Obama’s Africa Summit: a Sign of Weakness Rather than Strength

George Washington's picture

Obama is meeting with a number of African leaders this week. But rather than a sign of strength, it’s a sign of weakness.

The Guardian reported Sunday:

Barack Obama is convening the largest ever gathering of African leaders in Washington on Monday – 50 have been invited – for a summit billed by the White House as “elevating our engagement” with a continent increasingly under China’s influence.




Ben Rhodes, a US deputy national security adviser, denied it was an attempt to play catch-up with China – which has vigorously pursued political and economic ties with the continent.




Melvin Foote, founder of the Constituency for Africa, a group promoting African interests in Washington, said it was disingenuous for the White House to claim the summit was not in large part a response to China.


“The administration won’t tell you that but it’s at the front of their mind. America is losing influence and respect in Africa,” he said. “I hear it whenever I travel there.”


The US has good reason to be concerned. China’s trade with Africa rose to $200bn (£119bn) last year – largely made up of Beijing’s imports of oil and minerals, and export of electronics and textiles – more than double the US and far ahead of the EU. Twenty years ago trade between China and Africa was just $6bn.




“Africans say ‘why do we need the United States’?” said Foote. “When I travel around Africa, I’ve seen airports, I’ve seen roads, I’ve seen railroads, I’ve seen ports, I’ve seen all kinds of things that are really impressive built by China, that you have to say the United States refused to build.”

Why has the U.S. refused to build infrastructure in Africa?

Because it has been focused on defense.  As the Guardian notes:

But Beijing’s influence has been greatly enhanced by the large numbers of Chinese now living and working in Africa, from factory managers to traders, and by big construction projects that have rapidly transformed parts of the continent when decades of western aid was often directed to propping up authoritarian cold war allies, not development.




But the US remains dominant in security issues, which will be a strong undercurrent at the summit.




“We are very focused on the threat of terrorism in Africa,” said Rhodes. “We see it as particularly acute in … North Africa, Somalia with al-Shabaab, and of course Boko Haram in Nigeria,” he said.

Indeed -  as of last year – the Obama administration was sending troops to 35 African countries under the guise of fighting Al Qaeda and related terrorists.  And the U.S. has planned regime change in Northern African countries for 20 years.

CBC reports:

The U.S., in many senses, miscalculated their approach to Africa. It has always been to focus on bilateral relationships— select a few countries and deal solely with them,” says [Thomas Tieku, an assistant professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto]. “Now they’re playing a catch-up game to try to establish equally strong relationships with multilateral institutions like the African Union.”




The U.S. will always have to contend with the fact that China is not limited in its economic partnerships by commitments to propping up democracy and freedom, since the cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy is to take a non-interventionist approach with its trading partners, says Tieku.

The Guardian noted Tuesday that the leaders of the African nations didn’t seem that impressed with the new U.S. summit:

African leaders were more cautious in their assessment of the summit and the difference that foreign businesses can make.




None [of the African leaders] were talking about the meeting as groundbreaking.

We noted in 2012:

In a must-read article, AP analyzes IMF data on 180 nations’ trade with China – and concludes that China has surpassed America as the world’s “top global trader”:

As recently as 2006, the U.S. was the larger trading partner for 127 countries, versus just 70 for China. By last year the two had clearly traded places: 124 countries for China, 76 for the U.S. ***

Indeed, some claim that China is already the world’s biggest economy.[Update.]




While the U.S. has launched wars all over the world to seize control of resources, China has quietly been trading for its needs, or mining or building resources itself for subsequent export.  See this, this and this. No wonder China is surpassing the U.S. as the world’s trading giant.

Sadly, the U.S. is currently doing a worse job than China in following George Washington's (and Ron Paul's) advice of trying to (1) avoid foreign military entanglements and (2) engage in free trade with all nations.

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Jano's picture

it did not pay off with Syria, it does not pay off in Ua, so Hussein Kenya Obanana will rob Africa. Let me sit down and see, how corrupt and stupid are the African dictators.

America can survive, only if they loot and rob another continets and countries. Thats it.

bardot63's picture

Hanging with Obummer?  Any chance just one of them has ebola?

ThisIsBob's picture

I think too much is being made of this.  Its just a kid from Kenya who made good showing off to the brothers.

Lea's picture

America is paying its incredible haughtiness with Africa. America has sorely forgotten some basic axioms of sound international communication:

1) You do not interfere with other countries cultures, lest you gravely offend them. There is even a saying for that: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

2) You do not inflict your "progressive" ideology upon countries that don't even understand what you're talking about and see you as a loony as a result. Not to mention you've jeopardized any semblance of respect they might have had for you.

3) You try and understand a culture before you speak. In short, you treat the person you're talking with as an equal with a history, ideas and a personality of his own, not as some dumb kid who needs a lecture (See point one again, "don't offend them").

The "exceptional" Americans failed at that big time, whereas the Chinese know how to hold their tongues. Plus, the Chines are exceedingly good at spotting a good business opportunity. If ever there was an industrious, discreet and inventive people...

spanish inquisition's picture

Soon, the African nations will tire of the Chinese building infrastructure and trading. They will long for the days of regime change sponsored by the Americans and beg the US to bomb the crap out of them.

BeetleBailey's picture

It's a sign, slapped right in the faces of Americans, THAT THIS PIECE OF SHIT IS A FUCKING DISGRACE TO AMERICA GEORGIE!

Obamanism's picture

Gaddafi and Libya had the best infrastructure in Africa and it was exporting the ideas and know how to its neighbors and Gaddafi was planning to sell oil for euros. The west brought Gaddafi back into the fold and then stabbed him in the back. Libya lies in ruins and there is chaos due to the Western back Nations supporting the rebels. Do you think Mr Obama may have said "well if you let China build you all this infrastructure that is good helps you and saves us having to do it but if you come off the petrodollar  or start trading in  Yuan and rubles, The Libyan Rebels or Boko ..... will cause you problems and Arficon will sit back.

besnook's picture

since the world became unipolar the usa has dropped the walk softly and just beat everyone with a big stick. the biggest problem the usa has are the crazies from the basement would rather fight than switch to a multipolar world. africa has suffered white man's burden for a coupla hundred years. the yellow guy is their salvation.

let's count. the usa has lost south america, most of asian, africa and now the germans(europe) and other euro countries are looking at the grass on the other side. the neocons are to blame for the end stage of this foreign policy disaster.

lasvegaspersona's picture

Could it possibly be that the Africans don't want our treasuries as payment for oil and other goods? Could the entire planet finally be arriving at the point where they are all ready to try something new? Could the paper we have been told all our lives is the one thing the whole world just loves be falling from grace?

My guess is that the answer is YES! YES! YES!

nmewn's picture

"Why has the U.S. refused to build infrastructure in Africa?"

Can I get a WTF!?


Returning to this again...WTF George? Aren't you really saying send US fiat to Africa to be fought over by corporations & dictators?

Our border is being overrun BECAUSE of a dictators policy. Corporations (hand-in-hand with government) are suppressing middle class wages to the poverty level. Detroit is a wasteland and Wall Street & DC are fatter than they've ever been.

And you propose to import that to Africa?

I'm getting a little tired of this globalist view of the world. The US government can fix this shit right here or die trying before I'll ever cede another penny.

Reaper's picture

Deluded Obama thinks his black skin and an invitation to DC will fool the African leaders. Obama's demonizing of Putin, makes these leaders fear the same demonization of them by the American bully. The smarter African leaders follow the African proverb, "When deeds speak, words are nothing."

AdvancingTime's picture

Pandering of the worse kind. Any claims that Africa will be the salvation of the American economy by creating jobs here is bogus. If we want to work with other countries we should work more with South America.

OpenThePodBayDoorHAL's picture

Notice the difference: China pursues political and economic ties. US proposes military, spy, and torture rendition bases. Let's see, which should I pick, new highways and factories and funding from people I don't care for much but who don't give a damn about how we run our country, or ideologues who are there to tell me what to do, who we can and can't elect, and which countries we are allowed to trade with.

gonetogalt's picture

For every Chinese mega-investment started there are 50 or 100 working class Chinese coming to the country who will stay and start small businesses, restaurants, service co's, small retail, etc. Then they buy the house next door, sons and daughters date, they integrate, everyone has Chhinese friends.

That's what I see here.

They must win and prosper.

Good for them.

armageddon addahere's picture

Chinese roads... Chinese buildings... Chinese ports.... pretty soon Chinese farms, Chinese businesses, then Chinese police, Chinese diplomats, Chinese approved governments, then "this our country now".

Tall Tom's picture

You forgot one...Chinese EBOLA.

Flybyknight's picture

Obama "we fucked up South America, The Middle East, Eurasia, What shall we do now?........I Know!   Africa"

q99x2's picture

Maybe he caught the Ebola while he was there.

SubjectivObject's picture

There's an international conspiracy to kill the FATCAts.

Roll Tide's picture

The africans want to trade their spears for AK47's.  Good thinking.  

Urban Redneck's picture

The US actually did finance all that infrastructure in Africa... by 1) buying crap at Wallyworld, 2) exporting US manufacturing to China, and 3) giving the trillions in US treasuries to China which they could rehypothecate to finance their influence buying binge in Africa.

UselessEater's picture


Unilteral Declaration of Independence by Rhodesia

Defeated by....??

Infrastructure, resources, weapons, humans controlled by...??

A supported and enabled dictator prospered and prospers for decades...??

Key cabal players independent of "nationality" support the demise and rise of nations for gain of the same few. Which few...?

The USA is a recent tool in history. Who's tool...??


roadhazard's picture

The MIC set up the African Central Command right after we invaded Iraq. It's not, "catch up" it's consolidation.

nmewn's picture

Yeah, that African Central Command was absolutley crucial in Benghazi.

kchrisc's picture

Either way, the DC US only has bombs, bullets and force, while China offers trade.

Just other sign of "game over."


An American citizen, not US subject.

Buck Johnson's picture

And that is why we are losing.  We have had decades to make Africa a major partner but we didn't do it.

old naughty's picture

Not to worry, ebola is going to change that, no?

Fear does wonders, for um....

kchrisc's picture

Those of the DC US do, I, an American, do not.


An American citizen, not US subject.

duo's picture

Ben Rhodes, is he related to Cecil Rhodes, of Rhodesia fame?

nmewn's picture

Naw, you're thinking of Ben Dover, of spreading cheeks for dictators fame.

drendebe10's picture

As always its the fudge packer in chief and its liberal progressive idiotic gummint that suks. 

ebear's picture

Hey look, it's the little read book!