WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States lashed out on Thursday (Dec 13) at “predatory” Chinese and Russian involvement in Africa as it announced a leaner footprint on the continent that insists on accountability in trade and peacekeeping.
In a speech billed as unveiling a new US strategy on Africa, national security adviser John Bolton echoed President Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy, showing a distrust of international institutions and a sense of stark competition with rival powers.
Mr Bolton denounced China for its aggressive quest for natural resources and its rising military and maritime presence – warning that the balance of power in the Horn of Africa could shift to Beijing – and accused Russia of using the continent to seek past imperial glory.
“The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa, threaten the financial independence of African nations, inhibit opportunities for US investment, interfere with US military operations and pose a significant threat to US national security interests,” Mr Bolton said at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
He said that China used “bribes, opaque agreements and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands”.
China has found ready partners in part by promising not to interfere in internal affairs.
Mr Abe Denmark, a former assistant secretary of defence, now at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, called Mr Bolton’s approach on China “particularly self-defeating” and said it may drive more African nations towards Beijing.
“Can’t we just engage Africa on its own merits and not make it part of the grand China competition chessboard?” he tweeted.
Self-reliance over aid
Mr Bolton also told African governments to expect a tighter-fisted approach to aid, with an end to “indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent”.
“All US aid on the continent will advance US interests, and help African nations move toward self-reliance,” Mr Bolton said.
Mr Trump has vowed to slash foreign aid across the world and is not known for his interest in Africa, notoriously being quoted by lawmakers as calling some African countries “s***holes” when discussing immigration to the US.
But Mr Bolton said that the tycoon turned president’s “transactional history” of “making deals that are mutually beneficial” should be an encouraging sign to African nations.
Mr Bolton announced, with few immediate details, an initiative called “Prosper Africa” to boost US private sector investment across the continent with a goal of offering “high-quality, transparent, inclusive” trade.
He said the approach showed how the US is “the least imperial power in the history of the world”.
“In America’s economic dealings, we ask only for reciprocity, never for subservience,” he said.
Mr Bolton also warned that the US was considering cutting off aid to South Sudan, which has benefited from US largesse since its independence in 2011, unless its “morally bankrupt leaders” end their internal fighting.
Criticism of UN peacekeeping
The competition with China and Russia comes as Washington prepares to dial down its already modest military response to the spread of Islamist militant groups in Africa.
Instead, Washington wants regional players to take more responsibility for their own security.
Mr Bolton cited as an example the so-called G5 Sahel – a security force backed by the US which consists of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
But Mr Bolton, known for his hawkish criticism of the United Nations, said the US would seek to “streamline, reconfigure or terminate” UN peacekeeping missions unless they “facilitate lasting peace”.
“Our objective is to resolve conflicts, not freeze them in perpetuity,” he said.
Mr Bolton accused the world body of creating peacekeeping missions and then not looking further at how to resolve the underlying conflicts.
“We will not provide legitimacy to missions that give large payouts to countries sending poorly equipped soldiers who provide insufficient protection to vulnerable populations on the ground,” he said.