A new legislation that would oblige Washington to punish African governments that abet “Russian malign activities” on the continent is looming large.
Dozens of states in Africa would be affected, most possibly negatively.
At the height of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, then President George W Bush was unequivocal in his harsh foreign policy stance – better known as the Bush Doctrine – which emphasised the notion that: “If you are not with us, you are against us.” It was viewed in geopolitics as a “preventive strike”.
Now, under President Joe Biden’s administration, the US seem determined to counter the rise of China and Russia’s influence on the continent. A significant number of AU member-states, including South Africa, have steadfastly refused to take sides in the Ukraine conflict. Their stance is that of non-aligned. The US and EU have pressured Africa and the rest of the global South to join in their punitive sanctions against Russia since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict on February 24. However, Russia-Africa relations remain firm. So are China-Africa relations.
This week, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in South Africa as part of his “strategic dialogue” with Pretoria.
During his widely-publicised remarks, Blinken said the US sought to out-do no one in Africa. His main objective was to promote bilateral ties with Pretoria, and also to launch a wider-scale continental strategy with a particular focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. Blinken proceeded to the DRC and Rwanda in during his charm offensive, which comes in the wake of deteriorating bilateral relations with the world’s biggest emerging economy – China. Relations between the two superpowers took a tumble thanks to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives who publicly undermined Washington’s recognition of the one-China Policy by visiting China’s self-governing territory of Taiwan. Since 1979, then US President Jimmy Carter committed to the respect and recognition of one China Policy – with Taiwan as part of mainland China.
The close ties between Beijing and Moscow – two nuclear powers whose relations with Washington have been frosty for a while, are a matter of grave concern in the US’s foreign policy strategic implementation abroad.
Now, Washington’s geopolitical approach appears to be to use the perceived weaker African nations as an entry point in the greater and bigger battle with both China and Russia.
The Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act passed through the House of Representatives on April 27 by a huge, bipartisan 419-9 majority. It is now almost certain to be passed by the Senate and then become law before the end of the year.
New York Democrat Gregory Meeks, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Bill was designed “to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to pilfer, manipulate and exploit resources in parts of Africa to evade sanctions and undermine US interests”.
According to the Bill, once passed into law it would direct the US Secretary of State “to develop and submit to Congress a strategy and implementation plan outlining the US efforts “to counter the malign influence and activities of the Russian Federation and its proxies in Africa”.
According to reports, the Bill broadly defines such malign activities as those that “undermine United States objectives and interests”. The incumbent Secretary of State, in this instance Blinken, would have to monitor the actions of Russia’s government and its proxies – “including private military companies as well as oligarchs”.
The Bill is extremely harsh in its outlook. It is also not ambiguous. It seeks the US government to counter such malign activities – perceived or real – effectively including through US foreign aid programmes.
According to the looming law, the US government “hold accountable the Russian Federation and African governments and their officials who are complicit in aiding such malign influence and activities”.
The Bill, which was introduced to Congress on March 31, is seen particularly by Moscow as a response to Russia’s “special military operations in Ukraine” – or invasion, depending on anyone’s geopolitical leaning.
The Scramble for Africa seems to have been carried over from the 20th century into modernity. The world’s superpowers and powerful blocs are in a fierce competition to win over the continent of more than 1 billion people.
During the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019, President Putin outlined his Africa strategy as follows: “We are not going to participate in a new ‘repartition’ of the continent’s wealth. Rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa,” he said.
A report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has claimed that Russia “is reviving Soviet-era ties with African states to extract resources from the region, and in exchange, become a security provider”.
The emergence of China and the historical ties that Russia has with many African states causes the continent’s shift to the Far East to create anxiety across the global North.
News reporter Ivo Vegter, analysing the new US Bill, wrote: “The US is kindling a new Cold War across Africa aimed at Russia. It might only succeed at driving African countries further into the arms of Russia.”