Former Nigerian President and global leader, Olusegun Obasanjo lent his voice, calling for caution in his reaction to the Trump administration’s recent Africa policy unveiled by the National Security Adviser, John Bolton at Heritage Foundation, a Washington DC-based conservative think-tank.
Why It Matters
The Trump Africa policy comes two years into his presidency after criticisms of his lack of one and a turbulent relationship with African leaders and the union after the report had emerged that he allegedly tagged some of its countries as ‘shitholes’. The strategy according to Amb. Bolton is focused on three areas – firstly, trade and commerce where it is obsessed about the rise of China and Russia on the continent, secondly, the war against violent extremism and thirdly, effective aid implementation.
However, the former Nigerian President in an op-ed called for caution although he agreed “in principle” with the US positions on some parts of the policy including the efficiency or not of the old order.
However, Obasanjo outrightly rejected the notion that China’s presence in Africa is bad and said the US cannot be triumphant with regards to its presence in Africa likewise. He said it was not in Africa’s interest to choose the US over China as “many [African states] don’t have this luxury.”
Obasanjo’s two main concerns
The grass suffers: A popular proverb reads that “when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers most”. This is the argument that elderly Obasanjo was trying to advance in his op-ed where he criticized America’s battle of supremacy with China over Africa. He believes that Africa being the turf would be at the receiving end.
“This is worrying,” Obasanjo wrote. He argued on, “the history of superpower rivalry in Africa is messy, destructive and occasionally bloody. The continent should do everything to avoid this happening again.”
Aid as Trade: The Trump Africa strategy is rooted in the belief that aid should not just exist in a vacuum but should serve as a tool to advance market opportunities for American enterprises. Obasanjo thinks that is a losing formula. According to him, the US would never be able to compete with China in its ability to deliver infrastructure cheaply to Africa and wants it to take the higher ground as the race with China is one that would take governance to the bottom. According to him, Washington’s priority in Africa should be focused on its values and improving the democratic experience. Obasanjo argued that Africans prioritize democratic societies over economic growth. “Two-thirds of African polled routinely prefer democracy to any other form of government. Ethiopia’s recent turn from an authoritarian to a more democratic system makes a lie of the notion that Africans prefer economic growth to human rights.”
The winning strategy?
Obasanjo’s critique of this policy also proffers an alternative to the US investment in Africa. He draws the attention of the American government to the human capital of the people and called on the government to consider investing in its people through funding and promotion of scholarships, calling it the area where the US could possibly gain the highest return on its investment.
“Putting just 20% of its African aid budget to scholarships would enable 40,000 fresh students to attend US graduate courses.
That would really be generational and transformative, putting soft power to work, outsmarting China in Africa,” he wrote.