08.07.2024 Author: Viktor Goncharov

The Failure of US Policy in Africa, as seen by Western Experts. Part Two: The Nature and Causes of US Failures in Africa

US Failures in Africa

Leaders of many African countries are finding the offers of Russia and China to develop bilateral relations without making any political or other demands more attractive than the terms imposed by US-based global financial institutions, accompanied by Washington’s demands related to human rights and democracy.

Assessing the situation in the western Sahel, Turkey’s Anadolu media agency concludes that the strategic mistakes of the US administration led by Joe Biden have enabled Russia and China to strengthen their positions on the continent.

The main mistake of the United States, according to the agency’s experts, is that for too long Washington has counted on its military presence on the continent as a tool to maintaining its political influence, viewing the development of its relations with Africa through the prism of the Cold War and completely ignoring the urgent needs of its African partners to receive tangible American investments in order to stabilize the socio-economic situation and thus eliminate the root causes of terrorism.

In addition, in contrast to the unilateral and unbalanced approach of the United States, the agency notes, China is pursuing a long-term and comprehensive strategy to develop ties with Africa, including by making huge investments in a range of infrastructure projects, and has become the largest trading partner of almost all countries on the continent.

US defeats in the global war on terror

Therefore, according to former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski, the withdrawal of US troops from Niger and Chad is a natural result of the fact that the era of “US-led neocolonialism” is coming to an end, and its forced retreats mark the failure of US African policy as a whole.

As the American publication Tom Dispatch notes, the admission of AFRICOM commander Michael Langley himself that “Africa is now the epicenter of international terrorism” is indisputable evidence of US defeat in the global war on terror, which US President George W. Bush, in his address to Americans immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, promised to wage until all terrorist organizations have been identified and eliminated.

In June this year, the former commander of NATO forces in Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, told Bloomberg that the US is ceding its positions in Africa to Russia and China. He believes that the loss of American influence on the continent is a consequence of Washington’s lack of a comprehensive African strategy.

The Wall Street Journal attributes the failures of US African policy to the fact that the US has focused too much on developing security partnerships and too little on supporting democracy and human rights in its relations with African states. But this approach, which prioritizes short-term military assistance, has failed to improve their security, and actually undermines the stability of the African states, thus creating new threats to US interests.

In Niger, for example, in 2017-2018 the US spent $110 million to set up a base for American UAVs, while in 2020 it only spent $3.8 million to develop democratic institutions and support human rights. In 2022, across the continent, the US allocated 49% more funding to security issues (excluding Pentagon spending on training and equipping African Armed Forces), than it did to its programs to advance democracy and human rights.

 Washington’s cooperation with African countries, aimed mainly at countering Chinese expansion, and heavily reliant on promises of private investment that are not always fulfilled, and referring their economic problems to the IMF and the World Bank, does not contribute to the structural transformation of their economies. These institutions provide credit in exchange for reforms such as privatizing the public sector and introducing fiscal liberalism, and these conditions are seen in African countries as an infringement on their sovereignty and as exclusively aimed at serving US interests. Far from curbing the rise of Chinese influence this has ultimately led to a rise in anti-American sentiment on the continent.

According to the American public opinion institute Gallup, by 2023 China was more popular in Africa than the United States, whose influence on the continent has been steadily declining since 2008. As for Niger, the local population’s discontent with the presence of US troops in their country has been brewing for a long time. According to the Afrobarometer research center, in 2022, about two-thirds of the country’s population opposed a foreign military presence.

Taking into account all these factors, experts of the US publication The Elephant conclude that the American model of cooperation with African countries is the root cause of Washington’s foreign policy failures on the continent.

The US is losing in its competition with China

If the US really wants to help Africa, the researchers continue, it must start providing funding in much larger amounts than it does at present, and it must do so on more attractive terms—at lower interest rates and with longer repayment periods—than China’s assistance. But, so far, the opposite is true.

The British magazine The Economist estimates that “no other country can match the scale of China’s presence in Africa.” At the same time, US trade with the continent has been falling and its investment there has been declining.

It is now 10 years since China, concentrating its investments in ventures to extract strategically important mineral resources, surpassed the United States to become Africa’s top trading partner.

Last year US investment in Africa, at just $8 billion, was dwarfed by direct investment from such countries as the UAE ($44.5 billion), China ($25.9 billion), and the UK ($22.7 billion). In this regard, Foreign Policy magazine urges the Biden administration to at least match its investment to that provided by its allies and adversaries.

As the South African publication African Perspective notes, in Africa today, after sixty years of independence, not one of the 54 African countries can claim that its economic success is primarily based on its relationship with the US and its allies.

From uranium mining in Niger, oil in Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, to the vast mineral wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo, cooperation with America and its partners has not enabled these countries to address pressing socio-economic issues, including, first and foremost, poverty.

As South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies notes, for too long the US presence in Africa has relied on a cooperative model emphasizing security engagement. As a result of this focus the G5 Sahel (a regional counterterrorism grouping composed of Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Niger, backed by France and the United States) has now collapsed, and Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have founded a new group, the Alliance of Sahel States, and withdrew from the French-sponsored Economic Community of West African States at the end of January of this year.


Viktor Goncharov, African expert, PhD in Economics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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