Africa should not be a battleground for a great power rivalry

Guess who's the one who really has a debt issue?
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High-ranking U.S. officials are heading to Africa, hot on the heels of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held last month for the first time in eight years.

Following U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s trip to the continent earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield kicked off her Africa tour Wednesday.

The United States is signalling its “return to Africa” with these trips. But what is its true intention?

Is it to promote cooperation with Africa or an attempt to pressure the continent to counter “China’s influence”?

During their visits, U.S. officials have attempted to drive a wedge between China and Africa by raising concerns about African debt. The so-called “debt trap” has long been a narrative trap set by the West to smear China-Africa cooperation.

Photo taken on Nov. 29, 2021 shows a provincial airport financed by the Chinese government in Gaza province, Mozambique. Pic: Xinhua/Nie Zuguo

During his recent visit to Africa, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang pointed out that Africa’s debt problem is essentially an issue of development. The solution to the problem requires addressing not only the symptoms but also the root causes.

Qin said that China has always been committed to helping Africa ease its debt burden, and the country is an active participant in the Group of 20 (G20) Debt Service Suspension Initiative. China has signed agreements or reached consensuses with 19 African countries on debt relief and has suspended the most debt service payments of any G20 member. The country has also been actively engaged in the case-by-case debt treatment for Chad, Ethiopia and Zambia under the G20 Common Framework.

Data from the World Bank showed that multilateral financial institutions and commercial creditors hold nearly three-quarters of Africa’s total external debt. They could and should take more robust actions to relieve the debt burden of African countries. China calls upon all parties concerned to contribute to alleviating Africa’s debt burden.

Meanwhile, China’s financing cooperation with Africa has been mainly in infrastructure construction and production capacity to enhance Africa’s ability for independent and sustainable development.

Over the years, China-Africa cooperation has met the urgent development needs of African countries. Driven by the Belt and Road Initiative, China-Africa cooperation in infrastructure has yielded fruitful results. Statistics showed that since the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was founded 23 years ago, Chinese companies have built or upgraded more than 10,000 km of railways, nearly 100,000 km of roads, roughly 1,000 bridges and 100 ports, and several hospitals and schools in Africa, creating more than 4.5 million jobs.

This photo taken on May 8, 2022 shows a section of the Nairobi Expressway built by China Road and Bridge Corporation in Nairobi, Kenya. Pic: Xinhua/Dong Jianghui
This photo taken on May 8, 2022 shows a section of the Nairobi Expressway built by China Road and Bridge Corporation in Nairobi, Kenya. Pic: Xinhua/Dong Jianghui

It is worth noting that the airports where the U.S. officials landed and the roads and bridges their convoys passed during their Africa visits were likely built in cooperation with Chinese companies.

Who is sincerely helping Africa to develop?

The African people are best qualified to answer the question.

A survey issued last year by the Inter Region Economic Network, a Kenya-based think tank, found that China takes a substantial lead in decision-making and timely completion of infrastructure projects such as roads, power dams, railways and bridges in Africa. Facts and figures in the study showed that through efficient action, China tangibly contributes to Africa’s development.

Worried that the United States is not genuinely interested in helping Africa or Zambia but cares more about advancing its interests where it feels it is losing ground, Fred Mutesa, a Zambia-based expert on governance, development cooperation and poverty alleviation, said that “we hope that the United States will not take advantage of its renewed friendship with Zambia to score points against China.”

Africa should not become an arena for a great power rivalry. Instead, let Africa become a land of win-win cooperation for all, especially Africans.