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US defends questioning Africa-China relations

The United States (US) government has defended its continued probe into China’s relations with Africa, saying it would be disingenuous if they didn’t.

Special assistant to the US president Judd Devermont on Monday in Washington, DC, told African journalists during a briefing that America has been doing this since before some coutries became democracies.

“On the continent, we will continue irrespective of what China does or does not do,” Devermont said at the US-Africa Summit.

Devermont was questioned on the watchdog role that the US has assumed over the relationship African countries have with China.

“If our view is that it may undercut African sovereignty or create conditions that are not advantageous to African workers or industries or governments, or that threaten our national security interests.”

“We do that everywhere in the world. We do that for Africa. It would actually be disingenuous to not do it in Africa,” Devermont said.

The US government further believes that their policy isn’t defined by China, but it can’t be divorced from either.

“So, in the case of Zambia, it was important in our view to engage and support the G20 Common Framework process to address the questions of Chinese debt, but also the debt to international creditors,” he said.

This comes as president Hage Geingob in December said African nations are independent states, not colonial territories up for choosing.

This comes as there are talks that the US-Africa Leaders Summit is a means of the US emphasising its influence in Africa, following China and Russia having strengthened ties over recent years.

“They must recognise us as sovereign states, not any more colonial territories, where someone can decide for us,” Geingob said.

Geingob stressed that African countries fought for their independence to be able to choose their partners.

“Therefore, to be said you are either used by this power or that one is not there.

“We are meeting as sovereigns. We are meeting as friends. We are talking about what the US can do in Africa and what Africa can offer the US.”

According to Bloomberg, bilateral trade between China and Africa stands at U$254 billion, with African exports hitting a record U$106 billion.

The Africa Centre for Strategic Studies has noted that Russia and Africa’s trade relationship was valued at U$20 billion in 2021, with exports concentrated on arms and grain to Africa.

Meanwhile, African trade with the US is valued at U$18 billion since 2021.

At the summit, the US announced deals, including commitments through their international development finance corporation, totaling more than US$11 billion, as well as United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funding US$75 million for the Africa Conservation and Communities Tourism Fund.

Speaking at the summit yesterday, US president Joe Biden said they need Africa to address the consequences of the pandemic, war and instability, addressing economic challenges with global impact, fighting rising food prices and tackling the impacts of climate change.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the US economy faces significant challenges from surging inflation and slowing economic activity.

“Each of these crises has heightened the vital role African nations and people play to address global challenges,” he said.

He announced that the US is signing an agreement with the new African Continental Free Trade Area secretariat, one of the largest free trade areas in the world, with 1,3 billion people and a continent-wide market totaling U$3,4 trillion.

Over the last few months, the European Union (EU) also pushed for deals in Africa to manage their energy crisis to reduce demand for Russian gas by two-thirds.

During the EU-African Union summit earlier this year, Tanzania’s president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, said tensions in Ukraine were generating growing interest in her country’s gas reserves.

Political science academic Ndumba Kamwanyah believes African leaders lack identity and are defined by geopolitics.

“Various countries in Africa do not have strong, foundational values and beliefs to guide us in our interaction with the world.

International relations must be influenced by inner values. When those values are violated outside your boundaries, you use it as a guide to take action,” he said.

This was demonstrated when 17 African countries abstained from voting at the United Nations (UN) to condemn Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, he added.

“They did not want to anger either the West, where they rely on aid and other support, or Russia because of historical relations.

“Their action in terms of the voting at the UN was not based on their respective values of democracy, peace and stability. Their act was determined by their needs,” Kamwanyah said.

Political scientist Rui Tyitende echoed Kamwanyah’s views, saying both China and the US have clear ideas and policies on how to deal with Africa.

“Africa has no ideas or programmes on how to deal with such powerful actors in the international system,” he said.

Tyitende said the continent’s resources are being exploited and exported in raw form to these powers and Africans are left to scramble for the crumbs as they fall from the high table.

“A classical example would be our disastrous 90:10 shareholding structure in favour of multinational corporations that exploit our mineral resources. We are mere spectators in this case, and so is much of the continent,” he said.