“Africa must beware of “new colonialism” as China extends ties there and focus on partners able to help build productive capacity on the continent”, said Hillary during her term as Secretary of State on a visit to Zambia in 2011. This statement lays bare America`s general disapproval of China`s growing influence in Africa at its expense, as the Americans see Sino-African relations as largely exploitative with Africa being the disadvantaged partner. Them, they argue have the continent`s interests at heart and want to work for sustainable development in Africa, a concept far off China`s radar the Americans contend. Having recently won the Democratic Party nomination announced for the race for the White House in 2016, and having a more than realistic chance of winning, will a Hillary Clinton Presidency signal a turning of the tide for relations between China, the USA and Africa?
Over the years, Africa has become China`s stomping ground. It`s jaw-dropping investments are strewn all over the continent from Cape to Cairo. You`d be forgiven for thinking that the mandarins in Beijing are picking up from where Cecil John Rhodes left from, and fulfilling his Cape to Cairo dream, albeit not for Her Majesty - the Queen, but for its over 1 billion population. From the era of President Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping`s current reign, the intentions of the Chinese are as clear as day – establish a strong foothold in Africa and enjoy its resources – period! And what symbolic sign to mark its growing presence on the continent; than the new imposing African Union Headquarters in Ethiopia financed by the Chinese to the tune of US$ 200 million.
America, the global power that it is, has slowly ceded its hold on Africa, especially as the Chinese economy has grown in leaps and bounds. No doubt, currently and particularly after the events of the financial crisis of 2007-08 Africa can be likened to the cute girl every boy wants to ask out as a date to the high school prom dance. It has been labelled as the last frontier for economic growth, spurred on by rising urbanisation, affluence levels and population growth, all of which make the continent a haven for handsome investment returns. In our small analogy, America and China represent the two most popular boys in the school, who will employ every trick in the book to out manoeuvre the other and win the prom date.
It appears that China has been emerging as the victor in this conquest for a claim on Africa`s riches. But for how much longer will this trend carry on? What is likely going to cause a turning of the tables, one may ask? The answer which is still a remote possibility comes in hushed tones, in the form of a Hillary Clinton Presidency.
The former U.S. Secretary of State, came close to winning the race for the White House in 2008, and in many ways is now a stronger candidate for the job as the “leader of the free world.” Granted, there are so many unknowns in politics, and the elections are still months away. She still has to overcome competition from the Republican candidate Donald Trump come November. And with the Clinton campaign machine in overdrive, the USA might very well have its first female President in 2017.
Now, what does all this mean for Africa bearing in mind the twist that relations between America and Africa have taken over the years, in the wake of ‘blossoming’ Sino-Africa ties? Will Hillary Clinton if in fact she does become American President, take a deeper interest in building ties with Africa? Though having African roots President Obama has been often criticised of neglecting Africa throughout his Presidency. Many on the continent hoped his African heritage would make him focus more on Africa. But these African expectations remain largely unmet, in the absence of notable Africa centred policies and initiatives during his term. Except maybe for the last ditch three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit last year in which discussions on boosting trade between America and Africa were one of the major talking points.
One common accusation that has been leveled against America and cited as the major reason for losing its grip on Africa has been its continued focus on aid at the expense of trade. In 2009, China surpassed America as Africa`s largest trading partner and during the latest conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) announced a credit line of US$20 billion to Africa. To put it into context, over the last decade, though US-Africa trade has doubled from US$50 billion to US$110 billion, China-Africa trade has surged from just US$10 billion to US$200 billion in the same period. Whether this trend remains the same will depend on the stance the new White House incumbent adopts.
Will Hillary Clinton offer a better alternative to what China has brought to the table for Africa? China has been ostracized by the West for allegedly plundering Africa`s resources for its own benefit. This is an accusation the Chinese have vigorously denied. The West accuses China of questionable human rights practices and not promoting democracy on the continent.
However, a drastic change in policy and perception by the Americans will be needed to reverse the trend of them losing their clout in Africa. With the same vigour and intent that she took to lecture Africa on the potential pitfalls of being in bed with the Chinese, Hillary Clinton would need to apply that effort in actually building something tangible for Africa to see. For all their alleged misgivings, the Chinese have built roads, bridges, hospitals, and railway lines on the continent – all of which are essential economic enablers for growth. The same holier-than-thou rhetoric has not worked before from the lips of President Obama, neither will it work coming from Mrs Clinton`s.
Tensions between the two super-powers have been high with accusations and counter-accusations flying between them. Undoubtedly, this is a subject that Hillary Clinton feels strongly about especially judging from her tone during her visit to Africa as Secretary of State, where she launched veiled attacks on the Chinese and their involvement In Africa. Should she win the 2016 Presidential race, Hillary Clinton will have to up the ante, where her predecessors have failed and get America`s hands dirty in its participation in Africa`s growth story. This is evidently something the Chinese have been all too willing to do as compared to the Americans.
In the mean-time however, Africa will gladly stand aside and watch the competing ‘imperialists’ in action, allowing the objects of interest to play them off against one another.