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Howard French on the Stark Differences Between U.S. and Chinese Diplomacy in Africa

Author and journalist Howard W. French.

Author and journalist Howard French is promoting his new book Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War. In a conversation this week with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs he commented on how Washington’s lackluster attitude towards Africa is “not going to suffice” when China is so much more engaged:

I think the United States is vastly under-invested, diplomatically speaking, in Africa. So, it’s great that Blinken is going to Africa. Blinken’s going to Africa towards the end of the first year of Biden’s presidency, right?

Compare this to China. Every year, for many years, either the Chinese premier or the Chinese chairman, meaning the equivalent of our president, has made a multi-country trip to Africa. 

Every. Single. Year.

And every single year, high-level delegations of what’s called the State Council, which is basically the cabinet, go to Africa — multiple members — every single year. 

The United States has no equivalent level of engagement with the African continent and until it does, the dynamics of the situation are not going to change. 

When the United States gets around to visiting or engaging with Africa, it typically bundles a lot of African leaders into a room and says “OK, here’s our thing, we’ve just met with Africa.” It doesn’t even give African countries the respect of treating them on an individual basis at a high level and you give some kind of portmanteau speech where you throw the whole continent together.

The feeling that you get, and certainly the feeling that Africans get, is that the Americans are taking a kind of checklist approach to the continent — yes, we know we have to do this every once and a while but it’s never high on the agenda and ok check there it goes. 

This is not going to suffice.

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