Foreign Policy

Facing Down Russia and China on the African Front

Africa is becoming a key geopolitical battleground, and it's time for America to get on the field.

Harold Hutchison · Apr. 10, 2019

When we think of confronting Russia and China, the usual places we think of those confrontations taking place are either Europe or the Pacific. But the real conflicts are happening someplace few might expect: Africa.

This might sound surprising to many who are familiar with the usual stories of starving children. It is true — many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, probably fit a certain scatological descriptive term allegedly uttered by President Donald Trump last year. But there is more to Africa than meets the eye.

One big issue: There are a lot of natural resources on and under that continent. Among them are gold (important for the obvious reasons), diamonds (also obviously important), uranium (for nuclear power and nuclear weapons), coal (for energy), and iron (which can be turned into steel for ships, tanks, and other items). And according to MiningAfrica.net, much of Africa’s natural resources are untapped.

China and Russia are greedily eyeing those natural resources. The ChiComs need the resources to propel an economy with more than one billion people. Russia, with its own wealth of natural resources, is going after it for pocketbook reasons: As we explained when discussing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, American natural-gas exports shrink the Russian portion of the pie.

The more of the market share of natural gas, oil, or minerals, Russia controls, the easier it is for Vladimir Putin to not only rake in the money, but to also use it as leverage. China had the ability to do the same with rare-earth minerals, until Japan found a motherlode around Marcus Island.

China has been very active in Africa, pushing the so-called “One Belt, One Road” strategy. According to The Daily Signal, China has used debt racked up by countries like Zambia and Djibouti to extract concessions, including the expansion of military bases. Russia has turned to exporting arms in exchange for votes in the United Nations.

National Security Advisor John Bolton, who revealed the new strategy in an event at The Heritage Foundation, pointed out that the Russian and Chinese actions “stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”

The good news is that President Trump has unveiled a new strategy to counter these moves and help get sub-Saharan Africa out from under the thumb of dictators in Moscow and Beijing. According to The Daily Signal, the three-pronged strategy includes enhancing commercial ties, countering radical Islamic terrorism, and taking steps to make the foreign aid we provide effective and efficient.

The fact of the matter is that America has largely ignored sub-Saharan Africa — not out of malice but due to the fact that between the Cold War and the War on Terror, there were bigger fish to fry. But now, Africa is becoming a key geopolitical battleground, and it’s time for America to get on the field.

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