May 4, 2013

Emerging Powers vie for Influence in Africa

May 4, 2012

The end of the Cold War resulted in the strategic disengagement of western countries, including the United States, from Africa. They continued their trade, aid and assistance relationship with Africa, but once the threat of communist expansion disappeared, the West interacted with the continent in a different way. This change permitted an opening for a variety of emerging countries to expand their ties with Africa.

As some of these emerging non-African countries became economically strong, they increasingly replaced western influence and engagement in Africa, particularly in certain countries. This new development has fundamentally changed the relationship between the fifty-four countries of Africa and the rest of the world.

China is the most important emerging actor in Africa today. In fact, China has become the principal non-African presence—western or non-western—in a number of African countries. Other emerging countries are also rapidly expanding their activities on the continent. Most notable is India, which has long-standing ties to East Africa and South Africa.

Brazil is coming on strong in Africa and Russia is returning following its much reduced role after the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War. Iran has increased its engagement across Africa. Turkey and several Gulf States are showing significant interest in Africa, especially in North Africa and the northeastern quadrant. Cuba, following major Cold War military involvement in Angola and Ethiopia, virtually absented itself from the continent but is slowly returning. Even countries like Vietnam, which was never much involved in Africa, are beginning to make their presence known. I will limit my remarks to China, India, Brazil, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Vietnam.


China has a long history in Africa; modern China shifted its focus from support for African liberation movements and ideologically like-minded governments in the 1950s and 1960s to an emphasis by the mid-1990s on commercial ties and practical political collaboration. China has four principal interests in Africa:

• Increasing access to energy, minerals, timber and agricultural products.
• Developing good relations with all African countries so that China can count on their support in regional and international forums.
• Ending Taiwan’s official diplomatic presence and replacing it with recognition of Beijing.
• Increasing significantly China’s exports as African economies become stronger and Africans become wealthier.

Looking at these four interests in sequence, China imports about one-third of its total oil imports from Africa. It is important, however, to keep this in perspective.

China’s imports constitute only about 13 percent of total African oil exports while the United States and Europe each import about one-third of Africa’s total oil exports because of their higher total demand. China is, however, interested in more than African oil. It imports large quantities of cobalt, manganese, tantalum, bauxite, iron ore, and coal from Africa. These imports of raw materials from Africa and other parts of the world sustain China’s rapidly growing economy. Without strong economic growth, the current leadership of the Chinese Communist Party would be hard pressed to remain in power. China has a long-term strategic interest in African natural resources.

Africa’s fifty-four countries constitute well over one-quarter of the United Nations’ 193 members. While China holds a veto power in the Security Council, Africa has three non-permanent seats on the Council. Africa is also well represented in organizations of interest to China like the UN Human Rights Council and the World Trade Organization. The Africans do not, of course, vote as a block, but China makes every effort to cultivate the maximum number of African countries on all issues of interest to Beijing that arise in international forums. In some cases, like-minded African governments use the Chinese just as the Chinese use them, for example when contentious issues affecting China or a particular African nation arise in the Human Rights Council. When Tibet became an issue in 2008, China leaned on the Africans to remain silent or even make supportive statements. They did. African countries can depend on China to avoid raising controversial African human rights issues in the Human Rights Council and perhaps even to support them when they are criticized by western countries.

The position of Taiwan in Africa is more important to China than most observers appreciate. Beijing has never retreated from its insistence on the “One China” policy.

Equally important, China has never forgotten the fact that African states were instrumental in 1971 in replacing Taiwan with the People’s Republic of China on the United Nations Security Council. Only four African countries—Swaziland, Burkina Faso, Gambia and Säo Tomé and Principe—still have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Near the end of 2008, following the election of a new president in Taiwan, Taipei and Beijing reached an unofficial truce whereby they agreed not to actively solicit countries that recognize one country to switch to the other.

In 2009, China passed the United States and became Africa’s most important trade partner. It retains that title; in 2011, China-Africa trade totaled $150 billion.

Nevertheless, only about 4 percent of China’s global trade is with Africa while more than 13 percent of Africa’s trade is with China. Except for 2009, when Africa had a large trade deficit with China, there has generally been a balance over the past decade. There are, however, large country-by-country disparities. Some fifteen African oil and mineral exporters have large surpluses with China, while more than thirty African countries, including the poorest ones, have significant deficits. Five African oil and mineral exporting nations account for about 78 percent of Africa’s exports to China.

While these are China’s principal interests in Africa, they are not the only ones.

Foreign investment is becoming more important. The West still accounts for most of the foreign direct investment in Africa, but China has been more aggressive than western countries in recent years. China’s FDI in Africa could be as high as $40 billion, most of it in oil, banking, manufacturing and extractive industries. This constitutes, however, only about 4 percent of China’s global FDI. The main recipients of Chinese investment are South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Algeria, DRC and Sudan.

Chinese companies are also more willing than western companies to take risks in Africa. This may be explained by the fact that most of China’s large companies are state-controlled.

One of the tactics for increasing its influence in Africa is a growing assistance program. China is not transparent with its aid statistics, and it is difficult to equate Chinese assistance with the OECD definition. Chinese OECD-equivalent aid to Africa has been running at about $2 billion in recent years. One particularly successful program dating back to 1963 is the sending of medical teams to African countries. By 2009, China had sent 18,000 medical personnel to forty-six different countries and treated, it says, 200 million patients. China also started a youth program, which now has more than 300 volunteers in African countries and is similar to the U.S. Peace Corps.

While China’s grant aid to Africa is growing modestly, the headline grabbing deals are largely low interest loans tied to infrastructure projects implemented by large Chinese companies. The recipients must accept the One China policy and Chinese companies implement the projects. Except for the concessionary nature of the loans, however, they are commercial transactions rather than aid projects. In recent years, China has provided Angola with about $14.5 billion, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) $6.5 billion, Niger $5 billion and Ethiopia $3 billion in low interest loans. The Angolan government pays back the loans as it ships oil to China. The DRC loan will function similarly with minerals. It is not clear how Ethiopia will pay off the loan as it exports to China only sesame seeds, hides and skins and a little coffee. It will take a lot of sesame seeds and goat skins to repay $3 billion. There is always the possibility, of course, that China will eventually write off some of the debt. It has previously cancelled substantial debt in the case of the poorest African countries.

China also has a close assistance relationship with countries like Sudan and Zimbabwe that are treated as pariahs by many western nations.

The hallmark of China’s relations with African countries is its excellent state-to-state ties. China has an embassy in forty-nine of the fifty countries that recognize Beijing.

The only exception is Somalia where security conditions do not allow an embassy. Of the fifty, only the Comoro Islands does not have an embassy in Beijing. China relies heavily on high-level personal contact to consolidate its relations with African leaders. President Hu Jintao has made six trips—two as vice president and four as president—to Africa visiting multiple countries. Premier Wen Jiabao has been equally visible in Africa. Beginning in 1991, China’s foreign minister has made his first overseas visit every year to Africa, a practice that has been appreciated by African governments. All elements of Chinese leadership are frequent visitors to Africa. In turn, Beijing often invites African leaders to China. During the period from 2002 to 2005, Chinese Communist Party officials made sixty-four visits to Africa while African political party officials made sixty-nine visits to China.

China and Africa have formalized their relationship in the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which meets at the summit level every three years, alternating between Beijing and an African capital, and ministerial level in other years. The last meeting took place in 2009 in Egypt; Beijing will host FOCAC in 2012.

This is an important mechanism for coordinating China-Africa relations, but while China can speak with one voice, the African countries tend to speak with fifty-four voices.

China also uses a range of soft power techniques for expanding ties with Africa. The official news service, Xinhua, has more than twenty bureaus in Africa. There are at least twenty-eight Confucius Institutes. China is stepping up its radio transmission to Africa in various languages, has a transmitting facility in Kenya and various rebroadcast arrangements. It trains a variety of Africans, including diplomats and journalists, and increased to 5,000 annually the number of scholarships that it offers to African students.

Compared to countries on its periphery, Europe and North America, Africa occupies a low security priority for China. Nevertheless, Africa is increasing in importance because of China’s growing reliance on the import of raw materials from the continent. China has a policy of no military bases in Africa but has some security interaction, however modest, with all fifty African countries that recognize Beijing.

There is a loose correlation between Chinese military cooperation and resource rich African countries. China’s share of the conventional arms market in Sub-Saharan Africa is about 15 percent. The percentage is higher for small arms and light weapons.

High level exchange military visits are an important part of the security relationship.

Twenty-eight African countries have defense attachés in Beijing while sixteen Chinese defense attaché offices in Africa are accredited to some thirty African countries.

China is playing a growing and constructive role in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. It currently has more UN peacekeepers in Africa than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council—about 1,500 compared to about thirty for the United States. China continues to send two frigates and a supply ship to support the international naval force that is combating Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden. As China expands its presence into African conflict zones like the Niger Delta, Sudan’s South Kordofan and Ethiopia’s Ogaden, it experiences the same kinds of attacks on its nationals that western countries encounter. Early in 2011, the Chinese military helped to oversee the evacuation of about 36,000 Chinese workers from Libya.

China also faces some challenges in Africa. Although it has developed excellent relations with governments and done well with most of the business community, it has been less successful with civil society, opposition political parties and labor unions. Areas where China’s engagement in Africa draws criticism include:

• Democracy and good governance.
• Human rights practices.
• Transparency and corruption.
• Questionable environmental practices.
• Purchase of illegally harvested African timber, ivory and endangered species.
• Poor worker safety and fair labor practices.
• Export to Africa of harmful and counterfeit products.
• Competition in Africa by Chinese small traders and business persons with their African counterparts.
• Inadequate control over arms sales to Africa.


India, the world’s largest democracy, is more of a direct challenge to China in Africa than is the United States. There is a long history of Indian communities in parts of Africa. The eastern side of the continent borders the Indian Ocean, which India perceives within its sphere of influence. India has a common colonial experience with many African countries and has long ties with those that are members of the British Commonwealth. Like China, India was a strong advocate for the struggle against colonialism and a leader of the non-aligned movement. India’s primary interest in Africa today, like China, is access to energy and minerals. Its most important trade relationship is with Nigeria. India imports about 20 percent of its oil from Africa but its trade with Africa constitutes only about 7 percent of total Indian trade. It exports cheap manufactured goods to Africa, resulting in some of the same criticism that China experiences. India’s annual trade with Africa is about $48 billion, but remains well behind the level of Chinese trade with Africa.

India’s economy is much smaller than that of China, and it does not have the financial resources to compete effectively with China.

India has some advantages over China. It is physically closer to Africa. Its form of government is more appealing to aspiring democracies on the continent. Indians speak a common language with English-speaking African countries. Indian culture, especially movies, are understood and appreciated in much of Africa. India’s important private sector, which accounts for about 70 percent of its GDP, is an attractive feature in some African countries. India has an impressive GDP growth rate—about 8 percent—that is viewed with envy by many Africans. Indian communities in Africa are well-established, but have not always been well-received and are often accused by Africans of isolating themselves.

India has a long-standing policy of engaging people of Indian origin in Africa; China’s policy towards people of Chinese origin is more ambivalent.

India has begun to formalize its collaboration with Africa, although not to the extent that China has done. The first India-Africa summit took place in New Delhi in 2008 and India’s prime minister led the second one in 2011 in Addis Ababa. Attended by fifteen African leaders, this was well under the number that attends the China-Africa summit meetings.

India has twenty-six embassies in Africa versus forty-nine for China. India also seeks African support in international forums. In 2011, Indian conglomerate Essar announced it will spend up to $4 billion over the next five years to construct an iron ore processing plant in Zimbabwe. In 2012, India signed a $300 million loan agreement for construction of the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway.

India does not attach conditions to its aid but does not highlight the policy as China does. Both countries have instituted a duty-free tariff preference scheme for exports from poorer African countries. In 2011, India announced a $5 billion line of credit to African countries over the next three years. The Export-Import Bank of India has offices in Dakar, Durban and Addis Ababa to monitor its projects throughout the continent. Indian investment in Africa targets Indian businessmen and joint ventures rather than tying the loans to large, state-owned companies as with China. Indian firms integrate into African domestic markets and tend to draw on local resources while Chinese firms tend to source imports from China. Some Africans have expressed concern with plans by India to obtain long-term land leases to grow food for India. The Indian government is investing heavily in the Pan-African e-Network project in an effort to break into the African telecommunications market.

India plans to provide $500 million in aid to Africa over the next five years. Indian aid emphasizes training for 1,000 Africans annually. It agreed in 2012 to fund 22,000 new scholarships. Some 15,000 African students attend colleges and technical schools in India each year. India sends hundreds of teachers to Africa and has plans to establish educational institutes around Africa with the first ones designated for Burundi and Ghana. India has also become an important location where African elites obtain medical care. Indian banks are beginning to expand their presence in Africa.

Safeguarding Indian Ocean sea lanes is a vital national interest for India. It has developed close security relationships with Africa’s Indian Ocean islands and several countries bordering the Indian Ocean. India is sensitive to Chinese naval expansion in the region. It signed defense agreements with Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique and initiated joint training programs with Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa. Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles cooperate on maritime surveillance and intelligence gathering. India provides training for African military personnel in Indian military academies and is expanding arms sales to Africa. It has developed a particularly close alliance
with South Africa; naval vessels from India, South Africa and Brazil take part in joint exercises, off South Africa in 2010. Indian ships participate in the anti-piracy effort in the Gulf of Aden. India has about 6,500 military and police personnel assigned to four of the seven UN peacekeeping missions in Africa.


Brazil is home to at least seventy million people of African descent. Many Brazilians trace their ancestry to Nigeria and Benin; African culture has survived in Brazil and helps strengthen ties to Africa. Nigeria is home to Brazilian communities concentrated in Lagos formed by the descendants of former slaves who returned during the 19th century. Although Brazil has a natural affinity with Africa’s Lusophone countries—Angola, Mozambique, Säo Tomé and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde—, it has in recent years significantly expanded its involvement in Africa.

Brazil maintains embassies in thirty-four African countries across the continent. It is a member of the twenty-four-state South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone established in 1986 to encourage regional cooperation in the areas of development, peace and security. Twenty-one countries in west and southern Africa belong to the organization. From the time he took office in 2003 until he left in 2010, former Brazilian President da Silva made twelve trips to Africa, visiting twenty-five of Africa’s then fifty-three countries. Current President Dilma Rousseff has continued the visits to Africa.

India, Brazil and South Africa created in 2004 a strategic alliance known as the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum that has potentially important implications for Africa. This association of three middle powers seeks to take advantage of existing international rules to promote a more just, representative and equitable distribution of power in the international system. The IBSA chiefs of state held their fifth summit in South Africa in 2011.

Brazil’s trade with Africa totaled $28 billion in 2011, mostly with Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, and South Africa. Brazil seeks African markets for its exports and investment opportunities for its companies. It depends heavily on Africa for minerals and energy to supply its expanding economy. Brazil has developed close economic and political ties with Nigeria.

The Nigerian Navy even sailed two vessels to Rio de Janeiro in 2007. Brazil has invested about $10 billion in Africa, primarily in energy, mining and the construction sector; 500 companies operate there. In 2011, Zimbabwe signed a $300 million agricultural loan with Brazil. In 2012, Malawi signed a $1 billion deal with Brazil’s Vale for the construction and rehabilitation of a rail line.

Brazil looks to Africa for help in obtaining a permanent UN Security Council seat.

Brazil cancelled $1 billion in African debt between 2003 and 2010. In 2012, it expects to disburse more than half of its $400 million in foreign aid in Africa. It has 300 projects in thirty-seven African countries. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), Brazil’s premier agriculture and bio-tech research agency, has opened four offices in Africa. African countries are turning increasingly to Brazil for technical and scientific assistance. Brazil is positioning itself as a major African partner to help insure its food security and energy needs.


The Cold War witnessed major competition between the Soviet Union and both the United States and China in Africa. The collapse of the Soviet Union and decline of Russia’s economy led to a sharp decline in Russian-African relations beginning in the late 1980s. At the end of the Cold War, Russia kept its diplomatic presence in most African countries and today has embassies in forty-three of them. There are thirty-six African embassies in Moscow. It has only been in the last several years, however, with the revival of the Russian economy that Moscow has returned to Africa as a major player. President Putin’s 2006 visit to South Africa, the first by a Russian leader, signaled new attention for Africa.

Russia’s prime minister followed Putin in 2007 with visits to Angola, Namibia and South Africa. In 2009, President Medvedev traveled to Egypt, Nigeria, Namibia and Angola with a 100-strong business delegation to consummate a series of commercial deals. In 2011, Russia held its first Russia-Africa Business Forum in Addis Ababa.

In terms of engagement with Africa, Russia is well behind both the United States and China. Since 2000, its trade with the continent grew rapidly from a low base but peaked in 2008 at $7 billion, where it remained in 2010. Russia has a preferential tariff regime for developing countries, which grants duty-free access for African products. Russia has invested more than $20 billion in Africa’s energy and minerals sector.

Business has become the central focus of Russian interest in Africa. In 2009, Egypt signed a ten-year strategic cooperation agreement that includes a proposal to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant. Russia emphasizes minerals such as nickel and gold in South Africa; aluminum in Guinea, Nigeria, and the DRC; diamonds in Guinea, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, South Africa and the DRC; and oil throughout West Africa.

South African President Jacob Zuma visited Moscow in 2010 when he signed an agreement for the supply by Russia of low-enriched uranium. Russia is pursuing cooperative banking arrangements in Angola, Namibia and South Africa. It signed an agreement with South Africa to establish a command and control center for the Russian Space Agency, to train South African space personnel and to build communication satellites. In 2012, Russia will launch a communications satellite for Angola.

Russian aid to Africa remains exceedingly modest although it did increase from $50 million in 2003 to $210 million in 2007. Moscow has cancelled more than $20 billion in African debt. Russia announced that it has committed during 2010-2011 more than $1 billion to aid the poorest African countries. Russia says it will try to provide $400-500 million of aid annually to Africa.

Russia has resumed large scale arms sales to African countries, much of it outside official channels, including charges that it is supplying arms to protagonists in the Great Lakes region. Between 2000 and 2007, Russia sold more than $1 billion of arms to African countries. Recent energy deals with Algeria included a $7.5 billion Russian arms sale.

Russia is the largest arms supplier to Sudan, including a sale of twelve MiG 29s. Not surprisingly, Sudan publicly supported Russia’s “legitimate” right to defend its citizens in Georgia. Ethiopia relies heavily on Russia for weapons and Moscow lost about $4 billion in arms sales to Libya following the overthrow of Qadhafi.

Russia is contributing about 225 peacekeepers to UN missions in Africa and has concentrated its engagement in South Sudan, where it sent a team with four MI-8 helicopters. Russian helicopters supported a peacekeeping mission in Chad to sustain a force along the Chad-Darfur border. Russia is training hundreds of African civilian policemen and law enforcement personnel for peacekeeping operations. Russian naval vessels are part of the anti-piracy campaign in the Gulf of Aden.

Russia’s director for the Center of Russian-African Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences Africa Institute commented in 2008 that Russia must expand relations with Africa. He explained that Russia is experiencing a shortage of manganese, chromium, silicon and other minerals that are too costly to mine in Russia. In 2007, President Putin concluded: “Russia’s cooperation with Africa has taken on a new dynamic in recent times. The level and intensity of contacts is increasing. We are carrying out ongoing work to expand and deepen our mutually beneficial cooperation in trade and the economy, science and technology, humanitarian and other areas.” Russia seems committed to regaining its influence in Africa.


While Iran has had an interest in Africa for many years, it stepped up its engagement about eight years ago. Isolation by the West, a desire to counter Israel in Africa and access to African uranium probably account for much of its interest. Africa’s one billion inhabitants are almost half Muslim, but they are nearly all Sunnis. Iranian Shiites do not have any inherent advantage in wooing Africa’s Sunnis. For that matter, Iran has not limited its efforts to predominantly Muslim African countries.

Iran has an embassy in twenty African countries.

Iran established the Iran-Africa Cooperation Headquarters in 2004, which agreed to create four free trade zones in Africa, develop banking ties with African countries, form an Iran-Africa Business Council and an Africa Research Center affiliated with Iran’s Teacher Training University. President Khatami visited Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Benin, Zimbabwe and Uganda in 2005. There have been numerous exchange visits between African and Iranian leaders ever since. Iran has focused its attention on Sudan with cooperation at all levels, including the possibility of sharing nuclear technology and assistance to the military sector. Senegalese President Wade visited Iran in 2006 and 2008.

He announced that Iran would build an oil refinery, chemical plant and an $80 million taxi assembly plant in Senegal. Iran has held talks with Nigeria, South Africa, Djibouti and Tanzania on defense cooperation and regularly sends warships to the Gulf of Aden to take part in the anti-piracy coalition.

Iran has made a special effort to build ties with countries in northeast Africa in addition to Sudan. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the Comoro Islands have been the subject of considerable Iranian attention. Eritrean President Isaias visited Tehran in 2008, when the two countries signed four agreements. According to one unconfirmed report, Iran agreed to renovate Eritrea’s oil refinery at the Red Sea port of Assab in exchange for the deployment of Iranian forces there. Iran has also been active in Zimbabwe, Libya, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Mauritania, Guinea, Gabon, Malawi and most recently Somalia, where it has donated significant famine relief. In 2010, Nigerian authorities intercepted an Iranian arms shipment to rebel forces in Gambia and Senegal, which responded by breaking diplomatic relations with Iran.

Most of Iran’s interaction with African countries has concerned trade and investment. In 2010, Iran exported $3.9 billion worth of goods, mostly oil, to Africa but imported only $268 million from Africa. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad visited Kenya, Djibouti and the Comoro Islands in 2009 when he signed five agreements in Djibouti, two in Nairobi and four in Moroni. In 2010, he visited Mali, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, the Comoro Islands and Uganda. He also hosted the Iran-Africa summit in Tehran, which was attended by representatives of forty African countries, including the presidents of Malawi and Senegal. Iran regularly requests and often obtains from its African interlocutors public statements supporting its nuclear program.


Turkey has been quietly following developments in Africa for many years but stepped up its engagement in 2005 when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed a year of Africa and then became the first Turkish head of government to visit Africa south of the equator. Erdogan visited Sudan the following year and addressed the African Union summit in 2007. President Abdullah Gül went to Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania in 2009 and Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2010.

Turkey held its first Turkey-Africa Cooperation summit in 2008 and now has twenty-seven embassies in Africa. In 2010, Turkey and the United Nations co-hosted a three-day conference on Somalia in Istanbul. In 2011, Turkey orchestrated a relief effort for and Erdogan then visited Somalia. Turkey opened an embassy in Somalia and in 2012 Turkish Airlines began two flights weekly to Mogadishu. Relying primarily on civil society organizations, especially the Islamic “Gulen Movement,” Turkey operates a significant number of schools and cultural centers in Africa.

Turkey’s trade with Africa totaled $16 billion in 2010, constituting 8 percent of Turkey’s total exports and 3 percent of total imports. By the end of 2011, it had undertaken 113 development projects in thirty-seven African countries managed by regional offices in Addis Ababa, Khartoum and Dakar. Scholarships are an important part of Turkey’s aid program. Some 400 Turkish companies have invested about $1 billion in Africa. Turkey is currently deploying almost 100 police to five of the United Nations’ seven peacekeeping missions in Africa. Since 2009, Turkey has deployed half dozen frigates as part of the U.S.-led Combined Task Force 151 that is conducting anti-piracy operations off Somalia. The Turkish navy, which has the fifth largest number of ships in the world, regularly visits North African ports and is calling more frequently at ports along the East African coast. Following the conflict in Libya, its navy helped to evacuate 25,000 Turkish workers from the country.


Vietnam laid out its national program for promoting better relations with Africa at the first Vietnam-Africa International Forum in Hanoi in 2003. There is now a South Africa-Vietnam Partnership Forum. In 2007, South African President Thabo Mbeki visited Vietnam where he heaped praise on the country and its past and present leaders. The deputy presidents of South Africa and Vietnam exchanged visits in 2010 and 2011. Vietnam has opened nine embassies and five offices in Africa. The presidents of Nigeria and the Central African Republic and prime minister of Tanzania and premier of Morocco recently visited Vietnam. In 2010, the president of Vietnam went to Algeria and Tunisia. Vietnam hosted the second Vietnam-Africa International Forum in 2010.

Although Vietnamese trade with Africa remains modest, it increased from $360 million in 2003 to $1.5 billion in 2010, most of it Vietnamese exports to Africa.

Major trade partners are South Africa, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire and Angola. Investment is on the rise, especially in countries with an early history of socialist principles such as Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Mozambique and Namibia. PetroVietnam has a 40 percent share in a consortium with Algeria’s Sonatrach for oil and gas exploration and signed an agreement with Sudan’s state oil company to jointly invest in oil and gas. Vietnam sent agricultural specialists to Benin and Congo-Brazzaville and 340 physicians and teachers to Angola.


The diplomatic playing field in Africa has become much more crowded as a growing number of emerging nations have intensified their contact with African countries.

This situation presents opportunities for Africa. Increased investment, aid and trade offer more competition and greater choice for African countries. The challenge for the Africans is too develop ground rules and a strategy that allows fifty-four countries to maximize the benefits as they interact with a single government such as China. The African Union is the most logical organization to design such a strategy, but it represents the views of all its members, who are not in agreement on a strategy.

Most of the emerging nations that are active in Africa have designed their own coordination mechanism. China’s FOCAC is the most advanced. These organizations tend to be controlled by the non-African partner country and do not allow the Africans to maximize the benefits of cooperation. Increasingly, it may require sub-regional African organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern African Development Community, where members have more in common, to develop regional guidelines and strategies.

While it is unrealistic for African countries to speak with one voice on a range of controversial issues, they must improve their tactics.

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