The rise of China and its continuing evolving economic and political clout in the Asia Pacific region and much of Africa is pushing the US to revamp its cold war tactics of containment as a strategy against a formidable rising geopolitical competitor – China.
As a result of this, the Joe Biden administration is continuing its predecessors’ pivot to Asia as a strategy of containing and constraining the rise of China. The competition between these hegemons will, to a large extent, determine the future of global technology, trade and the world order.
Just like the Cold War of years past, the battle for supremacy between these competing powers will be fought across different regions and continents. Africa is one of the continents that should brace itself for the ramifications of this looming confrontation.
Already continental leaders are calling for neutrality with the hope that the continent will not be drawn into the contest between the two superpowers. This was the call of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta when he decried the tendency of forcing Africans to take side, noting “we don’t want to be forced to choose.”
All these beg the question; how should Africans handle the current contest between the US and China in their quest for geopolitical and strategic advantages in the region? This article discusses four main engagement strategies. They certainly aren’t exhaustive; neither are they comprehensive. These measures are discussed under broad headlines.
Strategic engagement and constructive non alignment
To the extent that Africa hopes to reap adequate reward from its dealings with the duelling superpowers, Africa must seek constructive engagement and strategic non alignment with the US and China. Constructive engagement among other things should take into consideration issues of mutual interest between Africa and the superpowers.
As noted by Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan, strategic engagement should among other things prioritize economic incentives, development aid, trade agreements, lifting of embargoes, technology and manufacturing transfers, loans and removal of trade tariffs among others. Africa should however be strategic and pursue a policy of non-alignment with these superpowers as it relates to ideology and governance structure.
Strategic non-alignment should among other things mean a wilful attempt to resist any attempt to be drawn into the East-West battle for supremacy. Many years ago, our founding fathers’ and liberation heroes across Africa faced the prospect of choosing between the US and the Soviet Union following the emergence of the Cold War.
Though different countries expressed different preferences for the two main ideologies, they subsumed their interest under the banner of the Non-Aligned Movement as countries which prefer engagement over confrontation, they preferred neutrality in the Cold War. Present day Africa should make it clear that Africa is a continent ready for engagement. It’s open for business, with a view to reaping the maximum development and potential for its citizens.
Taking sides with any superpower against another will not inure to the long-term interest and benefits of the continent and the repercussions will be dire.
Strategic partnership with rising powers
Though the international ecosystem seems dominated by the American and Chinese hegemonic powers, the reality is more nuanced. The international system was rightly labelled by CNN Fareed Zakaria when he termed it ‘the rise of the rest’. The ‘rest’ here means Africa can engage diverse groups of international actors for the benefit of its citizenry.
However, because continental leaders usually have their eyes on the duopoly of US and Chinese hegemony, they fail to actively engage some of these nascent actors. Turkey for instance is a rising power in the Middle East with a formidable military force, economic clout and a growing soft power in education, tourism among others. It links the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia. Turkey currently boast so many African students schooling in their universities.
However, trade between Africa and Turkey is at a US$23 billion, which can easily be increased significantly with deeper engagement. Another rising power is India. With a population of over 1.2 billion people, it is the second most populous country after China and home to advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing, technology, trade, tourism and growing Middle Class.
It provides opportunities for commercial engagement. Unfortunately trade between Africa and India is currently at US$62 billion compared to US$192 billion with China. This is a massive untapped market for Africa. The country also boasts of advanced vehicular manufacturing which Africa can easily tap with the right strategic engagement.
Partnerships can also be struck with other wealthy but less powerful Gulf States like Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Oman among others for their financial muscle rather than diplomatic and political clout. These states boast trillions of dollars in their sovereign wealth funds. A strategic African engagement with these countries can see many of them turning to the continent for investment especially in agriculture, tourism and real estate among others.
Acceleration and strengthening of continental and regional trade blocs
The integration of Africa as a single continental market has been the dream of African leaders for many years. The dream may be a reality now. It started with the Lagos Plan of Action in 1980 with the dream of a continental market, then the Abuja Declaration of 1992 and now the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Signed by 54 out of 55 African countries and ratified by 36 out of 55 countries, it is a sure path to a large continental free trade bloc. To avoid getting caught in another East/West confrontation, African leaders must ensure this continental market works.
The World Bank estimates that with over 1.3 billion people in 55 countries and a combined GDP of over US$3.4 trillion dollars, it may be the largest free trade bloc in the world with the possibility of lifting over 30 million people out of poverty and a further 68 million out of moderate poverty.
Intra-African trade presently is at a paltry 17% compared to Europe, Asia and much of the West which have intra-continental trade at 59% and above. The trade agreement will not only boost intra-African trade, but also contribute to improving manufacturing, boosting of infrastructure and the growth of industrialisation in the continent.
Regional economic blocs such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), East African Community (EAC), SADC, and COMESA among others must also be strengthened and resourced with the necessary human, technical and financial resources to function.
To reap adequate benefits from these regional and continental blocs, continental leaders must as a matter of urgency address the gaping infrastructure deficit plaguing the continent and strengthen the institutional capacity of the organization to ensure it works. This will certainly help stave the continent of the looming geopolitical contest between the US and China.
The viability of AfCFTA will go to a long way to strengthen the continent’s hand in trade negotiations with other bodies and also keep it out of any attempt to side with any of the feuding
Seek to create strategic trade and industrial hubs in the continent
Continental leaders also need to create strategic trade and industrial hubs in the continent to spur African industrialisation effort. The continent can really grow and escape the East/West trap if it prioritises the manufacture and export of value-added goods rather than depend on the export of raw commodities. As it stands now, Africa basically exports what it does not consume – raw natural resources and, import what it does not produce – finished goods.
The continent cannot escape poverty and underdevelopment through crude agriculture and the export of raw natural resources but through massive investment in manufacturing, services and other value-added activities. Continental leaders must therefore prioritize the creation of industrial hubs to catalyse the manufacturing of value-added goods.
Many multinational companies are pursuing diversification of their supply chains as a way of either escaping the growing Sino-American trade wars or to take advantages in favorable regions of the world. Can continental leaders work to attract some of these companies to establish their manufacturing plants in Africa?
For instance, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and other South-East Asian countries were able to attract many manufacturing companies moving out of China as a result of the punitive trade war between the US and China. These countries are now thriving manufacturing hubs and reaping the benefits thereby. If continental leaders can replicate same in Africa, it will help catalyse industrialisation and development in the continent.
In conclusion, Africa as a continent need not get caught up in the looming geopolitical contest between the US and China. If the continent pursues constructive engagement and strategic non-alignment, deepen engagement with rising powers such as India and Turkey among others as outline above, the continent will stand to gain and not lose in its dealings with the US and China.
>>>The writer loves to read and write about international politics and developments. Email: [email protected]