At the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in Diamniadio, Senegal, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged one billion doses of anti-Covid-19 vaccines. The summits of Turkey and Russia will follow.
One billion doses of vaccines against Covid-19, 10 billion dollars in direct investment from China in Africa, multilateral cooperation in all sectors ... Chinese President Xi Jinping clearly intends to rule out all foreign competition in Africa.
The speech of the Chinese head of state was not expected during this Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac), which is generally not a high-level summit. However, with the accusations launched, half-heartedly, by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken against China on the sidelines of his last African tour, the diplomat had tried to put the United States back at the center of the game, while since 2015, the total mass of trade between sub-Saharan African states and China is twice as large as that with the United States.
With all of Xi Jinping's promises, China is setting the record straight. And shows at the same time that the American ambitions are far from those of his country.
Host of Focac, the President of Senegal Macky Sall was present, surrounded in particular by his Comorian, Congolese and South African counterparts. African heads of state have asked that the "conditions of partnership" between Africa and China be reviewed with "due respect" to this kind of exchange. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres hammered home the point, calling the Chinese summit "an excellent example of international cooperation".
Should we, however, at this point, praise the Chinese presence in Africa? Cooperation between the Middle Kingdom and Africa was, in the past, based on agreements which put forward "new silk roads". These agreements have in reality seemed worrying, so much they have brought to light a "debt trap" from which African states sometimes have trouble extricating themselves.
China imposes its rules
Certainly, China is the world's leading power in terms of presence in Africa. The continent receives 45% of the total Chinese aid allocated to foreign countries. China has forged diplomatic ties with 53 African countries and today there are 160 twinning arrangements between Chinese and African cities.
Since the start of the health crisis, Beijing has already provided 200 million doses of vaccine to African countries. In terms of the economy, Chinese companies exceeded $ 2020 billion in direct investment in Africa in 43. The volume of Chinese trade in Africa has exceeded 185 billion dollars. And China has funded the construction of 13 kilometers of roads, 000 power plants and energy stations, 80 sports facilities, 45 hospitals and 124 schools in Africa. And in terms of security, 173 of the 30 Chinese peacekeepers around the world are deployed in Africa. Impressive indicators, which do not take into account lines of credit and other financial support.
But what are the real motivations for this incredible generosity ? China is pursuing an aggressive economic and diplomatic expansion policy in Africa, at the expense of the United States which, since Bill Clinton's second term, has failed to open a single embassy or consulate on the continent. And since 2014, trade between the US and Africa has only registered impressive declines.
To get there, China drew a lot of inspiration from the European strategy in Africa. The "debt trap" is indeed not a Chinese invention. But Beijing has been even more offensive than the Old Continent: if European laws prevent the seizure of sovereign property of African states by private companies, China has succeeded in imposing its own rules on different countries.
The West may warn that China is not a recommendable partner for Africa, the heads of state of the continent have become deaf to the constant cries of European or American alarm.
China, a credible alternative to the West
Because to choose, the leaders formerly linked to the former colonial powers preferred to turn to China, feeling trapped in the debt into which the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are inexorably pushing African countries. The two financial bodies have been accused of offering “pre-trial loans” for decades.
“For Africa, opting for Chinese banks which, however, have imposed in Angola, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia or Egypt investment loans conditional on the seizure of sovereign infrastructure, is the result of the neo-colonialist policy of international financial bodies ”, an expert lashed out.
While, in 2020, Oxfam accused the IMF of using "its power through relief loans during the Covid-19 pandemic to impose austerity on poor countries", and that the most industrialized African countries are Endangered by the inflexibility of the World Trade Organization (WTO) when it comes to granting licenses to manufacture vaccines, China has shown a certain speed of intervention. Coronavac is, today, the only vaccine produced in Africa - in Algeria and Egypt -, pending emergency licenses from Sputnik V and Moderna.
Certainly, the doses of vaccine promised by Xi Jinping are essential today for Africa. And after the broken promises of the West, the Chinese promises appear more credible. China has already donated 200 million doses. In the meantime, Western countries are lagging behind: Joe Biden promised Africa 17 million vaccines last Saturday; the Europeans have given 130 million doses.
A Russia-Africa summit under the aegis of Senegal
If this vaccine war is clearly to the advantage of China, other foreign players are also taking advantage of the Western decline in Africa to impose themselves on other markets. This is the case of Russia and Turkey.
On the Moscow side, we talk business but also politics. Russia preferred to launch bilateral partnerships with ideologically close countries. And, as a result, Russia's commitment in certain African countries is total, like the Central African Republic (CAR), Algeria, Ethiopia and, more recently, Mali. Commitment which often translates into military cooperation and armament contracts. Moscow is also working on culture, health and education.
When negotiating with African countries, Russia generally adopts a “win-win” strategy, which does not displease African diplomats seeking respectful strategic allies, but aware of the importance of autonomy and sovereignty.
Russia is, however, seeking to forge partnerships in new areas of cooperation. The Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi positioned the Russian arms industry at the top of the sector's adjudicators in Africa in just two years. According to our information, the next Russia-Africa Summit will be held in Saint Petersburg in the coming months. If its date is still unknown, after a first postponement, the Journal of Africa has learned that the president of Senegal - who will be the president of the African Union (AU) in 2022 -, Macky Sall, would be the vice- President.
A rise in the niche of the Senegalese head of state which takes on its full meaning when we know that Macky Sall is one of the few African leaders to maintain cordial relations with all international fronts. And if Russia seeks to impose itself in Africa in new sectors of cooperation, without meeting Western resistance, or even African resistance, few interlocutors will be as convincing as Macky Sall. The Senegalese capital, Dakar, has become in recent years the favorite meeting place between African diplomats and foreign investors.
Turkey and Erdoğan's strategic breakthrough
Turkey, for its part, emphasizes its two strengths: trade and diplomacy. On the one hand, the volume of Turkish trade - $ 28 billion in 2020 - takes proportions close to the figures for France - $ 34 billion in trade. The main attribute of Turkish trade is its direct engagement in national markets. Turkey's main goal is regional integration. For example, Turkish companies promote exports of Tanzanian goods to Angola or Mozambique. They are also ubiquitous in Tunisia, where they export their goods to Libya and Algeria.
A unique model which allows Turkey to accentuate its diplomatic presence in addition to the presence of its businessmen. The hyperactivity of Turkish embassies in Africa allows Ankara to establish a cultural presence in several countries: African Muslim countries are those which open up the sectors of education and culture the most to Turkey. In several African countries, more and more Turkish is taught, and housewives now watch Turkish soap operas, some of which are translated into local languages.
And while in French-speaking Africa, anti-French sentiment is only growing, Turkey is a silent force which is gradually gaining market share in the region. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan never misses an opportunity to tackle the policy of his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
While Western countries cannot shake off their image of colonial powers, Turkey offers humanitarian donations to countries in crisis, without compensation. On December 17 and 18, the Africa-Turkey Summit will take place. As for China and Russia, this meeting should give rise to important announcements.