Thursday, June 24, 2021

US-AFRICA RELATIONS: Marriage Of Convenience Or Necessity?


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There are questions whether or not Africa is or should be central to US foreign policy or whether it is an unequal partner to global affairs? Many are of the view that the United States is not only the greatest economic and strategic power but bearer of liberty and ideas of democracy and personal freedom. Freedom is projected by all American presidents as encapsulated in their constitution. Such ideal and idea were demonstrated by Abraham Lincoln as he believed, the US has a moral duty to transform the world and an obligation to ensure that “government of the people by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.  Similarly, Thomas Jefferson asserted that “America was the bearer of a new diplomacy found on the confidence of a free and virtuous people that would secure ends based on the natural and universal rights of man, by means that escaped war and its corruption”. In his remarks on 30th June 2013, Barack Obama at the University of Cape Town affirms that “… America has been involved in Africa for decades. But we are moving beyond the simple provision of assistance, foreign aid, to a new model of partnership between America and Africa—a partnership of equals that focuses on your capacity to solve problems, and your capacity to grow.” With respect to its superpower today since the collapsed of the Soviet Union and its disintegration in 1991, US foreign policy towards Africa seems sparse and little is known about this relationship and one wonders if there’s a bond or should have either out of convenience or necessity. However, the rising China as Africa’s foremost trade partner and the reckoning influence and ambition of India and Turkey are considered to be more reason why US should not be aloof about its relationship within the continent. In the words of Paul Nugent, “Africa is the continent which has been subjected to greatest distortions and wilful misunderstandings with respect to its past, and this still impedes our progress today.” However, Africa has enormous potential which makes her vital to U.S. foreign policy.

Arguably, the starting point of the longstanding relationship between Africa and America could be traced back to six centuries ago.  Africa became embroiled in global affairs since the era of the Atlantic slave trade. This development brought the continent into contact with Europe and Asia as well as the Americas. For instance, after the “discovery” of the New World in 1492, tobacco and cotton plantations were established by Spain and later by other European nations. The native population of America was inadequate for the labor requirements of the plantation and mines. It was therefore suggested that Africa could supply the labor force through the slave trade which was already flourishing between it and Europe. The slave trade therefore, has helped in bringing about a close racial and cultural relationship between Africa and the new world. Many are of the opinion that a large section of African-American still look on Africa as a land of their ancestors as portrayed in the book of Alex Healey, “the Root”. Whatever the United States is today, it is arguable that the country owes its prosperity and greatness to the Negro slave labor. Africans have played a significant role in all spheres of American life and progress in spite of serious social handicaps.

As unequal relationship, Africa was compelled to play a secondary role in global affairs most especially as from the 15th century. This process lingered till the mid 19thcentury when for all practical purposes European interest became fully established in Africa.  As from the 1850s, the process of conquest of acquisition of territories pre-occupied European powers whereby trading agents became instrument of territorial acquisition. As from the 1880s, European conquest assumed a radical proportion which culminated in Berlin conference that enforced the policy of effective occupation. After conquest, European powers became preoccupied with the task of administration whereby African territories became European appendage in social-development, politics and economic. The colonial government also adopted a wide range of economic policy to facilitate the process of exploitation of Africa’s economic potential.

The relevance of the decolonization era for Africa centered on the fact that it symbolized the period of gradual political emancipation at the disengagement of the colonial regime from Africa. Both European and American authors described this process as “power transfer”, while African scholars see it as a long process of struggle which lasted for many decades, from 1920s to 1980s and during this period Africans adopted various strategies and tactics of resistance.  Some of the main features of the decolonization era include: The Marshall Plan initiative which was of an American origin with a mandate to provide financial support for liberation movement in Africa. The program equally assumed Europe that colonial disengagement would not be detrimental to their economy. Secondly, the establishment of a new form of relationship between Africa and Europe that would eventuate to better partnership that would allow for a more humane treatment of the African people. Thirdly, there was an informal agreement between the colonizing powers and the USA that a 15 year timeframe would be provided within  which African nation-state must gain freedom that would symbolize part of their inalienable right as civilized, purposeful and visionary entity capable of initiating development in their own territories. This period was to cover the years 1945-60.  That the United Nations became a potent cause for the articulation of the nationalist views which resulted in the emancipation of several African congress. The United States also gave material support to aid colonial disengagement and used its fundamental human rights club to discredit perpetrators of colonial institution through this process, the UN employed its network of action to give necessary motivation to the African cause for the purpose of emancipation.

Africa became involved in greater diplomacy from the early 1960s which informed the formation of the Organization of African unity (OAU) in 1963, to guarantee Africa’s better participation in world’s politics. At the turn of the millennium, this organization became transformed to African Union (AU) in the light of prevailing circumstances. Africa in its quest to establish greater link in economic and political realm had become more involved in the affairs of the world through the UN. The problem of corruption, unemployment, irregular migration, economic disparity, religious differences, energy problem, bad governance and high level of indebtedness to western credited nations and organizations have continued to make Africa play a marginal role in contemporary international relations. Thus, it is expected that African states and their leaders should be more incline towards accountable leadership, transparency, as well as visionary projection in order to reposition the continent and project its fortunes for immediate and long term development.  Despite being the primary source of raw minerals, most African countries still remain pre-industrial. Africa earned a reputation of being an importing continent of stable food and non-durable materials. Africa’s vast arable land and the engagement of its farmers in back breaking labor could not still rescue its population from standing below the breadline standard. The continent cannot still feed itself as the fight against hunger and abject poverty is yet to be vigorously waged.

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Understanding this vital interest and realizing that the US offered very few tangible trade benefits to exporters from African countries, the Clinton administration put in place African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in order to create a more meaningful partnership with African countries based on shared economic growth and trade, by offering non-reciprocal trade and economic benefits to qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries. Both George W. Bush and Barak Obama administrations traded on this path.[1] Among the required criteria,

a country must have established, or make continual progress towards establishing, a market based economy, political pluralism, respect private property rights, incorporate an open rules-based trading system, eliminate barriers to US trade and investment, respect internationally recognized human rights, protect worker rights and so forth.

In addition, the country may not engage in activities that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests.[2]

With respect to US, it has been the biggest importer of materials from Africa and it is very clear what they expect from this new partnership. What is not clear is what Africa’s interest is and as a result, there is very little to celebrate about AGOA. Therefore, Africa needs to diversify its economy and increase its productivity. Although US seems to be new in dealing with sub-Saharan Africa, the latter should be clear and concrete about its position in this relationship. Currently, Africa is among the ten fastest growing world economies and what this means for the continent is to be able to create enabling environment for more investments.  Former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said to understand where the world is going Africa is a significant part of the future.

The Obama administration in 2013 launched the Trade Africa Initiative to include new partners, such as Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mozambique, Senegal, and Zambia to identify activities that will improve compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on trade facilitation, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and technical barriers to trade; foster an improved business climate; and, address capacity issues that have constrained trade.  The U.S. Government is also working to support the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC) to improve regional trade.[3] In 2015, total trade (imports and exports combined) between Africa and the US is amounted to 53 billion dollars according to European Commission.[4]

Strong initiative like Power Africa is highly appreciated by most Africans. It seeks to address Africa’s deficit in the production of electricity by increasing the number of people with access to power. The project is expected to provide coordinated support to help African partners expand their generation capacity and access. The United States would commit more than $7 billion in financial support over the next five years to this effort. [5]

Since the independence of the first sub Saharan state in 1957 followed by most African states in the 1960s popularly known as the “year of Africa”, the continent has witnessed a dramatic change in its relations with the US. For example, the US attended the independence of Ghana. This was followed by the Department of State creating the African Bureau in 1958. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was also put in place under the leadership of John F. Kennedy to facilitate aid around the world and particularly in Africa and today, Peace Corps volunteers are all over the continent. In the words of Rex Tillerson:

The United States sees a bright future in Africa. We have an opportunity to be part of Africa’s journey to a stable, prosperous future for its people. Each of these priorities – trade and investment, good governments – governance, respect for human rights, combatting terrorism and instability – have the same guiding principle in mind: to help African countries build the capacity to take care of their own people.  There are no quick fixes to these challenges, but the United States is committed to meeting them in partnership with nations of Africa so that the continent can increasingly become a place of prosperity and freedom in the 21st century.[6]

Going by this statement, Africa needs to be in charge of her own affairs and imbibes good practices that are of great value to Africa and Africans. The resources of the continent must be utilized to the best interest of its people. Africa needs to build up her industries and should be able to put in place African Central Bank and African Monetary Fund which can help African states to address the needs of the continent. Africa should create a single currency- One Currency for African States.  The continent must begin to integrate economically, politically and socio-culturally. For example, there is great need for intra-trade among African states. This will not only contribute to its productivity but will equally help in cleaning the environment from being a dumping ground of used-materials or second hand products from the west. Africans should also begin appreciating their own products like made in Africa for Africa by Africa that is to say, ‘Made in the Gambia’ product in Nigeria, ‘Made in Ghana’ product in Kenya, ‘Made in South Africa’ product in Senegal among so many things which are of Africa’s pride and value. This can be extended to different parts of the world and this would create a paradigm shift from a consuming to producing continent and this would create a lavage for Africa at the international community. Africa and the third world countries serve as a market for the finished products of Europe and America that has enabled rapid industrialization in the western world. It is for the same reason that raw materials are available from the third world countries that the industries in Europe and America continue to survive and boom.

One of the major challenges of Africa since independence has been development failure. Despite that Africa was cradle of civilization in science and technology as shown by the legacy of ancient Egypt, it is a matter of concern that Africa is yet to make any appreciable progress in this area. We need to look internal institutions on the continent because institutions in most African countries are weak. Unfortunately, they cannot develop the growth of science and technology. For example, basic infrastructure such as electricity to power industries concern, effective transportation system, good road, water among others. The combination of all these infrastructure is necessary for the promotion of industrialization in any nation. Of course, there must be human capital or resources in the form of experts and scholars who possess knowledge not only in the sciences but also in humanities and as such, would be of asset to the process of industrial growth. Arising from human resources is the need for efficient educational system and such education must be able to build up people in order to stimulate industrial growth. It is an open secret that in all industrialized nations we have studied that was the pattern. For instance, Japan increased her funding of education, America enlarged her system of education likewise Britain and China. In order to revive this culture in the Gambia, is by adjusting the country’s policy on education as education is the foundation of any meaningful development. Development therefore, has to do with the overall growth in the standard of living of the citizenry and the level of socio-political and economic growth.  A nation that desires to achieve industrial advancement must give adequate funding to research and development. It is through research works that new knowledge emerges and it is through research that new scientific and technical ideas and inventions emerge. Such new ideas and inventions are catalysts that promote international development. Therefore, the University of the Gambia should play a leading role in this by prioritizing research and assist both staff and students whose ideas are relevant to social transformation.

As global peace and security are paramount, the U.S. needs partnership to curb terrorism amidst rising terror attacks and proliferation of extremist group that posed great threat to world peace. Violent extremism is considered to be a compelling factor for U.S. involvement in the Sahel and U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM’s objective is to address that problem. Currently U.S. has troops in different parts of Africa and is able to establish few drone facilities as in the case of Niger. Statistics have shown that 39 African countries are democracies or evolving democracies. Despite that African countries since independence have experienced coup d’état  and counter-coups d’états and dictatorships, it is obvious that the wind of change is blowing considering the popular uprising  and change of government by the electorate especially the degree of consciousness among the young people of the continent. Under the Obama administration Africa seems to be but not necessarily given prominence in U.S. foreign policy with the formation of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that seeks to promote leadership skills within a democratic context.  In addressing the parliament of Ghana in 2009, Obama states that “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” In 2014 August, 50 African leaders attended the first ever U.S. – African leaders Summits. There are numerous examples of public diplomacy that have worked well, ranging from various exchange programs to the promotion of mutual cultural understanding. We need more conducive environment in the continent as it is the basis growth and development. As we observe world Peace Day this month, 21st September, both government and the governed of Africa must be conscious of peace and give it a chance.

In conclusion, US- Africa relations need new strategic partnership by defining the kind of cooperation both envisage and safeguard the common interest of African states. The cooperation should be upholding equality and mutual benefit by respecting each other’s sovereignty and level of development by expanding mutual economic benefit. For poverty to be addressed and the problems of economy to be solved, Africa and Africans particularly African leaders must refrain from corruption by enriching themselves and their families or collaborating with foreign contractors in order to defraud their countries, abuse of power and or human rights violation. There is also the need to look inward. By looking inward, it will be possible to tap the local resources for the wellbeing of all. It will also be possible to develop human resources for the benefit of the people and the continent. Thus, it is expected that African states and their leaders should be more incline towards accountable leadership, transparency as well as visionary projection in order to reposition the continent and project its fortunes for immediate and long term development. Although America represents a political and economic stronghold in the modern world, it is not a world police. America under any leadership should also remember its global responsibility and refrain from manner of enforcing their will at the detriment of Africa.

[1] Africa Growth and Opportunity Act

[2] Extension of certain trade benefits to Sub-Saharan Africa-

[3] Deepening the Africa-US trade

[4]European Commission, McKinsey, UK Department for International Trade

[5] Fact sheet : Power africa

[6] Secretary Tillerson

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