American integration within the African community rests within the structural confines of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which has gained more traction post Wilbur Ross’s visit to Africa in July last year. Established in 2001, the Act has increased trade volume by more than 50 per cent in a decade; however American acceptance in African societies has not reciprocated its trade ambitions.
Hilary Clinton’s visit to Africa in 2011, noteworthy of her reference to China’s engagement in the continent as tantamount to colonialism set the tone for increased American presence in Africa. The speech was meant to contrast American and Chinese policy goals in Africa; setting China’s ‘imperialist’ ambitions against America’s approach to expanding the financial capacity of private and public institutions. The visit signaled American interests on the continent following the Millennium Challenge Corporation in the first tenure of George W. Bush; to invest primarily in the development of infrastructure across 22 countries on the continent. America’s growing interest in Africa culminated into Obama’s invitation to all African leaders for a summit in the US in 2014.
Obama’s vision was reinforced through his trip to Ethiopia and Kenya in 2015, significant for his recognition that a need for economic integration with African communities was a policy line much ignored within US policy circles; integration that he said would come true as counter to Chinese engagement in Africa. He also made clear America’s reluctance to invest in states with poor human rights records. The US revoked Eritrean, Sudanese and Zimbabwean invitations to the White House in 2014 citing their inability to meet conditions the US intends for Africa to meet for investment. Even on his visit to Ethiopia, Obama made sure to point out crimes against journalists, infringing upon their most basic rights.
His predilection for political ‘strongmen’ irrespective of the nature of their dictatorial rule, a shift in American narrative, complements that of Chinese trade conduct in Africa. A strategy mirroring that of China’s might just be the best counter that both Obama and Bush strived to materialize.
In a more ironic turn of events, America’s economic and political engagement in Africa; series of ventures spanning the last couple of administrations is shaping into a consolidated African policy under Donald Trump. His predilection for political ‘strongmen’ irrespective of the nature of their dictatorial rule, a shift in American narrative, complements that of Chinese trade conduct in Africa. A strategy mirroring that of China’s might just be the best counter that both Obama and Bush strived to materialize.
Under Donald Trump, selective military engagement has increased to 200 per cent in 2018 as 47 airstrikes were conducted against AL Shabaab encampments in Somalia. Despite increased military engagement, humanitarian aid is set to be reduced; including reduction in funds for peacekeeping missions. America’s economic policies for Africa under Trump, in addition to the AGOA are structured as part of BUILD (Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development). Given that John Bolton laid the framework for future American engagement in Africa in a speech last year, it is no secret that America’s economic ventures have political undertones to them; the most notable being that to counter growing Chinese influence.
Under John Bolton, American military engagement is expected to rise. America has been militarily involved in Africa quite considerably. The American African Command (AFRICOM) began operations in 2007 to deter the likes of Boko Haram, Al Qaeda’s Maghreb faction, Al Shabaab, Kony’s Lord Resistance Army based in Uganda and Islamic fundamentalists across the North Eastern African coast.
Given the realization within African economies of the need to employ the local labour force to foster growth and internal development, African countries have begun to regulate foreign direct investment to increase national employment rates. China, realizing the transition, has worked immensely on the service sector, focusing on vocational training to enhance the service industry. While the US has framed Chinese intentions as imperialist measures, the fact remains that Chinese acceptability relative to the US in African societies adds to their already favored approach within repressive governments. Hence, it remains to be seen in US policy terms as to whether the focus lies on shaping the narrative to rally the international arena against China in the global security paradigm or to focus on more long term economic measures based on principles of comparative advantage and economic integration.
China’s extraction of oil in Africa has increased shares of it in the international market. While the Chinese government does in that manner control the demand and supply, it also increases drastically, shares of oil in the world market which leads to greater trade volume. The US, a lot less regulated, shares a lot of its Overseas Direct Investment with private parties. Greater state involvement however such as that vowed by Obama will mean that American shares of natural resources will drastically increase in the African market. It is notable to add that emerging economies including the likes of India and Brazil are turning to Africa which has resulted in a rise in demand for African natural resources.
Hence, it remains to be seen in US policy terms as to whether the focus lies on shaping the narrative to rally the international arena against China in the global security paradigm or to focus on more long term economic measures based on principles of comparative advantage and economic integration.
For long, the principles of comparative advantage in international trade have eluded implementation. While oil has been the most sought after source in Africa considering American and Chinese production capacities and targets, each state in Africa is home to commodities that hold decent trade value in the international market. Burundi and Ethiopia are known for abundant coffee produce, Ghana and the Ivory Coast for cocoa, Kenya for tea and Liberia for Iron, among other major agricultural producers in Africa. Creating an international market for these products with increased African shares will not only add diversity to the international market but allow America and China to focus on sharing the diversity of African markets in addition to the extraction of oil.
The case for integration and increased American engagement in Africa is gaining momentum especially after a sense of weariness within China of unstable regimes after several Chinese businessmen were kidnapped in 2008. There have been additional threats against Chinese presence in dictatorial regimes. It should be further noted that Chinese “Outward Direct Investment” is directly affected by governance patterns. While countries with stable governments offer more conducive environs for trade to flourish, unstable countries decrease any favorable drivers. Following the American narrative of enhancing production of energy resources throughout the region while maintaining its security presence to keep terrorism at bay, China might be encouraged to invest more holistically.
is an M-Phil graduate of International Relations with minors in political economy from National Defense University. His areas of research include Foreign and Domestic European Affairs. He is currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.