US, China Compete for Influence in Africa

Published on Author helvey

The United States plans to host a conference for African Nations (Those who are in our good graces) in August. Leaders from 47 African nations have been invited by President Obama to the US-Africa summit. The conference is intended to strengthen relations between the US and African counterparts and encourage mutually beneficial economic behavior on both sides, such as “wider US trade, development, and security ties.”  It is no secret that this plan is in response to advances China has made within the continent of Africa, but President Obama discredited any consideration of a Cold-War type situation while speaking to reporters in Africa: “This is not a zero-sum game. This is not the cold war. You’ve got one global market, and if countries that are now entering into middle-income status see Africa as a big opportunity for them, that can potentially help Africa.”

President Obama also emphasized his desire for stronger countries to avoid entering the African market solely to snatch away natural resources (like “resource-hungry” China). However, he did encourage nations to enter the market with the motive of mutually beneficial trade. It will be interesting to see how this competition over influence plays out in the years to come. Is America losing status? Only time will tell.

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7 Responses to US, China Compete for Influence in Africa

  1. (Note: I think you have to cite where you got the picture from. I used the exact same picture for my post and cited too.)
    I think there are two types of purposes that countries enter Africa: 1: to help the poor (which might lead to mutual benefits) and 2: just for natural resources.
    Whatever the developed countries’ purposes are, I think it is necessary for them to go into Africa and invest.
    This can help African countries to use their resources more efficiently (hopefully) and grow their economy.

  2. It is important to think about motives when looking at the situation that is rising between China and the US over Africa. I don’t think that I am making a stretch to say that the USA and China won’t be fighting to see who gets to give charity to Africa. There is almost certainly another reason for the involvement in Africa and I think that our past in the Middle East points to natural recourses being the key. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    • While it is reasonable to remain skeptical of the government’s true motives behind our foreign policy, investing in Africa and other third world countries will be extremely important in the future of our global economy. When it comes to high growth areas, especially concerning both energy and technology, developing nations such as those in Africa will facilitate the next industrialization phase and economic expansion. Establishing footholds in these regions should become a priority for corporations like telecom conglomerates. Not only will this bring more comprehensive internet and cell phone access to these areas, but it offers greater, future profit opportunities for companies at home.

  3. Sub-saharan African has been growing pretty strongly the past few years, though there remain countries mired in civil war. So standard commercial motives are one incentive, in some countries a local (albeit until recently small) “Chinatown” goes back decades. Indeed, our guest speaker Prof Dodge related that in Chad the best restaurant in town was Chinese.
    Recently natural resources are an area of investment, again this is commercial because often the Chinese firms involved are acting counter to formal Chinese government policy. Extracting oil in West Africa doesn’t directly add to energy resources for China, but if done well (which as newbies should not be taken for granted!) may boost the profits of one or another firm, and in foreign currency deposited in foreign banks outside the reach of the Chinese government.
    Note there was a conference at VMI a couple years ago on China in Africa. I assume there are papers floating around from it, there are numbers of studies by economists on the issue – and so this general issue is a starting point for a potential term paper topic. [The topic would need to be narrowed….]

  4. Though I disagree with many of Robert Kaplan’s views (despite his moderation since the fallout from the Iraq/Afghan wars), he has some interesting things to say about China’s role in Africa. China has been actively expanding its “sphere,” building countless roads and pipelines northwards into the Russian Far East and eastwards into Central Asia, the Middle East, and down into Africa. Unfortunately, while relationships with the former Soviet states seem mutually beneficial, those in Africa take on an extractive nature. Chinese mining and oil companies (most of them state-owned) bribe African officials for access to natural resources that would cost much more on the market–not to mention one that internalized all costs. Hopefully in the coming decades we will see more political stability and accountability in Africa, leading to mutually beneficial relationships with other states (whether China or the US).

    See The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan, Robert D.

    • It matters however whether these deals lead to below-market prices. There’s no reason to think that African officials are uniformed – if they extract bribes, they surely know the market price that a Chinese firm would pay. Of course, if they don’t expect to be in office long, they might be willing to negotiate to hurry a deal along…

      Furthermore, there’s a large literature that suggests “national” control of foreign resources does little or nothing to enhance security – it’s very hard to get out of paying market prices. But that means you pay the same whether or not the wells were drilled by Chinese-headquartered firms.