US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo capped his three-country visit to Africa where he pitched strengthening economic relations with the United States as the path towards “true liberation” for all African nations.
Pompeo warned that Africa needs to be “wary of authoritarian regimes with empty promises,” a veiled reference to China’s presence on the continent, and added that government’s like that of the Communist Party in Beijing “can only lead to corruption and dependency.”
Though he made no specific reference to China, Pompeo’s comments at the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa was a direct swipe at China, which has been both Ethiopia’s and Africa’s biggest trade partner over the past decade.
Amid growing influence and investments made by China in Africa, Pompeo’s five-day visit to Senegal, Angola, and Ethiopia was aimed at bolstering the US’ case as a viable alternative economic partner. He lauded the transparency, proven quality of work of American industries, and the creation of local job opportunities as the main benefits of partnering with the US.
“When we come, we hire Angolans. When we come to Angola, we show up with money that will benefit the Angolan people,” Pompeo said during a news conference in the Angolan capital Luanda. “We do high-quality work. It’s transparent. It benefits the people of that country. Not every nation that comes here to invest does that.”
Pompeo’s pitch also included a reference to the work done by American companies in each of the three countries that he visited, including Bechtel in Senegal, Chevron’s operations in Angola and the Coca-Cola company’s presence in Ethiopia. The Secretary of State capped his trip to Ethiopia by promising $8 million to support efforts to fight a massive locust outbreak in the country, as well as in neighbouring Kenya and Somalia.
As the US’ top diplomat, Pompeo doubled down on an earlier promise that the White House would assist in finding a possible peaceful resolution for the conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile.
Pompeo did leave, however, without any concrete trade deals or long-term investment strategies in place, a sign that the US still has a lot of ground to make up to catch up to Chinese investments. The message delivered by Pompeo was also viewed as being in stark contrast to that of President Donald Trump, whose recent actions towards the continent have included a recent travel ban on Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and home to 191 million people.
The trip was successful in articulating to Africa and the wider international community that the United States fully intends to remain engaged in Africa, but Pompeo’s appearance on the continent also proved that extra diplomacy by the Americans was needed after Trump’s profanity-laden description of several African Countries in 2018.
Europe joins the US in challenging China
The EU finds now itself in a similar position to the Americans as Brussels is trying to correct past mistakes, albeit in immeasurably deeper gravity, and position itself as a viable partner to the emerging economies of the AU. Recent visits to the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa by European Commission and EU Council presidents Ursula Von der Leyen and Charles Michel highlight the EU’s renewed focus on the continent.
“We want to look towards the future, and to our neighbours. We want to tackle climate change and the digital revolution. The two major challenges we are all facing,” Michel said in early February during his visit to Addis Ababa.
The EU is already a key partner to African countries, in terms of aid funds, with initiatives such as the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. Its trade efforts in Africa, however, pale in comparison to China’s latest infrastructure projects like the development of railways and roads in Kenya and the $200 million investment in the construction of the AU’s headquarter in Ethiopia.
The AU stands to benefit from the increased interest in the region. Successful consolidation of a free trade union under the African Continental Free Trade Area can shift for good the international narrative on investment and aid towards African countries. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reinforced this notion by declaring that the continent will no longer be used “as a pit stop for goods” produced elsewhere.
As for the ongoing trade talks, it is still unclear if the US and the EU plan to join efforts in deterring Chinese investments in the African continent or if they will continue to formulate their Africa policies individually. One thing is for certain, the economic race between East and West is on in Africa and all eyes will be on the continent in the coming years.