African countries need to seize the opportunities created by the tensions between the United States and China


The power of the United States and China is unfolding Rivalry
It bears a striking resemblance to the tensions between the United States and the Soviet bloc during the Cold War years. At the time, African countries were pawns on the big chessboard. Their social and economic advancement was hindered because they spent their energy aligning any of the two superpowers in the battle for world supremacy. Between communism and capitalism.

With notable exceptions, African countries generally failed to exercise positive agency for their development. It has also eroded the institutional and governance foundations vital to economic success.

In the current context of escalating geopolitical tensions between the United States and China, African states may find themselves repeating the same mistakes unless they proactively shape their destinies.

Characterized by tensions between the two superpowers A fierce trade warAt a time when the global economy is under tremendous pressure due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, African countries are facing their worst economic crises since independence.

Africa is institutionally unprepared for the combined effects of a health epidemic and severe economic recession. Its leaders will need to design consciously engaging strategies that will help them manage persistent superpower tensions in their favor. They should do so without bias. This requires that they deal with each of these great powers on the basis of pragmatic – not ideological – choices.

Despite the lack of institutional preparedness, African states can – and should – be highly strategic and tactical in how they respond to tensions between the United States and China. Failure to do so will inevitably mean sacrificing their own interests.

There are three arenas of challenges and opportunities for the African continent in the current geopolitical climate. The first is about technological frontiers, the second is global supply chains, and the third is trade integration and economic cooperation.

New technological frontiers

there Conclusive evidence Technological innovation is the main driver of economic growth. Therefore, access to new technologies and exploit such The fifth generation network Vital to the development of Africa. 5G technologies are important options for a continent like Africa where mobile technology has leapfrogged more traditional technologies.

Access to technologies such as 5G enables access to global broadband, which is critical for the continent’s progress towards a digital economy.

In May last year the US government put the Chinese company Huawei, the world Leadership the supplier 5G infrastructure, on the list of entities deemed to pose a major threat to national security and foreign policy interests.

Huawei is effectively banned from importing and integrating major US technologies into its products and services. This included both devices, such as high-tech semiconductor components, and software, such as Google Mobile Services (GMS). The ban was later They expanded To key technologies from non-US companies. This included Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, a major supplier of Huawei.

In the month after the initial ban, the CEOs of four major South African telecoms companies – Telkom, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C – wrote to A common message To the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, requesting his urgent intervention regarding the US action against Huawei. Their goal was to give diplomatic weight to prevent damage to the South African telecommunications sector.

In July last year, Ramaphosa Came out in Support the four operators in addition to Huawei. He said the ban was:

An example of protectionism that will affect our telecom sector, especially efforts to spread the 5G network, causing setbacks in other networks as well.

This was an example of pragmatism on the part of the South African government.

African policymakers must protect their right to choose from the widest possible range of technological options that fit the development needs of their countries. They should insist on acquiring and developing new technologies such as 5G on the basis of pragmatism.

Global supply chains

The second stage of struggle for African countries is in global supply chains.

The reality of COVID-19, combined with escalating tensions between the United States and China over trade, technology, and supply chains, have created opportunities that African countries should exploit.

Collectively, they exposed serious problems in supply networks across various sectors. These include digital products, foods, pharmaceutical and medical supply chains.

These sectors represent opportunities for African countries to develop new products, services and capabilities. They can, for example, provide answers for protection Africa’s food security needs, Domestic production from Essential Medicines and MedicinesLow-cost, medical Tests and equipment, And the Logistics services.

A mural of Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping in Berlin.
EFE-EPA / Omer Messinger

But African countries will need to work more cooperatively to develop thriving economic sectors and industrial linkages across borders. Trade will, in our view, be a decisive catalyst for this.

This brings us to the third area, which is the need for African countries to deepen trade integration and economic cooperation. This will provide a basis for diversification from over-reliance on export markets such as China and the United States, and build internal resilience.

Intra-African trade

African intra trade It accounts for only 16% of total African trade. This compares to 52% in Asia and 73% in Europe. African trade is highly concentrated in a few economic hubs: China and Europe together account for 54% of total African trade, with China being Africa’s largest trading partner. It accounts for more than 14% of total African trade.

The African Continental Free Trade Area It creates the institutional framework and infrastructure for Africa to boost intra-African trade, diversify its trading partners and implement long-awaited trade policy reforms.

COVID-19 has caused significant delays in implementing this trade arrangement. It should, in fact, amplify the sense of urgency. But instead of showing resilience, African leaders pressed the pause button. As a result, the continent could miss an opportunity to accelerate the development of cross-border value chains in medical supplies, equipment and other areas.

Imagination and courage

African countries should seize the opportunities presented by deepening tensions between China and the United States to achieve positive power and shape their future. They will need to be more proactive and adaptive in a volatile and uncertain global environment. This will take a lot of imagination and courage.

African countries face a formidable set of challenges and limitations. But policymakers always have options.

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