How Africa Became the US and Europe’s Favorite Again

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently concluded a visit to three African countries − Ethiopia, Angola and Senegal. All three of these countries are important Chinese trade and investment partners. Unsurprisingly, while Pompeo praised the free market economic system, he simultaneously slandered China and Africa’s cooperation, declaring, “[African] countries should be wary of authoritarian regimes with empty promises.” It is worth noting that this is the secretary of state’s first visit to Africa in two years, and in this time, British, French, German and other established colonial forces have taken increased steps to return to Africa since the beginning of the new year. Why has Africa suddenly become attractive to the U.S. and Europe?

Since the end of the Cold War, Africa has been a forgotten continent, and colonial powers have withdrawn from it, one after another. One reason for this is that Africa is not the focal point of any global strategy, and a second reason is the ever present reality of racism among mainstream elites. However, as soon as competitors are seen strengthening relations with Africa, these traditional powers can no longer remain calm. For example, during the Cold War, when Soviet forces entered Africa, the U.S., Britain and France all quickly took action. Now, when these countries see Chinese African cooperation flourishing, they cannot sit still, and they feel the need to step in. This is an important point in understanding why the U.S. and Europe are now paying more attention to Africa. The focus of Pompeo’s recent trip was to publicize and promote the Trump administration’s “Prosper Africa” policy program. In the process, he presented the oil rich but income poor country of Angola as an important tool in resisting China’s influence, because the “Angola Model” of exchanging oil to finance infrastructure has always drawn the attention of the U.S.

In the economic sphere, the prevalence of protectionism has inevitably led the U.S. and Europe to solidify their holdings in emerging markets. Presently, many of the fastest growing economies in the world are located on the African continent. According to data released by the United Nations, Africa is predicted to reach a gross domestic product growth rate of 3.2% in 2020 and 3.5% in 2021. In 2019, there were 25 African countries that saw at least a 5% economic growth rate. Moreover, Africa’s population will double by 2050 and reach 2 billion. Thus, Africa’s major potential for economic growth has also attracted the U.S. and Europe. For example, at the U.K.-Africa Investment Summit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphasized that the U.K. still has a long way to go in building solid relationships with African countries. In the process of building these relationships, Africa’s economic momentum should be fully put to use.

Africa’s core concern is whether or not foreign countries can really substantially support Africa’s economic growth and population expansion. Nearly all African countries require major investments in industrialization and modernization efforts, but the patterns of assistance provided by the West have long shown their limits. In the same vein, the methods by which the U.S. and Europe attempt to win over Africa will also test their political know-how.

In the face of the established colonial powers, Chinese African cooperative development can only become unbeatable with continuous innovation and improvements in sustainability. This author believes that although the debt trap argument concocted by the West has already been discredited, it does to a certain extent reflect the risks and pressures of international financing facing African countries. Because debt directly impacts the sustainability of development, making innovations in China’s financing and development model in Africa and expanding the scale of mixed financing will not only assist in alleviating and dividing the burdens and risks of debt, but will help promote sustainable Chinese African cooperative development.

Under this principle, financial development institutions can be encouraged and guided to assess risks and returns early on, and design accurate financing solutions in response. This will effectively mobilize capital investments that will collectively benefit Africa’s development, share the benefits of the continent’s development, and provide long-lasting momentum for Chinese African cooperation.

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