US will compete with China in Africa, but collaborate or be an adversary where necessary

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Kevin Lamarque/Getty Images
  • The US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa "identifies some of the things that are concerning about China, but it doesn't negate some of the things that Africans value in their relationship with China".
  • US Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, Judd Devermont, said this after US diplomats visited parts of Africa.
  • Their major selling point during their visits was the strategy but many view it as America's response to heavy competition from Russia and China.

The United States says its relationship with China on African affairs will be competitive where it should be, collaborative where it can be and adversarial where it must be.

As such, its new Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa "identifies some of the things that are concerning about China, but it doesn't negate some of the things that Africans value in their relationship with China", US Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, Judd Devermont, said.

He was speaking after a busy week for US diplomats in Africa with the most high-profile one, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, travelling to South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and finally, to Rwanda.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US representative to the United Nations travelled to Uganda and Ghana, and USAID administrator Samantha Power was in Somalia and Kenya.

READ | US revamps Africa strategy as it sounds alarm on China, Russia

According to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly Phee, the visits "demonstrate our commitment to our partnership in Africa".

During her visit to Uganda, Thomas-Greenfield said African countries were free to import Russian grain and fertilisers, but added that they would suffer the consequences if they traded in Russian oil, which remains sanctioned by the US.

Mozambique, however, didn't seem bothered by what she said. The country's mineral resources and energy minister, Carlos Mesquita, said the country would buy fuel from Russia if the option was viable.

Hence, African countries asked whether they were free to trade with countries of their choice.

When it comes to food, Phee said, countries can deal with Russia because of its importance.

Phee added:

We worked very hard to exempt all Russian food products from sanction because we knew they were important to many consumers around the world, including those here in Africa.

"So yes, it is true that we are seeking to deprive Russia of the revenue that it receives from oil sales, which it is using to conduct this terrible, illegal campaign in Ukraine," she said.

The civil war in Tigray, Ethiopia has been ongoing since November 2020 and is one of the major reasons behind famine there, as well as the refugee crisis and instability in the Horn of Africa. 

The US says it is committed to ending the war there, and a major breakthrough has been the mini truce for humanitarian aid that's been in place since March. The US supports an African Union-led solution.

"We're also very committed to supporting talks between the parties, and we're hopeful that the AU high representative for the talks in Ethiopia, former president of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, will soon announce a location and a time for those talks. 

Phee said:

So, we remain very committed to helping Ethiopia recover its stability so it's in a position to develop its economy the way that we think it can to resume its role as a strategic player in all spheres in the horn and on the continent.

Throughout the diplomats' visits across Africa, their major selling point was the US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa.

But for many, the strategy is viewed as America's response to heavy competition from Russia and China.

The question now is whether the strategy has room to recognise that China and Russia have done things in Africa that can be perceived as positive?

This, considering that SA's International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor told Blinken that the US was not a neutral actor in Africa and that it also had its own interests and damage attributed to it.

As such, the US is in Africa to compete rather than cooperate.

In response, Devermont highlighted that "it's for Africans to decide who their partners are, to identify what are in their interests on their agenda, what kind of standards and transparency that they want from their partners".

Phee and Devermont spoke to a select group of journalists virtually to explain America's latest charm offensive in Africa.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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