Last week, US national security adviser John Bolton unveiled the Trump administration’s Africa strategy at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative public policy think-tank.
The strategy rests on four pillars: advancing US economic interests in Africa, “countering … radical Islamic terrorism and violent conflict”, and extracting maximum benefit from US aid disbursements.
The fourth pillar, which runs throughout the text, is the US’s determination to check-mate, if not altogether forcefully drive China and Russia – the US’ so-called “great power competitors” – out of Africa.
Bolton accused China and Russia of every conceivable crime, from bribery to “opaque economic agreements” and “strategic use of debt” to capture Africa, and corruption.
These “predatory actions” are “sub-components of broader … strategic initiatives, including ‘One Belt, One Road'” – a plan to develop a series of trade routes leading to and from China “with the ultimate goal of advancing Chinese global dominance”. The US will “immediately” “begin executing countermeasures”.
In contrast to Bolton’s presentation, readily available literature shows that One Belt, One Road is an investment initiative involving infrastructure, education, construction, roads and railways, the motor industry, real estate and energy. It spans more than 68 countries in Asia, Europe, Oceania and Africa. No mean undertaking, it is an estimated $4-trillion (R58-trillion) to $8-trillion project that, if successful, will benefit 65% of the world’s population.
When he presented the US national defence strategy in January this year, outgoing defence secretary Jim Mattis said that the US “will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great-power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security”.
The Bolton announcement is an integral part of the Mattis thesis. It is reminiscent of the Cold War in substance and form. How else are we to reconcile the US’s claims for promoting global development, peace and security on the one hand and its posture on the One Belt, One Road and other initiatives on the other?
The answer lies in the US’s anxiety about the diminishing political, economic and military preponderance it has enjoyed since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. For asserting their political, economic, security, cultural and other rights to self-determine, China and Russia are seen as bad examples to what US academic Noam Chomsky has described as the “unpeople” – the wretched of the earth.