By Jones N. Williams
This critique is not about what happened during the recent U.S.-Africa Summit; it is about what did or should the United States Learn and what should Africa or African countries do subsequently after the well-publicized recently held summit in Washington, D.C.
No one can emphatically state what the U.S. has learned or will learn consequent of the recent summit, and no one can predict with certainty what African nations will do considering the recent summit. We will know these answers from the actions of both the U.S. and African nations going forward.
This aside, it is fair to state that the U.S.-Africa relationship needs a fundamental change in substance, orientation, approach, and depth if the U.S. will seek to curtail the prostitution of African nations in terms of global ideological and diplomatic alignments.
The fact is, the Africa of yesterday was a young, beautiful bride consumed with ignorance, unrestrained trust, grounded loyalty, and blind tolerance in a disconnected world. The Africa of today is a young, beautiful bride ingested with expressive intelligence, unhindered distrust, justifiable global alignment infidelity, and insighted intolerance in a well-connected global village. Previous Africa was never a challenge to and for the west.
The major challenge for the west and the U.S. is the Africa of today. The way the U.S. and the west will manage and deal with this challenge will decide and determine the balance of global power between China and its allies on one hand and the U.S. and its allies on the other hand.
Led by the emerging economic dominance of China's growth and capacity, China and Russia are consolidating and building a formidable alliance that empirically and factually appeals to the vulnerabilities of Africa, a continent that has and is experiencing a colonial legacy; the downside of foreign aid and foreign direct investment (FDI); the impact of climate change; the challenge of the Millennium Development Goals; and a ‘one-sided’ imposed cultural diplomacy as a new tool in western democratic experiment nurture across Africa.
China is regarded, as many in the west would put it, as “autocratic and undemocratic.” So too are China’s main allies, namely Russia, North Korea, Iran, and others. The U.S. and its allies, namely Europe, Canada, Australia, and others are “value-driven, democratic, freedom-moving and free-enterprise-based nations” as they described themselves.
While these high-sounding mantras that crown the U.S. and its global alliance foreign policy are lofty, the Africa of today is not buying it. Instead, it is a continent that is sentimentalizing what China offers: infrastructure, trade, diplomatic equality, cultural sensitivity, and industrial innovation.
The truth is foreign aid has saved millions of lives over the last half-century in so many African countries and is a valuable contributor to the global combating of diseases and hunger.
However, the U.S., Europe, Canada, and their allies do not just need to transition from being an infamous foreign aid donor to Africa, they also need to understand that self-help is more dependable than foreign aid in providing sustained services.
Currently, the U.S. allocates foreign aid to 47 African nations and USAID operates about 27 missions on the continent. U.S. Foreign aid to Africa began in the 1960s as many African nations gained independence and the United States sought strategic alliances to counter the influence of the Soviet Union, now Russia.
In recently published research, AidData, a research lab at William & Mary College in the United States, claimed China committed $350 billion in foreign support between 2000 and 2014, running close to the U.S. total of $394.6 billion. From $210 million in 2000 to $3 billion in 2011, Chinese investment in foreign support to Africa experienced a dramatic increase. But that is not the main point; what matters is China does not give humanitarian aid to Africa, they offer repayable loans, and ensure that such loans are used for tangible, empirical, visible, concrete, and sustainable development while also offering trade relations.
China’s foreign support (loans) to Africa builds or improves roads, railroads, factories, and hospitals, develops seaports, housing, agricultural food production capacities, etc. and this is done in direct partnership with eligible African nations and Chinese institutions.
These efforts not only create jobs and wealth for young Africans as well as curtail forced economic migration, but they also facilitate sustainable economic empowerment, and self-reliance and drive community innovation across the continent.
According to State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) budget request, the U.S. Government proposed $7.77 billion in assistance specifically for Africa, up from $7.65 billion in FY2021 actual nonemergency allocations. Health programs comprise 75% of the FY2023 proposal, economic growth assistance 12%, peace and security assistance 6%, and so on.
The problem is the U.S. foreign aid approach is hindering the development of democracy in recipient African states, by reducing governments’ need to raise taxes from citizens and being accountable in terms of providing basic social services, and an enabling environment for private sector growth, job creation, self-sufficiency, and sustainable innovation. It also encourages public sector corruption because foreign aid assumes the host government’s responsibilities to its citizens and society.
Besides, it makes unemployed, poverty-stricken young people vulnerable to political manipulation for little or nothing. Hence, it distorts the very democracy and freedom the west seeks to advance because democracy and freedom can never thrive or be meaningful and fully participatory in an environment of extreme poverty, hunger, high unemployment, and food insecurity.
Another area is China is culturally sensitive to Africa and Africa is culturally sensitive to China. Both China and Africa maintain mutual respect from a cultural perspective. For example, the U.S. and its allies are drastically intolerant of polygamy. There are many good reasons to be so from the cultural perspectives of the U.S. and its allies, their history, and evolvement.
Equally, Africa or African nations are uncompromisingly unresponsive to same-sex marriage and same-gender relationships, and there are an abundance and good reasons to be so from the cultural perspectives of the African continent, its history, and its evolvement.
Part of the U.S.-Africa relations must value these contexts and abide by them. Africa must not impose polygamy on the U.S. and its allies, nor should the U.S. impose same-sex marriage on Africa if both the U.S. and Africa want to establish a trusted relationship and ensure a mutual understanding in ways that draw Africa closer to the U.S. in global diplomacy.
Given the previously mentioned, what Africa or African countries must do post the U.S.-Africa Summit is to practically reduce or halt reliance on foreign aid. Instead, they must opt more for trade and economic development partnerships with the U.S. and western nations in the areas of infrastructure, job creation, workforce development, agricultural-food production, and sustainable healthcare support.
This means forging partnerships that lead to building or improving roads, bridges, railroads, factories, hospitals, health facilities, sports stadiums, hydro and renewable energy facilities, agricultural food production plants, and providing training to the young African workforce in technology and more.
The reason being non-stop foreign aid to Africa encourages corrupt, highly inefficient, ineffective governments across the African continent, hinders economic and investment growth, stalls democracy, and respect for the rule of law as well as fosters unstable economic policies.
Many studies and reports conclude that foreign aid retards and distorts the process of economic development of the recipient countries and results in dependence and exploitation. It also replaces domestic savings and flows of trade. It would seem clear that most countries, particularly sub-Saharan African states, are more economically dependent on the rich nations even for things like budgetary support. This is unacceptable and must stop.
Finally, the U.S. can successfully counter China’s growing influence and control in Africa if the U.S. and the west transition from seeing Africa through humanitarian and crisis-driven lenses to that of a tangible trade and development partner with a culturally sensitive mutual respect. Africa can and will truly obtain the global respect necessary if African nations and people stop acting and thinking poorly, and desist from being susceptible to self-inflicted corruption, misrule, and bad governance. If nothing else comes from the U.S-Africa Summit, this approach if pursued would benefit both the U.S. and Africa.
About the Author:
Williams, a Catholic-educated public philosopher, is a global public policy and international development professional, project and program management specialist, and institutional development expert.