After a decade in Africa, America has begun an investment offensive to push back China. At the same time, they have increased the pressure on Kremlin-friendly South Africa. However, an unproven allegation drives the country further over to Moscow’s side.
The scandalous Russia-friendly foreign policy of South Africa has triggered much outrage in the West. Quite rightly so: joint military drills, landing permission for a Russian military aircraft and countless favorable statements from high-ranking African National Congress politicians actually made the supposed neutrality sound like a farce.
But the most explosive accusation by far now appears to be false. In May, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, had reported concrete evidence that South Africa had loaded a sanctioned Russian cargo ship with weapons. He claimed he “would bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion” regarding the alleged weapons shipments to Russia.
A big claim with apparently poor evidence to back it up. According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, a South African investigative committee has now concluded that this arms delivery did not happen. That in itself is no guarantee, since Ramaphosa made only part of the report public, citing national security concerns. However, no reliable evidence has come from the U.S. either.
If this evidence does indeed exist, it needs to be brought to the table, or the ambassador will need to be replaced and a formal apology will have to be issued. According to the South African Ministry of Finance, this has only occurred in private conversations; publicly, Brigety has expressed rather half-hearted regret for his words.
The accusation carried the potential for financial sanctions and the removal of South Africa from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which guarantees duty-free access to the U.S. market. Accordingly, South Africa’s currency lowered in value after Brigety’s statements, and the damage to the financial markets ran into the billions.
If the allegations prove to be unfounded — and currently there are no indications to the contrary — then this pushes South Africa and other countries in that region further toward China and Russia. It also confirms many anti-Western prejudices in Africa. They haven’t forgotten the vaccine hoarding (Ramaphosa: “A situation in which the populations of advanced, rich countries are safely inoculated while millions in poorer countries die in the queue would be tantamount to vaccine apartheid”) during the pandemic. In particular, the Kremlin profits from anger at the former colonial French power in West and Central Africa.
Reaction to China’s Lead
After a decade in which the U.S. either selectively ignored Africa (Barack Obama) or insulted it (Donald Trump), the world power recently launched an investment offensive on the continent. On the continent, this is perceived first and foremost as a geopolitical reaction to China’s big lead on the growth continent, and not a sincere effort to develop the enormous investment backlog.
If Washington wants to leave the whole Brigety incident alone, then this impression is probably justified.