial benefit. Russia uses its security and economic ties, as well as disinformation, to undercut Africans’ principled opposition (sic) to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine and related human rights abuses.”
President Biden’s Africa strategy was released during Secretary Blinken’s stay in South Africa and consist of four main objectives.
Its first listed objective, Foster Openness and Open Societies, wastes no time in maligning Russia and China, attempting to recruit African nations to U.S. geopolitical doctrine. It states: “Open Societies are generally more inclined to work in common cause with the United States…and counter harmful activities by the People’s Republic of China and Russia.” (Emphasis added.)Coincidentally or not, Open Society is the name of George Soros’ infamous global organization, which has been identified in numerous regime-change movements throughout the world, including in Russia and China.
Secretary Blinken’s trip was an attempt to cajole African nations to create so called open societies, respect Western rule of law, and follow the Western democracy model. This is recognized as a weak effort to counter the impact of Russia and China, especially China’s commitment to expansion of hard infrastructure across the African continent.
Principles, Not A Rules Based Order
President Biden and Secretary Blinken insist that African nations and the rest of the world must behave according to their rules-based international order and their notion of democracy. If nations fail to comply, they will be punished, by war, sanctions, or threats of both.
Who’s ruled-based order is it anyway? Who has determined these rules? The mantra of the rules-based order is an extension of the West’s adherence to their dangerous and destructive geopolitical doctrine. A doctrine that reduces national interest to vying for power in a zero-sum competition in an unchanging, non-developing world. However, nations and people are not fixed objects to be moved around according to the whims of the most powerful, like pieces on a chessboard. Nations and people are not to be regimented to perform according to a set of rules of dos and don’ts that is contrary to the real principles of freedom and democracy.
To understand the living sovereign nation-state and its relationship to other nations, we must first answer the question, what makes human beings, human?
Human beings unlike any other living species we know, are endowed with a creative imagination, the power to discover, and hypothesize the principles governing the physical universe. Economic progress is the result of scientific discoveries and their realization through modern technologies that transform modes of economic production from lower to higher forms of productivity.
All human beings are born with this same potential for creative thought bequeathed by the Creator. Human creativity is a principle coherent with the universe’s own living, non-linear growth process. Human beings seek to enrich their lives by contributing to the progress of civilization. Thus, all members of humankind are identical in their potential for creative thought, and similarly, the true interest of each nation is also identical. Nations exist to protect and foster this creative power in each of its citizens.
Understanding these profound and provable elemental concepts of human nature is the foundation for creating a lawful, just, and harmonious world order. One that is premised on the self-interest of each nation promoting the development of each member of its population.
The Biden administration is obsessed with the word democracy, labeling this or that nation and this or that activity, democratic or undemocratic. Shamefully, neither President Biden nor Secretary Blinken have an actual understanding of how a democracy should function. If they did, they would have made economic development the focus of all four objectives of their U.S.-Africa Strategy. By economic development, I contend that it is only those policies that lead to an increased standard of living for an expanding number of people. (As understood by Alexander Hamilton, Friedrich List, Henry Carey, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and echoed by Kwame Nkrumah, among others.)
Democracy is an empty construct unless it emphatically includes the right and responsibility of the population to debate and discuss what are the most appropriate ideas to guide the future of their nation. I was reminded during a recent trip to Boston, Massachusetts that prior to the American Revolution, there were Town Hall gatherings of thousands of residents to discuss their freedom from British rule.
Democracy cannot be denigrated to simply encompassing elections good governance. True democracy requires an educated citizenry with a material standard of living and leisure time to think and reflect on the best policy for their nation, which will affect their children and grandchildren. Does the public have the opportunity to deliberate on the best direction for their nation for the next one to two generations? What policies will lead to an improved standard of living for future generations, deserves to be fully debated by thoughtful citizens. Intelligent discussion of ideas, a process unique to human beings, is primary in a true democracy. Otherwise, what is one voting for, or about?
Without Development, Democracy Cannot Exist
For Africans to participate in democracy they musts be allowed to apply their creative minds to determine their future, the future of their nation. This is not possible if hunger and poverty remain pervasive throughout the continent. Over 500 million Africans live in extreme poverty-less than $2 per day. Over 600 million Africans do not have access to an electric grid, and millions more only have access for a portion of the day.
If a parents’ primary concern is searching for food to feed their family or hustling each day to subsist in the informal economy, there is no time to think. Under conditions dominated by survival, focused on the here and now, one is not in the state of mind to seriously ponder the nation’s future. If there is not sufficient room in a dwelling to raise a family, then both adults and children do not have the space and quiet time to read and educate themselves. If one does not have access to electricity 24 hours a day, how can one read when there is no sun light? How many schools and libraries exist for education of children and adults? Do the majority of Africans have the time, space, and comfortable lifestyle to meet with friends and neighbors to examine the issues facing their nation today and tomorrow?
Fulfilling these basic pressing human needs are categorically essential, for the realization of democracy. They are not optional. For decades, the U.S. has lectured Africans about democracy but with its anti-development agenda, has shown no interest in actually creating the conditions for it to thrive. Secretary Blinken’s and President Biden’s promotion of democracy to counter their perceived enemies will fail to achieve its goal. More importantly, it will fail the people of Africa. Democracy in the truest sense will not exist unless, and until, there is a full-throttled state-led mobilization of all resources to create an economic transformation across the African continent. If this is not advocated by the U.S. government, its like-minded “pro-democracy” institutions, NGOs, think-tanks, and institutes, then they must cease their endless preaching, or be exposed as frauds. Then all they are left with is “a sounding of brass or a clanging cymbal.”
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 a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. He is also the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton.