I recently watched a C-Span telecast of US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s talk at the Heritage Foundation in which he unveiled the US Africa Strategy. His remarks were similar in tone to those of USAID Administrator Mark Green at the American Enterprise Institute the day before. In both speeches there was quite a bit of talk about countering China and to a lesser extent Russia—both speakers used the word predatory to describe China’s approach in Africa.
Africa policy as described by Ambassador Bolton consists of three themes: bilateral aid, economic support, and security and peacekeeping.
Bilateral Aid. One gets the impression that assistance to Africa has more to do with great power rivalries than concern for Africa. If anything there seemed to be a more transactional tone to the policy as outlined by Bolton. He stressed that aid will be given to countries that support US interests including, for example voting with the US at the UN. Ambassador Bolton would not say definitively whether it translates to higher or lower levels of aid, indicating that the amounts will be the result of a “bottom up” country by country approach.
Economic Assistance falls under the Prosper Africa umbrella and will emphasize private sector investment in Africa. We do not have much detail about the components of Prosper Africa. Amb. Bolton, however stressed that US economic assistance is intended to promote independence, self reliance, and growth in Africa. This is all in addition to the enhanced trade and development finance capabilities that will transform OPIC into a new International Development Finance Institution. There will also be a new and/or revised set of trade agreements with Africa, implying an uncertain future for AGOA.
Security and Peacekeeping. Ambassador Bolton also spoke about the peace and security aspect of Africa policy. The US wants to see African governments play a greater role in managing their own security. He cited the G5 Sahel Joint Force—Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso and Mali as an example of African joint security cooperation that the US would like to see replicated in Africa and around the world. Bolton was also critical of the UN peacekeeping system and promised an overhaul. The US is looking to streamline peacekeeping missions and terminate those considered ineffective. Additionally existing peacekeeping operations must be robust and accountable, and are not expected to continue indefinitely.
There are some surprisingly good ideas in the message coming from the White House. Economic growth and self reliance are certainly desirable for anyone who wants Africans to be truly free. Transparency and rule of law benefit business, civil society and ultimately average citizens in any country. On the other hand, certain trends are a cause for concern, such the Trump administration’s tendency to favor fossil fuel investments. It is thus unclear whether US Africa strategy will help African nations become true partners, and competitive participants in the global economy.
On the economic front, here are a few steps which if taken would indicate movement in the right direction:
- Encourage participation by African companies into global supply chains. Companies need off takers as well as investors to grow prosperous, job creating businesses. Furthermore, increased exports will help stabilize African currencies and make trade and fiscal balances more manageable.
- Implement policies that encourage value added industry and reduce dependence on raw materials. Negotiate trade deals that include an enhanced, effective AGOA. Develop enforcement mechanisms that defend American exporters without hampering African governments’ ability to encourage local industry. For example, we should avoid punishing East African governments for discouraging used clothes imports whose impact on US industry is minimal.
- Help create an environment conducive to value added economic activities. For example, design investment promotion programs to support transfer of management know-how and technology as well as respect for intellectual property.
- Respect and encourage African multilateral institutions including the African Union, NEPAD, and the regional groups—East African Community, ECOWAS, SADC.