Africa Notes: US-African Union Relations

An interview with Michael Battle, the US Ambassador to the African Union: Africa: U.S. Ambassador in Conversation On African Union.


First, there are the necessary vague policy statements:

it is in our strategic, tactical, and vested interest to have a kind of capacity to strengthen the capacity of the African Union, to make the African Union strong where it is not so strong, to cooperate with the African Union in areas where it is strong,

Then there is the reaction to China’s donation of a modern building complex to the AU:

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: I was asked this same question when I was doing a taping with Ethiopian TV, and the person who was doing the interview said, “How are you going to feel walking into this massive building built by the Chinese?” I said, “I’m going to feel absolutely splendid and wonderful walking into the building,” for two reasons: the U.S. would never build the building. The African continent cannot afford to build the building. So China is doing some of the infrastructure development that we cannot and will not do and that the African continent cannot afford to do.

But yet, there was a great need for the African Union to have a facility that could actually house its summit, because up until this year the African Union has had to rent UNECA to have its own buildings, which was costing the African Union money, taking money out of the African Union budget, putting it into the UNECA budget. So I have zero problems – zero difficulty with much of the activity that China is doing. What I would like to see and what Assistant Secretary Carson is actively trying to see is how we can find synergies that we could work with the Chinese. I mean, the Chinese Government is not a competitor for the U.S. on the African continent, because we have strategically different orientations. They are not the bad guy; they are the people doing stuff that we are not going to do. And so I embrace it. Yeah.


Here is the key phrase in that statement, pasted again:

So China is doing some of the infrastructure development that we cannot and will not do

Which really says a lot about the differences between what the US and China are doing in Africa

The environment and Africa: recent stories

Treehugger often feels like a pretty random “environmentalist” website. Half the time, I feel like they are trying to sell me something I don’t need (eco-consumerism is not necessarily a good thing).  That said, they also occasionally have very interesting stories.

This week I noticed they had a couple posts about Africa.

One does a fantastic job of playing into the stereotype of “Africa as exotic”.  It is a series of photos about “Socotra: The Most Alien-Looking Place on Earth”? That said, it clearly is a beautiful and unique place. And I’m surprised I had never heard of it before.

The other post is on the trade in Rosewood from Madagascar. The title mentions that the Rosewood is headed to China but the text never discusses that point. What it does suggest (but not really substantiate) is that the coup last year created an opportunity for outsiders to step in and exploit Madagascar’s natural resources. Once again, a familiar portrayal of Africa, this time as “victim”.

Africa as the exotic victim, plagued–in these cases–by environmental problems, is a refrain that persists. My question is whether — as Lakoff argued for liberals  — this is a frame that can be changed.

News and comment: Nigerian rumored to have been killed in China

The Wall Street Journal (clip below), CNN and a number of other sources are reporting that at least 100 Africans were involved in protests over immigration enforcement in China.  The spark was apparently the death of a Nigerian who was killed during an immigration raid.

China’s increasing ties with Africa is a subject that I am turning to in my current research.  But while my own research–and that of many others–tends to focus on China’s impact on Africa, we may neglect the potential for Africans to impact China.  This is a small reminder that there is a story to be told.  According to The Guardian, an estimated 20,000 Africans live in Guangzhou (the site of the unrest).

clipped from

China has seen its fair share of anti-foreigner protests, from the Boxer Rebellion to the May Fourth movement, and, in more recent decades, more generically termed demonstrations against Americans, Africans, Japanese and the French.

Yet for all the expat grumbling about living in China, public protests by foreign residents are virtually unknown, perhaps tempered by the awareness that we are here by choice, live in relative comfort, and would likely achieve little more than a swift deportation.

But, reflecting the very different world in which some migrants live, Wednesday saw a rare protest by over 100 African residents of the southern city of Guangzhou.

According to Xinhua, at least one person died during a brawl that erupted after police raided a Guangzhou clothing market to check passports and visas.

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News and Comment: Paris, China, Kabila, Zuma, and ECOWAS.

The BBC reports that the liberation of Paris in 1944 was carefully orchestrated to be “whites only”.  Apparently, this was an American idea. So when De Gaulle wanted to have a French division lead the liberation, he had to remove the West African soldiers (which reportedly formed 65% of Free French Forces) from the division and even had to rely on some Spanish soldiers to have adequate numbers.

China is reducing its investments in Africa, the New York Times reported last week.  But this news should not be exaggerated.  Deals are still being made and it is unlikely that China will withdraw that much from Africa. Among other activities during the last couple of weeks, Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE increased its ties with Ghana, Nigeria and China signed a pact for cooperation with satellites, brought a trade delegation to Cote d’Ivoire, and promised to build a malaria research center in Cameroon. So, while it is true that China–like just about everywhere else in the world–may be reducing its demand for certain African commodities, it is not at all the case that China will withdraw.

The New York Times also published an interesting portrait of DRC President Joseph Kabila. There was a time when people hoped that his Western-educated background would allow for new and enlightened rule of the DRC. Unfortunately, the DRC remains as troubled as ever.

South African prosecutors have apparently dropped charges against Jacob Zuma.  This should strengthen his hand considerably in the upcoming election. It may also help him if other parties are being intimidated from participating, as the BBC reports.

One random piece of news: Apparently there was a bomb threat at the Italian embassy in Ghana. I would be interested to know more about this if anyone has a clear idea.

And finally, ECOWAS proves it is still alive and attempts to insert its voice in the on-going crisis in Guinea Bissau (BBC: Guinea-Bissau army ‘beats ex-PM’; Reuters: UN urges international help for Guinea-Bissau polls) . ECOWAS has issued a statement expressing its concern about human rights violations there.

News and Comment: South Africa does what China wants?

The BBC (see below) is reporting that the South African government may be bowing to pressure from China in its decision to block the Dalai Lama’s entry. If true (and what other reason could there be?), it is yet another signal that doing business with China carries its own conditions.  And if South Africa cannot stand up to such pressures, what other African states can?

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South Africa ‘blocks’ Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama was due at a peace conference this week

The South African government has defended its decision to deny entry to the Dalai Lama, amid charges it is bowing to pressure from China.

The Tibetan spiritual leader was due to attend a peace meeting in Johannesburg this week, along with fellow Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu and FW de Klerk.

But the authorities have not granted an entry visa, saying the invitation did not come from official channels.

Archbishop Tutu has threatened to pull out of the conference over the issue.

Speculation is rife in the local media that the government caved in to pressure from Beijing.

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