On Thursday 8th May the US House of Representatives approved a plan to bring power to 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa to help boost the continent's development and growth. The Electrify Africa Act is part of a major initiative for Africa unveiled last year by President Obama which aims, initially, to install 20,000 additional megawatts of generation capacity by 2020. With the majority of the sub-Saharan 589 million population lacking reliable power, or even power at all, this act is a fine vision. At first glance this may look like America has finally woken up to the strategic importance of Africa; sadly on closer examination we conclude otherwise.
In 2007 we went on record identifying China as a rising power that would challenge America much sooner than anyone anticipated. Key to that transition would be a massive acquisition programme in Africa, a continent vast and still rich and which at the time was an uncertain space in US foreign policy. Our argument was that if America could compete with China in its financial aid to the poverty- stricken continent it would slow down the speed of China's traction and influence. Such a theory fell on unresponsive minds and today one can make a strong case that Africa is already China's continent. The first milestone of colonialism via economic investment is a reality. The next phase will come with the development of a blue water navy that will have the capacity to project Chinese military power into Africa under the fiction of protecting its own citizens, if one day in the near future they are threatened. The pilot for this model of operation was demonstrated during the civil war in Libya when Chinese warships travelled through the Suez Canal and along the Mediterranean coast to rescue its own workers.
Back in the House of Representatives examination of the voting pattern which approved the act by 297 votes to 117, with 17 abstentions is most revealing. Half the Republican Party voted against the proposed provision with the conservative element arguing that Africa should not be a priority amid grave economic concerns at home. What is surprising about the negative response of this group of congressmen is that they viewed the act as one of foreign aid rather than a strategic imperative, and no doubt the Democrats responded and voted positively for the same reasons.
Unfortunately this demonstrates that despite the pivot east to attempt to contain China, America, unlike Japan, has still not appreciated the vital importance of engagement and investment in Africa in the reduction of the rate of all this rapid Chinese expansionism.