During his speech at the Detroit Economic Club on 18 June, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked about America taking more actions in Africa to remove Chinese influence there and to steer the continent towards economic development and political models more similar to that of the US. This statement reflects US anxiety on Africa.
America is anxious about its declining influence in the course of African development and is determined to eliminate Chinese influence there and yoke Africa to the war chariot of the American model again.
As the country in which the ‘soft power’ concept was invented, the US should know very well that whether a country is informed by and draws upon another’s development model relies much on the attraction of the model itself. If it is successful in different countries and regions and embodies mankind’s pursuit of social justice and common development, the development model is naturally attractive and there is no need to force it on people or eliminate other countries’ influence.
After World War II, the vast number of newly independent former colonies and semi-colonies in Africa were puzzled by the choice between a ‘capitalist’ or ‘socialist’ path. With the ‘negative’ and ‘painful’ memories of colonial rule, resource plundering and slavery by former Western suzerains following the capitalist path, many African countries found it impossible to choose the Western model. On the other hand, at that time, socialist countries as represented by the former Soviet Union demonstrated great economic vitality, social justice, and equality, thus attracting newly independent countries towards the socialist model.
Upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Soviet socialist model was discredited as the economy no long supported its arms race with the US. Most African countries removed ‘socialism’ from their constitutions. Arguably whether a model is attractive and influential hinges on its performance.
A review of American diplomacy under Trump in the past year suggests that the US has a negative attitude towards and shrinks from international cooperation and African development. The Trump administration has not only reduced development aid for Africa and withdrawn from a number of international initiatives and organizations pertinent to African development, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, UNESCO, and the UN Human Rights Council. Trump himself has made cavalier comments about Africa time and again. How could this make the American model the lighthouse for African countries?
Besides, Africa is also actively innovating its own development model. Africa does not need to be forced into any other country’s model. It should be African countries’ independent choice to reference or learn from other countries’ experiences or models. Then will the US be able to drive Chinese influence out of Africa? Between ‘America First’ on the one hand and Belt and Road initiatives and a community of shared future for mankind on the other, it’s probably quite apparent to many which is better. The African nations have sufficient wisdom and courage to follow their own path, choose a suitable model based on their own history, tradition, culture, and socioeconomic foundation.
Author: He Wenping is a senior fellow of The Charhar Institute, researcher of Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences