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The US-China ‘Cold War’ in Africa


Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Dakar published on 21 August 2013 a piece titled “The US-China ‘Cold War’ in Africa” by Kyle Benjamin Schneps, junior fellow at ISS Dakar.  While the commentary makes some useful points, the overall thesis is unfortunate. There is commercial competition between the United States and China in Africa just as there is commercial competition between the United States and all other major trading nations. As the author points out, China and the United States also have a different approach to Africa, but this hardly constitutes a “Cold War.” The author suggests that the purpose of President Obama’s recent Power Africa Initiative and Trade Africa Initiative is to counter Chinese influence in Africa. There are many reasons for these initiatives and “countering Chinese influence” is not very high on the list.

The analysis also contains some factual problems. It notes that President Xi Jinping and his predecessor have made five tours to Africa in the past decade, while Obama only made his first full tour this year. While factually correct, this statement compares apples and oranges. The visits of China’s leaders cover a decade and for Obama less than five years. President George Bush made visits to Africa in 2003 and 2008 while President Obama made a brief, earlier visit to Ghana.

The article mentions U.S drone bases in South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. I am unaware of any such bases. There are U.S. drone operations in Djibouti, Niger, Ethiopia and the Seychelles. The commentary also notes that the United States severed formal diplomatic ties and aid with Guinea Bissau in April 2012. Actually, Washington suspended embassy operations in Guinea Bissau in 1998.