Africa should beware of would-be benefactors who adopt a neo-colonial approach to exploiting the continent’s resources, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned this week.
“The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century,” Clinton said in a thinly-veiled attack on China’s indifference to governance standards.
“America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights, even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way to keep resources flowing. Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will,” she said in Dakar.
Clinton’s visit is designed to counter China’s growing profile and leverage in Africa, say observers.
“The U.S. wants to use this [visit] as a maneuver to limit the influence of China,” American University professor Emilio Viano told VOA. “This will not be done openly; it will be done, of course, diplomatically without naming names, but certainly cautioning African leaders not to strike deals too easily with China.”
At a summit between African and Chinese leaders in Beijing in July, China pledged $20 billion in new loans to Africa over the next three years – double the amount it offered during the previous three year period. Trade between China and African countries has surged as Beijing looks for resources to fuel its economic boom, reaching a record $166 billion last year.
Viano says Washington does not want to lose out on important business interests in Africa, which is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies.
“China is looking for guaranteed sources of resources…and, therefore, it has a major presence in many African countries,” said Viano. “This is of concern to the U.S., first of all, because of competitive reasons.”
Clinton praised Senegal, the only mainland West African country never to have experienced a coup, for its democratic history and recent elections in which a longtime incumbent lost and handed over power to the victor, Macky Sall, whom she met before the delivering the speech.
“If anyone doubts whether democracy can flourish in African soil, let them come to Senegal,” Clinton said during a speech at Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University.
“Americans admire Senegal as one of the only countries in West Africa never to have a military coup.”
But she noted that such trends were not necessarily the norm in the region, such as in Mali or Guinea-Bissau where militaries ousted an elected president.
“Leaders who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves, their families and their supporters at the expense of their own people — who define democracy as one election, one time — are on the wrong side of history,” Clinton said.
In Mali, long considered a model of West African democracy until the coup, Clinton said the military and members of the ousted government must reach consensus to restore civilian leadership and blunt the threat posed by radical Islamists who are taking advantage of a power vacuum in the north.
“We encourage all parties to set aside their differences and work to restore democracy, preserve the territorial integrity of the country, and reject the appeals of violent extremism,” she said. She added that the US would continue to withhold full development assistance, including security aid, until a democratically elected government is in place.
Washington’s support for democracy and human rights was at the “heart of the American model of partnership,” she said.
Democratic governance in sub-Saharan Africa is “alive and well,” a leading analyst recently claimed, but some observers fear that China’s soft power quietly encourages authoritarian trends and forces.
Beijing’s communist authorities today rebuked Clinton, with the official Xinhua news agency insisting that China’s ties with Africa are rooted in “friendship and equality” and that the “friendly and mutually beneficial interaction between China and Africa gives the lie to Clinton’s insinuation.”
It criticized Clinton’s “cheap shots” for obscuring a hidden agenda to discredit China’s engagement with Africa and “drive a wedge between China and Africa for the U.S. selfish gain.”
The United States is facing competition from China’s economic offensive on the continent. China has been Africa’s principle economic partner since 2009, and just doubled its credit line to Africa to $20 billion (18 billion euro).
“China is not our economic adversary in Africa, but simply a competitor like any other country,” a US official told AFP. But “when we do business overseas, we do it in an open and transparent manner.”