Obama’s Africa Summit: a Sign of Weakness Rather than Strength

Bridges Versus Bombs

Obama is meeting with a number of African leaders this week. But rather than a sign of strength, it’s a sign of weakness.

The Guardian reported Sunday:

Barack Obama is convening the largest ever gathering of African leaders in Washington on Monday – 50 have been invited – for a summit billed by the White House as “elevating our engagement” with a continent increasingly under China’s influence.

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Ben Rhodes, a US deputy national security adviser, denied it was an attempt to play catch-up with China – which has vigorously pursued political and economic ties with the continent.

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Melvin Foote, founder of the Constituency for Africa, a group promoting African interests in Washington, said it was disingenuous for the White House to claim the summit was not in large part a response to China.

“The administration won’t tell you that but it’s at the front of their mind. America is losing influence and respect in Africa,” he said. “I hear it whenever I travel there.”

The US has good reason to be concerned. China’s trade with Africa rose to $200bn (£119bn) last year – largely made up of Beijing’s imports of oil and minerals, and export of electronics and textiles – more than double the US and far ahead of the EU. Twenty years ago trade between China and Africa was just $6bn.

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“Africans say ‘why do we need the United States’?” said Foote. “When I travel around Africa, I’ve seen airports, I’ve seen roads, I’ve seen railroads, I’ve seen ports, I’ve seen all kinds of things that are really impressive built by China, that you have to say the United States refused to build.”

Why has the U.S. refused to build infrastructure in Africa?

Because it has been focused on defense.  As the Guardian notes:

But Beijing’s influence has been greatly enhanced by the large numbers of Chinese now living and working in Africa, from factory managers to traders, and by big construction projects that have rapidly transformed parts of the continent when decades of western aid was often directed to propping up authoritarian cold war allies, not development.

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But the US remains dominant in security issues, which will be a strong undercurrent at the summit.

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“We are very focused on the threat of terrorism in Africa,” said Rhodes. “We see it as particularly acute in … North Africa, Somalia with al-Shabaab, and of course Boko Haram in Nigeria,” he said.

Indeed –  as of last year – the Obama administration was sending troops to 35 African countries under the guise of fighting Al Qaeda and related terrorists.  And the U.S. has planned regime change in Northern African countries for 20 years.

CBC reports:

The U.S., in many senses, miscalculated their approach to Africa. It has always been to focus on bilateral relationships— select a few countries and deal solely with them,” says [Thomas Tieku, an assistant professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto]. “Now they’re playing a catch-up game to try to establish equally strong relationships with multilateral institutions like the African Union.”

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The U.S. will always have to contend with the fact that China is not limited in its economic partnerships by commitments to propping up democracy and freedom, since the cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy is to take a non-interventionist approach with its trading partners, says Tieku.

The Guardian noted Tuesday that the leaders of the African nations didn’t seem that impressed with the new U.S. summit:

African leaders were more cautious in their assessment of the summit and the difference that foreign businesses can make.

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None [of the African leaders] were talking about the meeting as groundbreaking.

We noted in 2012:

In a must-read article, AP analyzes IMF data on 180 nations’ trade with China – and concludes that China has surpassed America as the world’s “top global trader”:

As recently as 2006, the U.S. was the larger trading partner for 127 countries, versus just 70 for China. By last year the two had clearly traded places: 124 countries for China, 76 for the U.S. ***

Indeed, some claim that China is already the world’s biggest economy.[Update.]

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While the U.S. has launched wars all over the world to seize control of resources, China has quietly been trading for its needs, or mining or building resources itself for subsequent export.  See this, this and this. No wonder China is surpassing the U.S. as the world’s trading giant.

Sadly, the U.S. is currently doing a worse job than China in following George Washington’s advice to (1) avoid foreign military entanglements and (2) engage in free trade with all nations.

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  • jadan

    Good timing, Big O! Don’t want to be alarmist, but the Ebola virus is stalking Africa just now, and it would seem improbable that in the retinues of this assemblage of leaders there are not a few carriers of the virus. Obama’s failure in Africa may bite him severely and cause DC to be quarantined. The US is so busy killing people in the name of “democracy” and “regime change” that it hasn’t bothered to assess the effectiveness of constructive approaches. The stupidity of US foreign policy is plain for the world to see.

  • Ros Papas aka nofearorfavor

    Africans know Obombo is a demented political clown, out for what he can get for his international zio-bankster masters. So they too, know how to play his double speaking game and will beat him hands down without a backward glance as China and other countries now bringing on the real deals, are waiting in the wings. Some enterprising independent movie maker should jump in now and make a movie of “AmeriKa under Obumbo”, the most idiotic nauseating president the US has ever had. So laughable when you see this man making a speech all read from his ever at the ready teleprompter! Does he even know what a fool he is in the eyes of the world’s finest free-thinking minds — many of them REAL Americans? The US Military and Air Force should just go on a nationwide strike and refuse to do his bidding and he’ll be a goner, arrested and thrown into the stocks, where he rightfully belongs. And the White House, well it will become the White House again and AmeriKa, the United States of America again!!

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  • Ros Papas aka nofearorfavor

    Quote: “While the U.S. has launched wars all over the world to seize control of resources, China has quietly been trading for its needs, or mining or building resources itself for subsequent export”. (end quote).
    While other global powers such as Russia and China and the smaller countries, desire building their respective economies and trading to the benefit of all, living at peace with each other, the agenda of the US and its so-called yellow livered allies, is complete global dominance and in their maniacally twisted minds, both China and Russia stand in their way. How archaic is that, when even fools know modern day weaponry can destroy all in the process! — Including the state of the art so-called elite’s bunkers in Denver and all over the US.
    Much as the US and its allies cloak their heinous agenda under the auspices of “protecting democracy”, the World at large does not buy this BS fairytale anymore. China and Russia well know that the US is the creator of terrorism and conflict globally with US military presence in 124 countries as we speak. As global “self-appointed policeman” of the planet, the US war machine is always employed to kill and destroy, divide and rule through proxy governments, trashing international law, right left and centre – “we reserve the right to kill anyone as and when we please” — even their own citizens. The coup de grace by successive US administrations, is that they’ve dumbed down the gross of their citizens into believing they are protecting them from clear and present danger and with sly cunning always announcing ‘imminent’ terrorist threats, keep their nation in a state of tension.
    While the US demonize all countries not in line with its ‘polarized’ foreign policies through their corporate controlled infamous lying presstitute western Main Scream Media machine, the bulk of ordinary Americans fall for this BS every time! That after the 9/11 sell out. That after the WMD lies in Iraq.
    Sadly it seems Americans will get what they deserve, as it is beginning to be mighty clear that they don’t have the good old fashioned guts to stand up to the last man and throw out the international banksters and corporates owned crazy, unhinged traitor in their WH and the whole bang shoot of corrupt, self-serving criminal Reps and Dems and all the other scheming decrepit ones too. Worse of all is, that when the US’ name stinks to high heaven all over the globe, the only thing bragged about by the ignorant in the US, is their mighty military and yes, it is so mighty, it can wipe-out the whole planet, but better believe it, the US will be wiped out along with it too. Wake the bl**dy h*ll up America, you are allowing the devils within your own ranks to destroy and steal away your beautiful land.

  • We need to make a stronger commitment to bring a standard of law to Africa… an opportunity like this summit was wasted by not scolding the African leaders for the heavy handedness in ruling their countries… oh… this president likes that way of ruling? i forgot…
    http://heartbeatpolitics.com

  • We need to make a stronger commitment to bring a standard of law to Africa… an opportunity like this summit was wasted by not scolding the African leaders for the heavy handedness in ruling their countries… oh… this president likes that way of ruling? i forgot…
    http://heartbeatpolitics.com