Thursday, April 22, 2021

Why America wants Africa

  The U.S. ignores the nations of Africa at its own peril, Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the commander of the U.S. Africa Command, said.

"China and Russia don't ignore Africa, and that alone should say something."

Africa has 13 of the 25 fastest growing economies in the world, Townsend said. In a time of climate change, Africa has 60% of the arable land on the globe. 

"This fact alone should show how important Africa is for the world," he added.

The continent also has a plethora of strategic materials, such as cobalt, chromium, tantalum and more. African resources are critical to 21st century progress. 

Africa has a growing population, and demographers estimate that by 2050 one in four people on Earth will be African. 

The country is also a crossroads of the world. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait between Djibouti and Yemen is a choke point at the southern end of the Red Sea. 

There is another choke point between Sicily and Libya. 

The Strait of Gibraltar is between Europe and Africa.

 The recent blockage of the Suez Canal threw light onto two more choke points: the Mozambique Channel and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, Townsend said. These sea lines of communication are vital around the globe and are ever in Townsend's mind as he engages the nations of the continent.

A number of Africa countries are among the "most fragile" in the world, Townsend said. These countries have ungoverned or little governed areas that attract violent extremist organizations, which capitalize on economic and political dysfunction to extend their reach. A number of violent extremist organizations operate in Africa, including al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab in Somalia and ISIS allies. Townsend said the U.S. can help Africans confront these groups.

He said governments in these areas need help. "An African leader once said to me 'A drowning man will reach for any hand,'" Townsend said. "They are drowning in poverty and will take help from whomever it comes from."

This offers a perfect opening for Russia and particularly China, Townsend said. "The Chinese sometimes refer to Africa as their 'second continent,' and some Chinese military leaders refer to the east coast of Africa as China's 'fifth island chain,'" the general said. 

China has its first overseas military base in Djibouti and has invested heavily in ports around the continent, he said. The Chinese are playing a long game on the continent. 

The Chinese wants to change the international rules-based architecture to favor China. Economic pressure on African nations could gather votes in the United Nations and in other world bodies to do just that. Maybe not tomorrow, but some day.

More engagement is needed, the general said. Exercise African Lion and the Express series of naval exercises are important to develop the personal contacts needed to operate on the continent. In addition, having more African military officers and noncommissioned officers going to American professional military education would also benefit U.S. relations with the nations of the continent. 

Commander Says Africa Is Too Important for Americans to Ignore > U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE > Defense Department News

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