White House National Security Council plans to unveil a new strategy for Africa this week focusing on countering China’s growing influence on the continent, as well as Russia’s attempts to gain footholds in resource-rich, unstable countries.
The strategy will call for bolstering U.S. ties with countries deemed potentially vulnerable to overtures from China and Russia, as well as seeking to fend off attempts by North Korea and Iran to make inroads through economic investments or arms sales, said the senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Counterterrorism is no longer the organizing principle,” said one senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
“It’s about geopolitics and countering the influence of China and others.”
Request for comments was declined by the White House.
Former U.S. diplomats and regional experts say the strategy is long overdue. Until now, the Trump administration has made few public statements on Africa and appeared preoccupied with nuclear diplomacy with North Korea, trade disputes with China and reimposing sanctions on Iran. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, the president has announced no signature initiatives for Africa so far.
Given that the White House has no plans to dramatically expand U.S. resources devoted to Africa, it’s not clear how the administration will succeed in countering China, Russia or other adversaries, experts said.
The White House strategy is expected to name several countries as anchors for the U.S. strategy, and experts close to the administration expect the list to include Kenya, a longstanding U.S. ally. For U.S. counterterrorism efforts, the administration will seek to continue a number of key partnerships, including with Somalia, Libya and Mali, officials said.
Apart from China’s well-documented rise as Africa’s top trading partner, Russia has moved swiftly over the past year to cultivate ties across the continent, with high-level delegations negotiating arms sales and military cooperation deals. In September, Moscow announced an agreement to build a logistics base in Eritrea on the Red Sea and Russian companies have clinched mineral deals in Sudan
The most extraordinary example of Russia’s rapidly growing presence is in the Central African Republic, where military and civilian advisers are helping train the government’s security forces and Russian officials are negotiating access to the country’s diamond, gold and other minerals. A Russian national, Valery Zakharov, serves as an adviser to the CAR government, and the Wagner private security firm, which is believed to have ties to the Kremlin, is reportedly securing mining sites and helping train President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s security guards.
China and Russia also are looking to reap diplomatic benefits from stronger ties with African states, as the countries’ votes at the United Nations can serve as a counterweight to opposition from the U.S. and other Western governments.
While Russia is looking to expand its military assistance and presence, the U.S. military has begun to scale back its forces on the continent and is weighing further reductions as the tempo of counterterrorism efforts slows and priorities shift, a defense official and an administration official said.
The U.S. military’s operations in Africa came under scrutiny after an ambush in Niger in October 2017 when four U.S. soldiers were killed in a firefight with Islamist militants. A Pentagon investigation cited organizational failures and a lack of sufficient training.
In recent months, separate from the drafting of the new Africa strategy, the U.S. has been considering a plan to draw down some of the Special Operations missions in Africa, as part of what the Pentagon calls an optimization strategy. The plan, which has not yet been approved, calls for a cut of up to 50 percent in troops in West Africa, defense officials said.