21.10.2023 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Lloyd Austin’s visit to Africa, and its results

Lloyd Austin’s visit to Africa

The visit by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to three African countries, Djibouti, Kenya and Angola, at the end of September has provoked a great deal of rumors, discussion, gossip and mere speculation in the world’s press. Why did the Secretary of Defense go to Africa, with whom did he negotiate and, most importantly, what was the outcome of his visit: what did he and, and US diplomacy, achieve?

Some observers viewed this visit, quite rightly, as an attempt by the US to pursue neo-colonial policies at a time when the whole world is moving towards a multipolar order. Washington, it seems, wants to jump onto the footboard of the last train departing for Africa. And so the US emissaries made the trip to the African countries already mentioned. And what a list of names it is!  In January 2023 the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to Africa. They were followed by US First Lady Jill Biden, and then by US Vice President Kamala Harris. And then, finally, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ethiopia and, after that, Niger, where he was the first high-ranking US official to visit the country.

The plan was that these visits would prepare the ground for Lloyd Austin’s trip, and that he would try, as usual, to negotiate a series of agreements and treaties for arms supplies and the opportunity to establish new bases on the African continent. Especially since a number of African countries have recently, as Joe Biden puts it, been released from France’s guardianship, leaving the US with new opportunities to cement its influence. But surely the officials from the White House have missed the boat, as the African countries in question have already established friendly relations and contacts with Russia and China. And while, in the past, the rules governing the African nations’ foreign and domestic policy were actually imposed on them from outside, now more and more states have begun to demand respectful and mutually beneficial cooperation, and have found this in their relations with Moscow and Beijing.

Washington was optimistic that Lloyd Austin, a highly engaging Secretary of Defense, would be able to reach agreements with the African leaders. But the American strategists’ hopes and plans turned out to be in vain, as the US has nothing to offer except its old, worn-out policy of supplying arms and establishing military bases. Russia and China, on the other hand, are signing contracts and agreements for the construction of economic facilities, as well as schools, hospitals, roads and other social infrastructure of great importance to the African nations, and offering funding and credit on favorable terms. A prime example of this cooperation is Moscow’s decision to supply several of the poorest African countries with grain and fertilizer free of charge. On the global stage, Russia and many of the African nations are following similar political paths, and their political stances on many issues tend to coincide. That is why the African states are reaching out to Russia, seeing cooperation with that country as a way out of the economic and political abyss into which the West, led by the United States, has driven them.

Which explains why Lloyd Austin’s recent trip was a miserable failure. For example, his visit to Angola was supposed to end with a presentation of America’s “new approach” to Africa, but in fact, he did not announce any innovative strategies. He dutifully praised the Angolan government and promised to expand military and technical cooperation between the two countries. During his trip to Angola, the local press published several critical articles about the American-supplied combat equipment, which does not perform well in Angola’s harsh and very hot climate. For example, the jeeps and armored personnel carriers provided by the US are equipped with air conditioners, but these can only provide comfortable operating conditions for the crew when the vehicle slows down to a speed of 10-15 km per hour. On a number of occasions these combat vehicles have become easy prey to terrorists, resulting in heavy casualties among personnel.

Angolans still have fond memories of the aid and support they received from the USSR during their struggle against their Portuguese colonial masters and other enemies of their republic. Soviet and Cuban soldiers and officers helped Angola to defend its freedom and independence. And now Lloyd Austin is making a great show of offering Angola protection against certain, undefined enemies. The obvious question is, what countries does he see as Angola’s enemies, and, before his trip, did he even know where the country is, or anything about its history, especially the huge number of slaves that Americans transported from Angola to work on its plantations? After all, South Africa, which the Angolans at one time fought wars against, is now, alongside Russia, a member of the BRICS alliance, which Angola also has ambitions of joining. But the US Defense Secretary is offering the Angolans the same tired old doctrine of undefined military partnerships and alliances against their enemies. It is worth noting that as soon as the last colonial power, France, left Africa, peace and order was immediately established on the continent. The main task facing the African nations is not to keep alive the war and enmity that were artificially forced on them by their former colonial masters, but to establish acceptable living conditions and improve their economies and financial status.

Naturally, Lloyd Austin offered the Africans protection – a kind of US shield to defend them against their enemies. But when have the Americans ever protected anyone?  After all, it is hard to remember the hurried withdrawal of the “US defenders” from Afghanistan without shedding tears of pity. And now in the Middle East we have a new and very dramatic example of US policy, namely the hostilities between Hamas and Israel. What have the Americans done to protect anyone in this conflict? True, rather late in the day they sent a huge aircraft carrier and an accompanying strike force to Israeli’s shores. Arab newspapers immediately published a cartoon showing the Gaza Strip and its entire population on the deck of an aircraft carrier. After all, America was expected to carry out a policy to enable the Palestinians and Israelis to live together in peace and tranquility, something that they do not know how to do, pursuing as they do only a policy of enmity and discord. And no aircraft carriers, however huge, will help the US establish peace and order in that part of the world.

Just as it once talked about human rights, now, at every turn, Washington talks about the fight against terrorism in various parts of the world. However, it is no secret that the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda (banned in Russia) was created by the United States itself to fight against a limited contingent of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, and its leader Osama bin Laden was a paid agent of the CIA. Later, after its brazen aggression against Iraq, the US contributed to the creation, training and financing of another criminal organization, ISIS (banned in Russia). The US is also in no position to boast about its success in its fight against terrorism in Africa. The assistance which Washington claims to be providing to Somalia, and which Austin talked about at length during his visit to Djibouti, has had little success, and radicals from al-Shabab, a group linked to al-Qaeda (both of which are banned in Russia), regularly attack the Somali army and stage terrorist attacks throughout the country. And is there now any doubt about who created and sponsors that group?

In Kenya, the US Defense Secretary thanked his counterpart Aden Duale “for hosting US troops at Manda Bay.” Cooperation between the two countries on defense was soon bolstered by a new five-year agreement paving the way for extending Kenya’s leadership in security matters, both in its own region and much farther afield, especially in Haiti where it is poised to lead a multinational security mission. The agreement includes the provision of comprehensive training as well as financial and technical assistance to Kenya, making it a privileged member of the small group of African countries that have signed defense cooperation agreements with the United States. Among these countries are Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana.

But despite the generous promises, these countries have always had serious doubts about the true benefits of such arrangements. In Ghana, for example, former President, Jerry Rawlings, and former Chief of Defense Staff Joseph Nunoo-Mensah have both argued that an agreement similar to the one concluded with Kenya would not be in Ghana’s national interest. In particular, they claim that the US is trying to compensate for the fact that the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has its headquarters not in Africa, but at the Ramstein air base in Germany.

Both in Africa and on other continents, the level of confidence in the US is low, or, to put it more bluntly, nonexistent. In its words and actions, the US betrays its usual neo-colonial mentality and arrogance – attitudes that have no place in the new multipolar world. Further examples of this attitude are Washington’s imposition of visa restrictions against “democracy violators” in Liberia on September 27, and its withdrawal of funding to Gabon from September 26 until the circumstances relating to the change of power in that country have been properly analyzed. These are just two noteworthy examples of USA’s lack of respect for Africa and its people.

And that is why General Austin’s high-profile visit to a number of African countries was not a success for Washington and ended, to be honest, in outright failure. The times have changed, a new world order and new international relations are being forged before our eyes, and the US simply does not fit into the new scheme of things. As an old film puts it: American friends, your three minutes are up.


Victor Mikhin, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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