The Europeans (EU) and of course the Americans -all have devised their strategic interaction platforms, which in itself have created a theatre of competition for geopolitical and geo economic contestations in the continent. But the fact remains that Africans do realize that there are no free lunches, and the road ahead is not easy.
Africa and its fifty-four sovereign constituents have become the point of attraction once again for the big powers. It fits well into their geopolitical and geo-economic ambitions and contestations as the transitional global order tries to find its shifting ground, which seems to be a Gold Rush of this decade.
There is no doubt that the African continent is the next big opportunity, despite it being afflicted by the 3Cs- Conflict, Corruption, and Coups but is trying to bridge the gap through another C- Connectivity both physical and economic.
Further, it is hoping to follow its own ‘Self Reliance’ and independent foreign policy choices to secure its rightful place in accordance with AU’s Agenda 2063. The signing and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCFTA) augur well for affording the requisite negotiating leverage while trying to harness the synergies of the continent that usually worked at cross purposes.
It is not only that they suffered from crass colonialism or ensuing neo-colonialism and debt diplomacy, under development and malnutrition, and human degradation despite having all resources natural and human but recently it has been far more accentuated during the Covid times when SDGs were relegated to the background yet again.
Big Powers & Africa’s Exploitation
Except for an exceptional outreach to assist them by countries like India, who stood by them despite her own challenges, the pandemic once again showed them the true colors of the rich and mighty as was mentioned by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Franco-African Summit, when he called out the ‘Vaccine Apartheid’. Despite the hue and cry, the situation only marginally improved even though it was broadcast time and again .
The same is the story with the fight against Climate Change where ‘Green Apartheid’ remains the norm or the efforts made to alleviate the impact of climate degradation through Green Finance and Technology is a pittance. But the western world does realize the potential of Africa which has been further accentuated by the continuing Chinese ingress, influence and insatiable quest for minerals and hydrocarbons let alone geo-strategic outreach through its BRI initiative to the Continent.
The so-called FOCAC ( Forum for China Africa Cooperation since 2000) became the envy of most and others began to engage the Africans broadly on similar lines and identical formats to engage the African leaders.
The French, The Japanese, The Russians, the Turks and The Indians, The Europeans (EU), and of course the Americans -all have devised their strategic interaction platforms which in itself have created a theatre of competition for geopolitical and geo-economic contestations in the continent. Even Jordan and Israel are working to engage with Africa by creating their own pockets of influence.
These mechanisms have provided Africans with alternate choices of the route they might prefer even though in practice it may be very difficult since China has taken miles long lead over others in the trade, investment, and overall strategic influence quotient despite drawbacks.
Chinese Foreign Minister has made it his mission to make his first visit abroad every new year to the African continent to convey the message that Africa is important in their scheme of things and often the thought is reciprocated.
After Trump’s derisive comments about Africa, the USA under Biden Administration is trying to craft a more robust Africa policy. Recently, from December 13-15, the USA hosted 49 Heads of State and Governments from Africa for the Summit in Washington entitled “Strengthening Partnerships to Meet Shared Priorities”.
Again despite a figurative gaffe by President Biden of $300 billion as against $300 million the overall commitments were not unimpressive. The two sides, in order to expand the cooperation, issued a joint Vision Statement outlining the contours of future trajectory and modus operandi for strengthening the US-Africa partnership.
The US has committed to invest $55 billion in Africa during the next three years. To assuage the Africans and the African-American diaspora and his domestic constituency Biden decided that a President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States (PAC-ADE) is to be established by the Secretary of State under a Presidential Executive Order so that P2P contacts could be institutionalized.
Vice President Harris also announced that the Administration plans to work with Congress to authorize $100 million to the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Expansion over multiple years to support innovative, diverse young African women and men to excel in a 21st-century economy and catalyze transformational change in their communities, countries, and continent.
One of the most important announcements was the US support for the African Union (AU) to become a permanent member of the G20. India, being the current President of the G20 also seeks inclusion of AU, and has a unique opportunity to expand G20 to G21 by working to include Africa in this ever so important matrix. New Delhi must seize the initiative and work with all the other members by taking the lead. In the mean time overdue 4th India -Africa Forum Summit must be held early.
MCC ( Millennium Challenge Corporation ) has also signed compacts of over half a billion dollars with Benin and Niger to support regional economic integration, trade, and cross-border collaboration. It is already engaged with 14 countries in the region.
Another major announcement was by the Development Financial cooperation (DFC) of $369 million in new investments across Africa in food security, renewable energy infrastructure, and health projects, including a $100 million transaction with Mirova SunFunder for the Mirova Gigaton Fund to support clean energy across Africa. DFC has more than $11 billion in commitments across Africa.
To support African Resilience and Recovery, Washington has committed to working with IMF to provide $21 billion as well as to work for debt relief. At the same time, the USA has signed an MOU with AfCFTA to expand economic engagement. Biden Administration plans to work with Congress to invest $1.33 billion annually from 2022 to 2024 in the health workforce in the African region, for a total of at least $4 billion by 2025 as a capacity-building initiative.
Likewise, $215 million were announced for fighting against Covid in Africa. AU and US also issued a Joint Statement for resilient food supply chains and ensuring food security in Africa for which $2 billion in humanitarian assistance in addition to the existing $11 billion were announced. Hence no doubt these are pointed and timely initiatives.
To fight climate change and assist in adaptation post COP27 in Egypt, President Biden announced President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE), supporting early warning systems, adaptation finance, climate risk insurance, and climate-resilient food systems with over $150 million in new funding. Security is one of the key areas of engagement and therefore President Biden announced that his Administration is working with Congress to provide $100 million for a new partnership to incentivize and bolster African efforts to implement and sustain security sector capacity and reforms and create a 21st Century US-Africa Security partnership.
More importantly, to ensure the timely implementation of various announcements and initiatives it was decided to appoint Ambassador Johnnie Carson as Special Presidential Representative for US-Africa.
President Biden has committed to working collaboratively with African governments, businesses, and the public to strengthen people-to-people ties, ensure more inclusive and responsive global institutions, build a strong and sustainable global economy, foster new technology and innovation, strengthen health systems and prepare for the next pandemic, tackle the food security and climate crises, support democracy, and human rights, and advance peace and security ticking all the requisites.
All these needed by Africa are well and good but the ambitious agenda obviously is value ridden, prescriptive, and aimed at countering the influence of China and Russia which is where the implementation and derailing risks will get compounded since Africa does not like to be dictated around and be forced to choose between one or the other power. When China is criticised a number of African leaders stand up in their defense. Hence the zero-sum strategy will have its limitations even if the mistrust is reduced to some extent through these extensive interactions and statements of intent and commitment financial and otherwise.
Moreover, the fact that the African countries are not all that excited about the sanctions regime by the West including in the Russia-Ukraine war will have to be treaded carefully since a mere sop of supporting their permanent membership of the reformed UNSC and other multilateral institutions may not be enough to veer their quest for crafting their own destiny through an independent foreign policy as was evidenced during umpteen UN resolutions and debates. And the Africans do realize that there are no free lunches and the road ahead is not easy when the Gold rush picks up steam.
This article was originally published by CNBC TV 18 as New Gold Rush: Free Trade Agreements and the renewed interest of superpowers in Africa on December 27, 2022.
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