Webinar organised by LSE on JUNE 1, 2020
Chair: Chris Alden, Professor of International Relations at LSE
The panel: Professor Assis Malaquais, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos and Dr Folashadé Soulé
The speaker will assess the current state of African relations with international powers and the future of these relations due to the pandemic.
Professor Assis Malaquais’s presentation:
Africa and China’s relations:
They have a solid relation since they have been long-term partners and China has supported development efforts in Africa. However, it must be clear that China is the major beneficiary in this relation, their economic support towards African countries have allowed them to benefit from African resources. The speaker argues that the Covid-19 pandemic will bring Sino-Afro relations even closer together.
Africa and United States of America’s relations:
This relation is more complex and will become even more complicate due to Covid-19. The USA is seen as an unreliable partner, which supports the wrong side of the Afro-American struggle says the professor. The US President Donald Trump says that the pandemic is China’s fault, and that Africa should reassess its relations with China.
Africa and European Union relations:
Europe’s presence in Africa remains invisible. Since the EU is no longer a dominant world power, the interest Africa has in the EU is no longer the primary concern and it has turned its focus on China.
Folashadé Soulé’s presentation:
Folashadé Soulé begins the talk by addressing the issue of Humanitarian assistance in Africa. There has been an ongoing competition in aid assistance between the US and China. This rivalry is added to the political and economical tensions that has been the reality of these two superpowers for the past few years. The tensions between the US and China have often been qualified as the new Cold War.
China made its humanitarian aid towards Africa very visible on social media platforms, by posting equipment and other goods they recently donated to African countries in need. The speaker argues that the relation between Africa and China are more government-to-government relation than people to people relations. Therefore, China’s credits to Africa are no longer a long-term solution for Africa since they will not have the capacity to pay back. Furthermore, China’s economy, at the start of the pandemic, is crumbling and its unemployment rate has skyrocketed due to the pandemic.
Africa and debt
The EU has also provided considerable financial support in the area of humanitarian aid, particularly in the health sector. Their investment in the public domain is less visible and their support is not amplified by social media. On the debt issue, the EU is more cooperative than the US and China. For example, French President Macron cancelled debts in Africa.
Africa had to go into debt because of Covid-19, their creditors are both from the private and public sectors. There was no consensus on debt, neither on the African side nor on the creditors’ side. African countries all have different demands; some want total debt cancellation, as Macron had called for. Others want nothing and want to pay back everything, but this choice will lead to a debt moratorium. This opens a story of the great importance of debt in Africa.
African countries are considered insufficiently strong to participate in international relations, with most of their leaders paying off external debt instead of dealing with internal health issues. However, having a good agency means dealing with internal issues, having a strong and dynamic society will lead to a good economy. This is what the speakers argued Africa should focus on to be part of the Great Powers.
Elizabeth Sidiropoulos’s presentation:
Elizabeth Sidiropoulos argues that Covid-19 has only accentuated existing trends the Africa-EU-USA triangle.
The complex aid towards Africa
China’s high profile helped Africa rather vigorously during the first phase of the pandemic in March 2020. It deployed medical teams, sent millions of facemasks, test kits and protective suits. The US provided support; it was lost in the strong rhetoric from Washington DC about Africa’s relations with China. The US primarily launched a risk communication to the community in Saharan Africa. The EU initiatives were very positives, they unveiled a short-term emergency package funding to support them immediately at the start of the pandemic.
The long-term effects of Covid-19 are numerous. The Sino-American conflict has made African countries lost in international debates. World trade and regionalism will be affected by the pandemic, the dive down in the oil economy pushed Africa a to wonder where investments will come from in the future. However, some African countries have anticipated this potential investment flop and have turned towards renewable energy. This push back from fossil fuels will bring new opportunities and new investors to Africa.
On peace and security issues Africa, the Unites States has intervened bilaterally and while China has mainly supported security. They both have different interests in different parts of Africa. China has supported security in the Sahel region which is part of the AFRICOM, also known as the United States Africa Command. This overlapping interest in establishing security in the region is due to the fact that each power, the United States and China, wants to have a militarily presence in Africa.
The World Health Organisation is led by an African national, which is an important step in the exposure of Africa on the international stage. There has been tensions between the US and the WHO since President Trump decided to end all funding towards the WHO. After declaring that they had mismanaged the pandemic warning.
Finally, India, Iran and Turkey all see how important Africa will be in the future if it continues to be financially supported and develops the transition towards the production of renewable energy. However, only a few countries in the world can give Africa what the US ad China can offer financially.
-Natalia Vasnier, BA History at King's College London-
Chiponda Chimbelu."COVID-19 pandmic to transform China-Africa relations". June 8, 2020. COVID-19 pandemic to transform China-Africa relations | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 08.06.2020
The China Africa Project. "About the China Africa Project".https://chinaafricaproject.com/about-cap/.
GTR. "Africa's renewable energy opportunity". August 7, 2020. Africa’s renewable energy opportunity | Global Trade Review (GTR) (gtreview.com).
Nyawira Mwangi. "China’s aid to Africa in fighting COVID-19". June 18, 2020. China’s aid to Africa in fighting COVID-19 | CGTN Africa.
US aid to Africa in fighting COVID-19: The U.S. Government’s COVID-19 Response in Sub-Saharan Africa | U.S. Agency for International Development (usaid.gov)
EU aid to Africa during the pandemic: Coronavirus: EU provides support in Horn of Africa region (europa.eu)
Africa and renewable energy: Africa (irena.org)