By Innocent Ddamulira
The recently concluded US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC where dozens of African leaders met the US administration unexpectedly turned into a calm song of praise and re-assurance in potentials of Africa.
A meeting organised by the Obama administration had earlier aligned investment, poverty, terrorism, corruption and deadly diseases as the gist of the discussion agenda.
Many of the speakers during this meeting save for the African leaders reiterated uncoordinated but themed messages that all attempted to assure Africa as an investment destination.
The massages also attempted to place Africa on the same level of engagement with the US and other European states. One such message from Joe Biden indicated that the fundamental question of “what the US needs to do for Africa” has changed to “what the US needs to do with Africa”
This new change of tone seems to surprise as well as excite many including presidents and renown writers but interestingly it does not near surprising me nor trigger any form excitement! I thus hold a strong opinion that Uganda must only nurse (read embrace) the excitement with maximum caution.
I am grappling with unanswered questions on the new wave of approach, the first being whether Obama needed to simply write a statement during his last and final term in office that he has strong roots in Africa after numerous cold war attacks that his administration has had minimum foreign policy in favour of Africa despite being his home? Now that sounds very flat and mind-boggling to complex and progressive minds. The second question is quite more believable and tenable. It is a question of investment and dire need of a search for survival.
This question is the reason the nation claimed to be the most powerful on earth gets to its knees to seek survival for the future. The clear fact is that the US businesses are searching for opportunities on the continent after a decade of entrenched Chinese uninterrupted economic investment.
The US administration is aware that Africa holds some of the richest mineral deposits, fastest growing economies and a burgeoning middle class (which trio has a tremendous impact on economic growth and development).
It is also aware that China’s trade with Africa fetched it $200b last year alone, which is more than double that of the US. In fact, the Chinese companies have invested heavily in large infrastructure through its Export-Import Bank with a condition that the contracts are awarded to Chinese companies. In Uganda alone, Chinese investment has been recorded to be over $596m over the years.
Many lucrative contracts have been awarded to Chinese companies such as one to build Karuma, which was awarded to Sinohydro Group and a cocktail of others. The Chinese embassy reported that last year alone 45 Chinese private companies poured into Uganda. This is, therefore, an indicator that Chinese companies are determined to invest and compete for contracts in Africa.
Indeed, in March this year, South Africa split a $4.7b locomotive supply contract between GE, Chinese companies and Canada’s Bombardier Inc.
This brought a clear head on competition between the US and China an economy that grew by 7.7% year-on-year in the second quarter and whose trade surplus rose to $35.92b in May.
The US could not continue to hide head in the sand lest it risked losing its military and political interest by the economic might of the Chinese growth. It did not, therefore, necessitate any one such as Irene Ikomu to sound drums but to rise up and partner with Africa both as an investment destination as well as a method of strengthening its military interests already visible in Mali, Central Africa Republic, Ethiopia, Somalia, the list being endless.
Uganda thus needs to be on guard when two economic super giants are fighting for economic survival and military superiority on its land.
The writer is from Makerere University Law School
Obama's speech at US-Africa Business Forum
Highlights of US-Africa Summit
US-Africa summit: political tolerance key