Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Nigeria for talks with President Goodluck Jonathan.
The visit comes as the US is trying to counter China’s growning influence in Africa.
In a thinly-veiled swipe at the Chinese, Clinton told an audience in Senegal last week that, “America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep the resources flowing.”
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Lisa Mullins: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Nigeria today for talks with President Goodluck Jonathan. This visit is part of Clinton’s 7-nation African tour and it comes as Nigeria is facing an increasingly violent insurgency by the militant group known as Boko Haram. It also comes as the U.S. is trying to counter China’s growing influence in Africa. In Senegal last week, Secretary Clinton took a thinly-veiled swipe at the Chinese. She told an audience in Senegal that America will “stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep the resources flowing.” Todd Moss is a former State Department official. He runs The Emerging Africa Project at the Center for Global Development in Washington. Todd, what’s the sub-text to Secretary Clinton’s comments about China last week?
Todd Moss: Well, I think anyone that’s visiting Africa will be…it’s obvious that there’s a lot of Chinese activity going on; a lot of new investment. The U.S. is a little bit late to that game and I think are trying to play some catch-up in trying to make sure that American businesses are able to take advantage of the fast economic growth going on in Africa.
Mullins: So, how does the U.S. answer then China’s development push in Africa? What does the U.S. have to offer, to counter with?
Moss: Well, you know there’s no reason to try to counter Chinese influence. To a large degree, what China is doing in Africa is helpful for Africa and also helpful for the United States. They’re largely investing in infrastructure – building roads and ports, and that’s precisely what Africa needs in order to continue to generate high rates of economic growth that would be good for Africa and also for American businesses. Frankly, the U.S. government is not in a position to do what China is doing nor would we necessarily want to. So I think, for the most part, China’s influence in Africa is very positive. The two countries where the U.S. and China have kind of had friction over how they behave is Sudan and Zimbabwe. These are two regimes that the U.S. has sought to isolate and marginalize and the Chinese through their investments in oil in Sudan and now in diamonds in Zimbabwe have undermined our political aims. So that’s really where the friction has come up.
Mullins: Just to clarify – is there a fundamental difference in the way the United States approaches business and investment in Africa and the way the Chinese approach it?
Moss: Well, I think there’s two fundamental differences. One, is that we have a multitude of interests that we try to balance where commercial interests are part of a broader array of economic and security and values-based interests, whereas the Chinese, their operations in Africa tend to really prioritize commercial. The second is that the United States, our economic activity is mostly through private companies that specialize in particular industries. On the Chinese side, these are mostly state-owned businesses that can put together packaged deals that come with all sorts of goodies that African governments rightly would like to come along with them, so that sometimes put U.S. companies at a commercial disadvantage.
Mullins: You used to work for the State Department Todd. Getting back to the kind of maneuvering that the Secretary of State is doing in Africa right now, what do you make of her drawing that distinction between the way the U.S. does business in Africa and the way the Chinese do business?
Moss: Well, I think the U.S. tries to draw the distinction that in certain countries the United States stands up for democratic freedom, but I think it’s important also a lot of the criticism that the Secretary is receiving is about some double standards. The United States still has close relations with a country like Equatorial Guinea which is one of the most corrupt regimes in the world but provides a fair chunk of oil to the U.S. market. So, it’s pretty frustrating for activists in Africa to see us lecturing on Chinese behavior when they can see that the United States is not ‘holier than thou.’
Mullins: Todd Moss is a former State Department official under the Bush administration. He now runs the non-profit Emerging Africa Project at the Center for Global Development. Thanks a lot.
Moss: Thank you.
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Todd Moss is a former State Department official who runs the The Emerging Africa Project at the Center for Global Development in Washington.