The institutions and policy tools at the core of US policy in Africa are ill-suited for the times
This is an excellent piece, well written. The US has just dabbled there, no coherent strategic vision. "American experts in charge, projecting their own faddish priorities....." By the way, what is the progress of Oprah Winfrey's school?
Do you know why American companies aren’t “showing up “? Too much risk, difficulty with governments, just can’t hit the same price points as the Chinese?
"What a difference it makes to the mood around you when people feel that life today is better than yesterday and will surely be even better tomorrow." - Claire Berlinski
The tragedy of the U.S. is that statement is true for us too, but we don't believe it.
We listen to the politicians who in order to attract our votes, tell us how miserable life is today.
We follow the media who sell papers with misery and horror stories.
And if life doesn't suit you, move (I moved from downtown Chicago to rural Colorado - life improved immediately).
Up to each and every one of us to find happiness.
Lots of happiness out there waiting to be found.
Kissinger said: "America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests".
That applies equally to Africa; its loyalty (or enmity) is transient.
Why pay now for loyalty that will almost certainly transfer to another country in the future?
Africa (I know that it is not monolithic) would love a bidding war between China, Russia, the EU, France, and the U.S.
We would be fools to play that game.
Play to our strengths.
Look at the visa lines outside the U.S. consulates compared to Chinese visa lines. Use our schools and societal openness to build friends.
The Chinese in Africa are not lovable - use that.
There is a huge difference between a Green Beret "A Team" and a Wagner expeditionary unit. Use that.
Corrupt politicians need a bolt hole - use that.
Bottom line, there are a lot of ways to win Africa - other than just writing checks.
Thank you again, Ken, for a good explainer on American failure to compete in Africa. Is this American intransigence a result of or in addition to my country’s multi-Administration decision to step back from the world stage? Or is it some institutional “Aswan Dam Syndrome,” where the American foreign policy establishment is leery of engaging too much with African leaders for fear of getting burned?
Really informative and thought provoking. Thank you, Professor. I’ve heard that Africa has a serious shortage of physicians and that African physicians prefer practicing in urban areas than rural areas (we have the same problem in the United States).
How about a commitment from the U.S. Government to provide a fully paid for medical education at American medical schools for 10,000 African students over a three year period? The proviso would be that the students need to commit in advance to return to their countries of origin. Perhaps the United States could supplement the salaries of African physicians who agree to practices in rural communities, at least for a period of time.
Similarly a commitment to build rural hospitals at American expense might be welcomed. Many serious infectious diseases originated in Africa. An increased commitment (cooperation already exists) to partnerships with African research labs by American labs could be very valuable.
There’s a reality that Professor Opalo neglected to mention. One main reason that China can afford to invest in Africa while the United States merely pays lips service is that China is not burdened by the expense of supporting a world-wide empire like the United States is. The costs of supporting tens of thousands of troops in scores of nations around the world leaves little left over for investment in Africa. The trillions of dollars wasted on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (where we were defeated) prevented additional investment in Africa. Tens of billions (and probably hundreds of billions) of dollars spent on subsidizing a war in Ukraine (that Biden helped to instigate) deter us from spending more on Africa.
Unlike the United States, China doesn’t squander its resources tilting at windmills. Instead, it promotes its economic and social model through its soft-power endeavors. Is it any wonder that the United States can’t match China?
Then there’s the biggest enchilada of all; the resources the United States squanders defending Europe. How much money does the United States waste on NATO? How much money spent by the U.S. DOD could be redirected to African development efforts if other NATO members spent more on their own defense so the United States could spend less? Why is the United States subsidizing the richest nations in the world instead of doing what it takes to invest in some of the poorest but most promising nations in the world?
The United States will never hold its own in a soft power competition with China in Africa as long as Europe remains a millstone around the neck of the United States.
Africa is young, vibrant and promising. Europe is old, sclerotic and failing. Maybe it’s time for the United States to face reality and invest it’s resources in nations that are deserving and have a bright future rather than nations that increasingly appear to be headed towards extremis.
Americans need to understand that if we don’t do that, China will clean our clock. Sadly, as Professor Opalo confirms, they’re doing so right now.