a speech last week in Accra, Ghana, Vice President Kamala Harris pledged to “double down” on US investment in African nations, seemingly in an attempt to counter China’s growing influence over the continent. Whereas American institutions have financed $14 billion worth of projects in African countries between 2007 and 2020, those of China have financed about $120 billion over roughly the same time frame, over eight and a half times more. Given Africa’s general abundance in certain natural resources as well as its prospects of long run economic development, the region has served to become a critical target for investment and allyship, at least from the Chinese perspective. In addition to servicing new energy, infrastructure, and transportation projects in Africa in order to gain economic leverage, China has also been increasing its military presence in the continent as well, with its first overseas military base being constructed in the East African nation of Djibouti in 2017, while speculation continues of any Chinese naval bases being constructed along Africa’s Atlantic coast.
Meanwhile, American involvement in the African continent has fallen short not only economically but diplomatically. On the one hand, corruption, lack of infrastructure, general political instability, and often higher rates of inflation than those back home are all factors that have disincentivized Western investors from tapping on the continent’s potential. For example, Ghana, where Harris gave her speech, has seen credit pour out of the country as annual inflation rates strike above 50% and its famous cocoa industry still struggles to recover from the pandemic. Cobus van Staden, managing editor at the China-Global South Project, explains to The Wall Street Journal, “The Chinese system is a lot more centralized, and state power plays a much larger role… The Chinese view on Africa has been very opportunity focused. There is this very strong focus on risk in the U.S. private sector, to the exclusion of all of the opportunities.”
While private investors have been dissuaded by perceptions of high risks, the US’s political establishment may have also overlooked African countries as a source of economic opportunity, at least more so than that of China. Mark Green, president of Washington think-tank Wilson Center, also tells the Wall Street Journal, “African leaders naturally want to partner with the U.S., but we don’t spend enough time meeting with them and asking how they can help… China and Russia are more nimble and more responsive to requests in Africa for assistance.” This, too, may tie in to the fact that it is easier for a less accountable Chinese government to pedal funds into Africa in ventures that may otherwise prove to be politically unfavorable in the US.
Nonetheless, Harris alongside other high-ranking officials in the Biden Administration have announced the provision of $100 million over the next 10 years in security aid to West African nations including Ghana, Benin, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Togo, all countries that may have contemplated furthering ties with China. Harris also announced $139 million in direct aid to Ghana over the next year, as the West African country battles with some of its aforementioned problems. Although miniscule in comparison to China’s recent economic involvement in the region, time will tell if the Biden Administration’s newfound interactions in Africa will serve to be a step in the right direction.