The United States has accused China and Russia of “destabilising” Africa with their growing inroads as it rolled out the red carpet to the continent’s leaders and pledged billions of dollars in support.
Forty-nine African leaders flew into the Washington cold for the first continent-wide summit on Tuesday with the United States in eight years as President Joe Biden seeks to use personal diplomacy to win back influence.
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, at a panel with several African presidents at the start of the three-day summit, warned of a different approach by US rivals.
Austin said China was expanding its footprint in Africa “on a daily basis” through its growing economic influence.
“The troubling piece there is they’re not always transparent in terms of what they’re doing, and that creates problems that will be eventually destabilising if they’re not already,” Austin said.
Russia is “continuing to peddle cheap weapons” and deploying “mercenaries across the continent,” he added.
“And that is destabilising as well.”
Biden plans to unveil $55 billion for Africa over three years.
In one of the first announcements, the White House said the United States would invest $4 billion by the 2025 fiscal year to train African health workers, a rising priority for Washington since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biden, during the summit, will outline US support for the African Union to gain a formal berth in the Group of 20 clubs of major economies, months after he threw support behind a permanent African seat on the UN Security Council.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, said the president will meet with African leaders facing an election in 2023. “We would like to do everything we can to support those elections being free, fair and credible,” Sullivan said.
‘China is sincere in Africa’
China’s investment in Africa has consistently outpaced that of the United States, with countries brushing aside US warnings that Beijing’s billions in infrastructure spending could put them in long-term arrears.
Ahead of the summit, China’s ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, said his country was “sincere” in Africa” and that its investment “is not a trap.”
“We believe that Africa should be a place for international cooperation, not for major powers’ competition for geopolitical gains,” he told an event of the news site Semafor.
“We welcome all other members of the international community, including the United States, to join us in the global efforts to help Africa.”