Once again, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton has spoken up about China’s imperialist reach in Africa and, once again, his remarks have roiled the diplomatic corps of various nations. In this case, Bolton’s disruption of the status quo thinking is a good thing — and a sign that America is finally awakening to the threats it faces in Africa.
In December, Bolton warned about China’s attempts to revive its Cold War-era alliances with African nations in a speech at the Heritage Foundation.
On Thursday, he returned to the Heritage Foundation and to his theme about China’s “predatory practices” in Africa.
Bolton cited China’s use of military-grade lasers to distract or injure U.S. pilots in 10 separate attacks in May 2018 as an example of its mounting militarism. Two U.S. pilots suffered serious injuries. He also highlighted China’s construction of its first overseas military base, which is, coincidentally, a few miles up the Red Sea coast from America’s Camp Lemonnier, home to sailors, marines, and special forces operators fighting radical Islamists. In the coming months, China is set to take over Djibouti’s massive commercial sea port — a move that Bolton says will shift the balance of power in the region.
“Should this occur, the balance of power in the Horn of Africa — a major artery of maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia,” Bolton said in prepared remarks, “would shift in favor of China.”
China is also investing in oil and gas-production and distribution facilities across Africa, gobbling up much of the emerging continent’s energy resources.
Russia, too, drew Bolton’s ire. He accused Moscow of using its vast oil and gas reserves to “buy votes in the United Nations” and undermine African nations’ independence.
Together, China and Russia represent a renewed threat to U.S. interest in Africa, he said.
“The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa, threaten the financial independence of African nations, inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment, interfere with U.S. military operations, and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”
Bolton largely ignored the home-grown threats to Africa’s prosperity and security.
Congo’s disputed presidential election continues to draw massive street protests, especially after the corrupt electoral commission ignored the candidate who apparently won more than 58 percent of the vote in favor of the candidate who commanded less than 19 percent of the votes. This is the first election in Congo’s history in which a transfer of power is set to happen by ballots rather than bullets and the risk that the ancien regime could hold on through corruption and a proxy candidate is producing unrest in its major cities. It could devolve into civil war.
Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who came to power in a bloodless 1989 coup is also facing large demonstrations against his plan to amend the constitution to allow his continued rule.
Nine sub-Saharan African nations will hold elections in 2019, including two giants: Nigeria and South Africa. In both cases, economic reforms could be slowed even if the current majority party survives. Both are critical to U.S. efforts to thwart terrorism. By his silence, Bolton is saying that he trusts African voters to decide their own futures and be accountable for the results.
Finally, Bolton said U.S. aid — which amounted to $8.7 billion in fiscal year 2017 — will no longer be “indiscriminate” or spent without “focus or prioritization.”
This signals that the Trump Administration is re-engineering aid payments to better combat China’s growing influence and to reward African nations that help the U.S. fight terrorism. Since these billions of tax dollars have long been on bureaucratic auto-pilot, this is a welcome reform. America will try to get more bang for its buck, rather than lavishing money on feel-good water-filtration or electricity-generating projects. Aid to literary and artistic projects will also likely decline.
This move is akin to U.S. shifts in aid to Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, where the State department focused its funds on defeating Russian and communist influence. It was hard work, but it worked. And, it can work again in modern-day Africa.
Bolton’s bold remarks mean that the U.S. was woken up to China and Russia’s long-term plans to bring Africa into their sphere of influence and drive out the U.S. and other Western democracies. No longer will America sit idly by. The U.S. will publicly call out China and Russia and remake its policies to protect Africa’s fledgling democracies.
As upsetting as it may be to the diplomats who prefer to conduct their business hushed, Bolton’s plain speaking is long overdue.
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan Publisher. He sits on the Board of Directors of The Atlantic Council in Washington and International Councillors at The Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's also on the Board of Trustees of the The Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and member of The National Interest’s Advisory Council. Mr. Charai is a Mid-East policy advisor in Washington whose articles have appeared in the major U.S. media. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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