Battle between the Chinese dragon and the American eagle: Part One

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THE Africa–US Summit held from August 4 to 6 2014 in Washington DC made history at a number of levels.
First, no American president before Barak Obama had deemed it necessary and strategic for the US to invite African leaders in such great numbers to Washington DC for an Indaba.
Second, being more or less black himself, it was as if Obama was hosting members of his extraordinarily extended African family!
Surely there must have been some moments when African leaders attending felt more at home in Washington DC than they ever felt when they attended similar summits in Beijing, Tokyo, and Brussels.
Why not when the host president professed not only to be a proud American, but having African blood flowing in his family!
With that honest and persuasive acknowledgement by Obama, African leaders must have felt at home in a way they will never feel again in Washington DC after his presidency.
The charm offensive by the ever smiling Obama to woo Africa so as to access its resources looked at times simply irresistible, that is, judging by the responsive and broad smiles of African leaders which almost lit up all the four corners of the summit room!
However, at the end of the day the fate of nations demands that we go beyond sentiment, personal friendships and affiliations and examine whether our interests as Africans are coinciding with those of the US or not!
The first question is: what is it that has changed now to make it necessary for Obama to host over 45 leaders of our continent in Washington DC for three days at expense of the American tax payer?
It is obvious that the US is waking up now and rather late and facing up to the challenge posed by the rise of China.
Hosting over 1,3 billion people whose ethos of hard work and dedication to duty is a world beater, China has moved into Africa in a big way, looking for raw materials which Africa has in great abundance.
Suddenly, Africa which looked like a god forsaken continent and a backward backyard of sorts for all industrialised Western economies has become a key strategic source of raw materials for the West, led by the US and for the East, led by China.
Trade figures alone speak volumes about the asymmetrical battle taking place over African resources.
China’s annual trade with Africa is worth over US$200 billion while that between Africa and the US is about US$85 billion.
And all indications are that China’s trade with African countries will remain on the rapid upward trend for some time to come while that between Africa and the US will remain modest because the US economy itself has been ailing since 2008 and, ironically, needs assistance from China for its full recovery!
The same Chinese remedy is also desperately needed to assist European economies which are also ailing and are historically interconnected with the US economy.
The second question is: which of the two countries, China and the US, is likely to win the battle for now and in the intermediate term?
A number of factors come to the fore here.
Unlike China which has generally avoided interfering in the domestic affairs of African nations and concentrated its efforts on doing business in Africa, the US suffers from its notorious and well publicised efforts to impose its values and systems on its trading partners, especially those in Africa perceived as weak and in need of American redemption!
All over Africa, the US is regarded as a bully, always trying to impose its will, always trying to cherry pick those African leaders who sheepishly implement its agenda and protect its interests and, always demonising all those who try to promote and protect African interests!
Often the US does not hesitate to impose economic sanctions on countries led by such leaders and Zimbabwe is a good example!
The weakness of the US stems from its superiority complex and offensive arrogance; it finds it difficult to deal with others, especially Africans as equals, and the reasons for this ‘disabling disease’ it suffers from lie in its history!
It is a country whose economic success is historically based on the enslavement of Africans for over four centuries.
This slave legacy has shaped its psyche so deeply that its white citizenry associates the black colour with inferiority!
This ingrained prejudice largely explains the ongoing riots in one of its black cities called Ferguson, a prejudice which naturally spills over into its relationship with Africa as a whole.
This racist disease and or crime which the US, unfortunately, shares with most European countries which, in any case, initiated the slave holocaust on Africans, will always haunt its relations with Africa unless apologies are made and reparations are paid!
Accordingly, very few Africans remain unaware that Obama’s presidency is an elaborate exercise in window dressing, and therefore, unlikely to undo the damage done to Africa and to all people of African descent by slavery!
Unlike the US, China’s trading relationship with Africa is starting on a clean slate while that between Africa and the US remains a troubling one, haunted by racism and dark deeds of slavery and the prejudice that go with it, even to this day!
This is the albatross which, unfortunately, sits on Obama’s slender shoulders, and cannot be wished away by sweet rhetoric and oratory from the White House.
Just to show how deeply handicapped the US is when dealing with Africa, below is a comment from an American blogger who identified herself as Teresa. She was responding to a critical assessment of the Africa-US summit made by Adekeye Adebajo on August 11 2014.
She writes:
“America doesn’t owe Africa a thing, Mr Adebajo-nothing.
“Your article reflects the sense of entitlement that Africa and Africans need to rid themselves of if they want to make progress.”
And the above comment is supported by another white American who writes:
“The mantra Adebajo suggests of ‘buyer beware’ is hardly appropriate when all he is doing is begging…perhaps beggars can’t be choosers…”
The two opinions expressed above are not necessarily based on knowledge about the dynamics of a geo-political context in which the strategic role of Africa has changed into an important one!
Rather they are based on outdated stereotypes and perceptions about Africa which are dutifully inherited by white Americans from one generation to the next!
In brief, for the US to succeed in doing business in Africa and to compete successfully against the Chinese, it has to outgrow its prejudices against Africa first and foremost and stop trying to impose its norms and values!

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