US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is on a trip across Africa where she is visiting seven countries. The visit is a couple of weeks after the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made a trip to several African countries.
Many commentators have cast Russia as a resurgent power that wishes and therefore is taking deliberate steps to reassert her influence across the globe.
By seeking new opportunities for investment and hence influence in Africa years after the end of the cold war, Russia is doing what China embarked on earlier.
And China a former ally and at the same time competitor of Russia in the eastern bloc of the bi-polar world during the cold war, has made significant inroads into Africa.
It is vigorously seeking raw materials wherever they exist without caring about the credentials of such governments as seen in the lenses of the western world.
Western countries place a lot of premium on issues such as human rights, commitment to political pluralism and even such things as respect for gay rights, as pre-requisites for engagement with African governments.
But at the same time, and ironically so, there is evidence of western governments dealing with rogue elements in order to advance their interests. Hence, sometimes, they come off as hypocrites when they question China.
And for the way China puts business interests above anything else, and the fact that they have been able to undercut or even outcompete western/American business interests in Africa, western organizations that claim to have a human rights agenda have been on the offensive even attributing some humanitarian crisis as a direct result of China’s engagement with some African governments.
But this seems not to have deterred China’s onslaught, and attendant benefits and success.
One would argue that because of such success, the Russians now ruled by a proud group of former KGB operatives united under Vladimir Putin, have sought to reassert the power of old Russia-the Russia that was known through the lenses of the defunct Soviet Union.
When Russia was asserting itself over Georgia last year in August, this column predicted a return to Africa and wondered what would happen if the powers in the Kremlin did decide to return to Africa.
With Medvedev’s trip to Egypt, Angola, Nigeria and Namibia, it becomes obvious that they are on their way back……………
During the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) conference in Nairobi this week, Secretary Clinton showed the interest of the US in Africa.
This renewed effort at economic engagement with African countries through AGOA, shows that there is at least going to be serious competition with the Chinese whose companies are already established in Africa.
China and the US on the surface seem to have divergent economic approaches to the continent. The Chinese seem to be highly interested in raw materials without the necessity of value addition.
AGOA by the Americans seems to take the approach of value addition.
Russia is not well established like the US and China and it is not so obvious what approach they will take.
So when did it come to a point whereby these powers decided to reassert themselves in a continent that accounts for a very limited percentage of all world trade through the angle of economic interests.
AGOA was established or signed into law over ten years ago. Has it served any purpose or to put it more clearly has it served its intended purpose at inception.
It can be stated that to a large extent many African businesses have not taken advantage of the opportunity and in some cases, it became a means of some politicians and business people to swindle state funds on the pretext of subsidizing “AGOA industries”.
This showed that such good intentions for promoting trade are not immune from abuse. At some point in some countries; powerful American lobbyists took a lot of money from African governments for consultancy and advisory roles on this issue of AGOA.
Obviously, Africans (at least some) are going to gain from this increasing interest in the continent from these powers, but what is important, is that capacity to sell products that have a lot of value be it refined oil instead of crude or finished clothes or ready to use coffee etc, is the surest way for tangible benefits coming to the owners of these resources that are being competed for.
And it is up to the Africans in business and their leaders to make this possible.
No one should bank on the good intentions that have sometimes been carried in the rhetoric of western leaders when on trips to the continent.