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Long Reads

Archive | Long Reads

Assessing China’s Role and Influence in Africa

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China’s interest in Africa has grown rapidly in recent years. In Chad, China bought the rights to several oil exploration zones from a Canadian company and has gone from bit player to center stage in Chad’s affairs. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

Remarks by David H. Shinn to the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

China’s interest in Africa has grown rapidly in recent years. In Chad, China bought the rights to several oil exploration zones from a Canadian company and has gone from bit player to center stage in Chad’s affairs. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

I thank Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Smith and Ranking Member Karen Bass for inviting me to participate in this hearing. For the past six years, two of us have been researching a book on China-Africa relations that is being published by the University of Pennsylvania Press and will be available this June. My comments today reflect some of that research. Unless otherwise noted, the statistics and analysis in this testimony refer to all fifty-four countries in Africa. China tends not to make a distinction between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa as the U.S. government often does.

U.S.-China Economic Competition in Africa

The Subcommittee asked that we focus on how China competes economically with the United States in Africa, how China serves as an undemocratic model of governance and issues concerning natural resources, land grabs and human rights. Let me take the economic competition question first. The most important difference between the United States and China is the very structure of the American and Chinese governments and the way their respective systems engage in Africa. American commercial activity (trade, investment and bidding on contracts) in Africa is conducted by private companies with limited involvement by the U.S. government.

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Counter-Revolutionary States: The Case of the United States

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President Gerald Ford with Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī the former Shah of Iran

Many adversarial relationships exist in politics. On the domestic level, political parties frequently compete with each other to gain control of coveted offices.

President Gerald Ford with Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī the former Shah of Iran

A contest, which transpires on the international level during periods of international revolution, is counter-revolutionary and revolutionary states spreading opposing doctrines. One way that counter-revolutionary and revolutionary states spread these doctrines is by invading nations that are considered to be in need of political change.

The most recent example of this form of doctrinal proliferation is the series of American invasions that were conducted at the beginning of this century. The leaders who embark on these ideological interventions obviously think they are worthwhile (Hans Morgenthau). However, the leaders, who witness them, do not share this sentiment. These individuals do not possess a fondness for ideological interventions because they violate “the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states” (David Armstrong).

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Grasping the Syrian Quagmire

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Syrian rebels with the FSA during a lull in fighting Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

One of the most significant and enduring consequences of the Arab Spring has been the bloody uprising in Syria.

Syrian rebels with the FSA during a lull in fighting Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

For almost a year cities across the Levant have been defying the iron grip of the Assad regime and challenging the police state of the Ba’ath party. Of all the countries engulfed by the revolutionary fever encompassing the Arab World, Syria, a country of 23 million, epitomizes the toughest case. It comprises many religious sects including Sunni (79%), Alawite (off-shoot of Shiite Islam, 9%), Christians (9%), and Druze (3%). Ethnically, nine percent of its population are Kurds who sympathize with their brethren in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, and dream of one day establishing a Kurdish state.

The Assad family, which belongs to the Alawite minority sect, has been ruling Syria for over 41 years, relying on its brutal 13 security apparatuses, Para-military groups and thugs (called Shabbiha) and a large army of over a quarter-million. Most senior positions in these terrifying institutions have been controlled by the minority Alawite sect to ensure regime loyalty. Similar to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, every aspect of Syrian politics and public institutions has been dominated by the totalitarian-style of the Ba’ath party since 1963. But unlike Tunisia or Egypt, where the public enjoyed a relatively vibrant civil society, Syria suffers from the total absence of any democratic institutions, civic organizations, or independent media.

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An Onerous Inheritance

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Recent graduates. Photo: Mike Sagmeister

In his 1998 book, Tom Brokaw famously coined the term, The Greatest Generation, to refer to the generation of Americans who lived through the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and went on the build the powerhouse that was the American post-war economy.

Recent graduates. Photo: Mike Sagmeister

Considering the achievements of this generation, many expected great things of their progeny, the baby-boomers. To be sure, the boomers accomplished many things in their time; America became more open and tolerant; it produced the music, art, and culture of the 1960s and 1970s; America became less sexist, less racist, and less homophobic under the boomers’ watch. They completed the struggle against world communism, launching the United States to the pinnacle of its power. Given so many accomplishments, it is disappointing that the boomers have largely failed to live within their means and invest adequately in the future.

The baby boomer generation has given way to the generation of austerity, a cohort who will, to a large extent, have to pay for the profligacy and unrealistic expectations of their parents. For as much social progress as the boomers accomplished, they left their children with a heap of debt, a downgraded credit rating, a struggling economy, and a poisoned planet.

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Al-Shabaab and Somalia in the 21st Century

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A soldier from Burundi serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Stuart Price/UN

My starting point is that Somalia today is not what it was in the 1960s. I am not referring to the obvious fact that Somalia became a failed state in 1991. I am referring to subtle and not so subtle changes in the nature of society itself.

A soldier from Burundi serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Stuart Price/UN

While clans remain important and, in some circumstances, are still the single most important feature of society, the role of Islam has changed dramatically. This has been accelerated by the breakdown of traditional society following years of civil war, broken families, failure of governmental institutions and the movement of large numbers of Somalis from rural areas to Mogadishu, other cities in Somalia and the overseas diaspora.

Political Islam, admittedly a term that holds different meaning for different people, has been present in Somalia for decades. It was a minor factor in the early years after Somali independence and harshly repressed during the Siad Barre regime. Even following the overthrow of Said Barre in 1991 and the breakdown of government, warlords initially filled the void before political Islam could assert itself.

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Russia and the War on Terror: The Multiplicity of Roles

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the 47th Conference on Security Policy in Munich February 5, 2011

The current geopolitical situation is quite different from that during the Cold War and one of the salient characteristics of the period is that there are few stable geopolitical marriages, so to speak.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the 47th Conference on Security Policy in Munich February 5, 2011

During the Cold War, global alignments were clearly divided between the West, with the United States as leader, and the USSR, with its proxies and allies. It is true that even at that time there were countries that tried to avoid the grip of the major geopolitical alliances and to play on the conflict between the superpowers. But there were limitations in their ability to pursue an independent policy. And most of those who tried to do so were compelled by the military/economic force of the superpowers to be attached to one of them, at least indirectly. The elite of the countries attached to the United States usually had a general pro-American view, or at least regarded the U.S. as less of an evil than the USSR.

The situation changed drastically after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR. In particular, changes of perception of the U.S., the last superpower, were brought about by dramatic changes in U.S. foreign policy. The collapse of the USSR and the geopolitical vacuum created by the disappearance of the only other superpower tempted the U.S. to engage in “preventive” imperial wars. The doctrine was implemented first not by Bush but by Clinton, with the strike against Serbia in 1999; later, after the September 11 terrorist attack, which played the same role as the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the imperial quest was expanded to Afghanistan and Iraq.

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China’s Growing Role in Africa: Implications for U.S. Policy

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Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China’s President Hu Jintao in Monrovia in 2007. Christopher Herwig/Reuters

Hearing Held by Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. The following are remarks by Ambassador David H. Shinn.

Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China’s President Hu Jintao in Monrovia in 2007. Christopher Herwig/Reuters

China generally does not discuss its “hard” interests in Africa. Rather, it emphasizes several general themes such as respect for African countries’ sovereignty and development policies, support for African development, cooperation with Africa in the United Nations and multilateral forums, and learning from each other. China also urges African countries to accept the “one China” principle by recognizing Beijing.

Based on my analysis, China has four “hard” interests in Africa. Maintaining or 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. Increasing significantly China’s exports to Africa, especially as the economies of African states become more robust and Africans increase their disposable income. And, ending Taiwan’s official diplomatic presence in Africa and replacing it with recognition of Beijing.

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U.S. Policy towards the Horn of Africa

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U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 helicopters during inflight refueling over Djibouti on Jan.19, 2008

The problems of the Horn of Africa are frequently interlinked and often cross international borders. The root causes of the conflicts include economic inequality, political marginalization, poor governance, ethnic tension, competition for scarce resources such as water and good land, periodic drought and poverty.

U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 helicopters during inflight refueling over Djibouti on Jan.19, 2008

Contributory factors are porous borders, widespread availability of arms, corruption, a poor record by governments on human rights issues and interference in the region by organizations and countries outside the Horn. When you add the fact that the Horn is located on a religious fault line, you have a recipe for frequent conflict. It has arguably been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. The Horn has constantly posed a serious challenge for U.S. policy.

The Cold War, the Horn and U.S. Policy

Through the late 1980s, the Cold War determined U.S. policy in the Horn. The United States concentrated its economic and military support on Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, who was a reliable ally of the United States. The U.S. military maintained a critical communications station known as Kagnew outside Asmara, which at the time was part of Ethiopia. In the late 1960s, Ethiopia was the location of the United States’ largest economic and military assistance program and largest embassy in Sub-Saharan Africa. When Ethiopia was threatened by Somali irredentism or Eritrean separatism, the United States strongly backed the Haile Selassie government.

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Anna Hazare and the Idea of Gandhi

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Anna Hazare prior to his arrest in New Delhi, India. Source: The Guardian

In the past two weeks, the world was captivated by the bitter confrontation between the Indian government and a short, bespectacled, seventy-four-year old man called Anna Hazare, a self-styled anti-corruption crusader.

Anna Hazare prior to his arrest in New Delhi, India. Source: The Guardian

On August 16th, Hazare’s arrest and internment in Tihar jail, South Asia’s largest complex of high security prisons, sparked candlelit marches across the country, leading a shaken government to order his release in less than twelve hours. In a stunning turnaround, Hazare declined to leave, insisting that the government remove all conditions on his ‘fast-unto-death’ in protest of the government’s recent anti-corruption legislation, which he said was not strong enough.

Hazare walked out of Tihar a national hero on August 20th, and lodged himself within the expansive grounds of Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, surrounded by tens of thousands of supporters, national flags and a mammoth portrait of Mohandas Karamchand (‘Mahatma’) Gandhi. He refused to eat.

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Assessing the Consequences of the Failed State of Somalia

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A woman and her baby at the Badbado refugee camp. Stuart Price/UN

The United States announced in October 2010 a dual track approach toward Somalia.

A woman and her baby at the Badbado refugee camp. Stuart Price/UN

Track one called for continued support of the Djibouti Peace Process and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), including security sector assistance to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the TFG National Security Forces. Track two called for expanding outreach with self-declared independent Somaliland, semi-autonomous Puntland and regional and local anti-Shabaab groups throughout south and central Somalia. Track two included encouragement of grass-roots support for stability in Somalia and reaching out to the Somali diaspora in the United States. The policy is essentially sound. Unfortunately, the TFG is in many ways dysfunctional.

It controls most of Mogadishu, thanks to the AMISOM force, and small bits and pieces elsewhere in south and central Somalia while Al-Shabaab controls most of the rest of south and central Somalia and a smaller part of Mogadishu. The fact remains, however, that the TFG is the only entity other than al-Shabaab with any claim, albeit a weak one, to speak for Somalis living in this part of Somalia. The TFG continues to be bedeviled by internal power struggles and inefficiency.

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Emerging Powers in Africa

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Leaders of India, Russia, China, South Africa and Brazil in Sanya, China for the BRICS summit in 2011. Source: Kremlin Press Office

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 saw the continent in a different way.

Leaders of India, Russia, China, South Africa and Brazil in Sanya, China for the BRICS summit in 2011. Source: Kremlin Press Office

This 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-three countries of Africa and the rest of the world.

China is the most important emerging actor in Africa today. For that matter, 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 eastern Africa and South Africa. A growing economic power in Latin America—Brazil—is coming on strong in Africa. Russia is returning to Africa following its much reduced role after the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War. Iran has increased its engagement across much of Africa.

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The Impact of China’s Growing Influence in Africa

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Marie Frechon/UN
Marie Frechon/UN

Marie Frechon/UN

China is not new to Africa but the change over the decades in its relations with the continent is as revolutionary as China’s own internal revolution. From Mao Zedong’s leadership in 1949 until the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, China’s ideological foreign policy, Chinese internal developments and other events exogenous to Africa determined the nature of the China-Africa relationship. Although the Cold War had the greatest impact on China’s ties with Africa, the Sino-Soviet conflict that began in the late 1950s and continued until the mid-1980s was almost as important.

China’s Great Leap Forward from 1958 until the early 1960s and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 and continued in a milder form until 1976 also had significant implications for China’s relations with Africa. The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests coincided with the end of the Cold War and marked a watershed in the way Africa viewed China. Only a few African countries were independent in the 1950s and China’s weak economy limited its ability to interact with Africa. China-Africa trade was a paltry $12 million in 1950, although it grew to $100 million by 1960. China strongly supported African liberation movements, starting with Algeria, in spite of its limited resources.

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