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Huanqiu, China

Why Has America “Rediscovered” Africa?

By Yin Chengde

Translated By Nathan Hsu

4 January 2013

Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard

China - Huanqiu - Original Article (Chinese)

Recently, ABC revealed that the U.S. Africa Command plans to send 3,500 troops to Africa in 2013, marking the beginning of a new stage in U.S. deployments to Africa. This will be a major initiative as the U.S. seeks to assert military control over Africa, as well as a significant step toward adjusting its African policy.

For quite some time, the U.S. has viewed Africa as a "backwards" and "failed” continent, and so has largely neglected it. Africa's strategic significance has increased following its revival and accelerated pace of integrated development in the 1990s. As the world began to face an energy crisis and a shortage of natural resources, Africa's value as a treasure trove of energy and resources became especially apparent. It was only then that the U.S. "rediscovered" and began to place greater importance on Africa, as well as make substantial changes to its African policy. In recent years, it has proposed building a "new U.S.-African Partnership" of the 21st century, strengthening every aspect of its operations on the continent. African-American President Obama personally visited Africa after his election, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was even more active with continuous "shuttle diplomacy," bolstering the political links between the U.S. and Africa.

The meat of the U.S. relationship with Africa is in trade. In 2000, the U.S. introduced its African Growth and Opportunity Act, announcing that it would offer unilateral trade benefits for the 48 Sub-Saharan African countries. The 37 countries eligible for benefits were able to export over 6,000 types of products to the U.S. duty-free, and U.S.-African trade increased rapidly. In 2008, aggregate trade between the U.S. and Africa reached $104.6 billion with a year-on-year growth of 28 percent, over three times that of 2001. U.S. aid to Africa has increased correspondingly. In 2005, the U.S. declared that it would increase annual aid to Africa from $4.3 billion to $8.6 billion over the following five years; U.S. aid to Africa stood at 36.2 percent of total foreign aid in 2009.

The U.S. adjusting its African policy to augment its military presence there is both a prelude and an important point in itself. In 2008, it established AFRICOM, something not done even during the Cold War. NATO's 2011 air strikes in Libya were issued and directed by this command. It established military bases and stationed over 1,000 troops in several African countries, and also strengthened its West-African naval force to ensure the safety of oil shipping lanes. In 2012, the U.S. had over 10 military operations and signed military agreements with over 20 states in Africa for the wartime use of airfields and ports. It will deploy over 3,500 soldiers to 35 African countries in 2013.

The basic impetus for this adjustment in U.S. policy and the deepening of relations with Africa lies in reaping greater profits and, in particular, making the control and seizure of African oil and other strategic resources the core objective of its African strategy. Its investments in Africa are primarily concentrated in oil-producing regions. U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil plans to invest $50 billion in Africa over the next 10 years, and Chevron plans to invest $20 billion over the next five years in an effort to expand its African oil production capacity. Outwardly, the U.S. has declared that its increased military strength in Africa is due to "anti-terror" considerations, but in truth, its purpose is to protect U.S. strategic interests in Africa, especially those related to oil. Its military operations in Africa have primarily revolved around energy and natural resource bases and opening up supply lines. The U.S. Army's "anti-terror" operations in Africa have been selective. It only moves against terrorism which threatens its interests, and is content to selectively ignore that which does not, however catastrophic, and simply watch from the sidelines.

Under the simultaneous and concerted political, military and economic stratagems of the U.S., African oil is steadily flowing into American oil stockpiles. In 2006, the U.S. imported 2.23 million barrels of oil per day from Africa, equaling 17 percent of total imported oil and 12 percent of consumed oil. According to U.S. National Security Council estimates, a quarter of U.S. oil imports will come from Africa by 2015, surpassing the amount of oil imported from the Middle East and making Africa the largest exporter of oil to the U.S. America's political leaders will accordingly place high importance on African oil imports as a matter pertaining to national security. This is the primary reason for the significant changes to U.S. policy in Africa and the unprecedented attention given to developing relations with Africa.

Note: The author of this article was formerly a diplomatic officer to the Chinese Embassy in the U.S.



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