How are the African countries dealing with the renewed interest in Africa by China, the US, and Russia?
Russia also wants to play the game and not get left behind. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited South Africa, Angola, and Eswatini this week as it seeks to cultivate closer ties with African countries and highlight Moscow’s clout in the security and energy sector. However, it does not change the fact that Russia’s global image has taken a beating following the invasion of Ukraine. Although the United Nations’ vote on the Russian invasion of Ukraine did expose Africa’s divergent voting patterns, their official position continues to stress neutrality and managing the growing US-China competition. Against this backdrop, let us have a look.at how are these visits and developments being viewed by African leaders and countries.
The US’ attempts to woo African countries and reassert Washington’s commitment rest upon improving economic development, deepening trade and investment, and upholding accountable institutions.
While speculations of a Chinese retrenchment from Africa continues, the reality on the other hand is totally different. In terms of optics, January 2023 has been a big month for China as African leaders across various countries commissioned several high-profile Chinese-built development projects. In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the new Lekki deep sea port in Lagos. The port is now West Africa’s largest port. In addition, a 27km Blue Line light rail system that is Chinese-financed and built was inaugurated this month. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni commissioned the Kingfisher oil drilling platform on Lake Albert which is expected to help Uganda produce more crude oil. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a new Central African Cultural and Arts Centre is presently under construction in Kinshasa. These are high-scale projects which are visible and could potentially have a transformative effect on the local economy. The day when the West comes close to even remotely outperforming China in Africa seems distant.
The economic fallout of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukrainian war has undermined the ability of African nations to service their sovereign debt.
Debt as usual came up as a talking point during Secretary Yellen’s visit. In Zambia, the African country most heavily indebted to China, Secretary Yellen accused Beijing of acting as a “barrier” in Zambia’s drawn-out debt restructuring process. However, the timing of bringing this issue up and singling out China when the US is itself not raising its own debt ceiling when its national debt is about US$31 trillion seems a bit odd. The process of restructuring debt is difficult. Indeed, China’s opaque loan contracts and continued insistence on approaching debt bilaterally on a case-by-case basis do make it harder for creditors to coordinate. However, nearly three-quarters of sub-Saharan Africa’s total debt is owed to multilateral financial organisations and commercial creditors. According to a new Chatham House report, Chinese lenders account for 12 percent of Africa’s total external debt of US$696 billion.
African leaders would be closely monitoring if President Biden’s administration upholds its commitments and truly engages Africa as an equal partner.
Despite the overtly propagandistic element of Lavrov’s tour, the visit achieved little in terms of outcomes. The only announcement of any note was made in Luanda of a prospective agreement for Russia to help Angola develop its own atomic energy programme. In terms of security, Russia is the continent’s largest arms supplier and has a large security presence, especially in West Africa. The state-aligned Wagner mercenary group is active in countries like Mali, Mozambique, Libya, Central African Republic, and is even touted to have a presence in Angola and Eswatini. What makes Russia stand out in Africa is its continued insistence on Western double standards, the West’s role in Africa’s colonial legacy, and the fact that the erstwhile Soviet Union did not take part in the ‘scramble for Africa’ and was in fact a proponent of anti-colonial movements. Such narratives resonate with some African countries that are not in a position to burn bridges with Moscow in order to maintain economic ties.
The decision by the South African government to partake in the upcoming naval exercise has drawn severe criticism from the opposition and civil society organisations.
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Abhishek Mishra is an Associate Fellow with the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (MP-IDSA). His research focuses on India and China’s engagement ...Read More +