As the U.S. works to re-engage Africa at a time when China’s influence on the continent looms large, a recent election in Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, could signal how Washington’s increased outreach is being received.
Last week, Nigerians elected BOLA TINUBU, who hails from the All Progressives Congress party, to serve as the country’s next president following a tumultuous election cycle riddled with voter intimidation and suspected voting irregularities.
Despite concern from foreign election observers in the country, the State Department quickly congratulated Tinubu on his victory. That muted response could have a lot to do with … China, some analysts say.
“I think the Biden administration wants to be liked by Africans and is sensitive to the charge that has been made by Africans that [the U.S.] is paternalistic and overly critical of their models of governance,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ CAMERON HUDSON said. That has pushed many African countries to develop closer ties with China, he said, because Beijing doesn’t call them out over how they govern.
The State Department did not immediately respond to NatSec Daily’s request for comment.
African countries have repeatedly claimed they don’t want to pick sides between the U.S. and China, but Nigeria may look to partner with each country where it suits their interests, which could further accelerate the competition on the continent.
“[Nigeria] is going to want to have its cake and eat it too,” Hudson said. “It’s going to want to take what it needs and what it can get from China and what it needs from Washington.”
MUHAMMADU BUHARI, the country’s outgoing president, worked to cultivate cozier relations between Nigeria and China, leading to a slew of massive infrastructure projects including trains, highways and airport renovations. Chinese tech giant Huawei has also established a major presence within the country, raising concerns that Nigeria may have used the company to conduct public surveillance ahead of the election.
But Nigeria also maintains a security partnership with the U.S. through weapons sales and counterterrorism operations against Islamist group Boko Haram. (Though Congress is trying to halt an already-approved sale of 24 attack helicopters to Nigeria due to concerns about the country’s alleged human rights abuses.)
A slowdown in Washington’s weapons supplies could open the door for a security partnership with China, said W. GYUDE MOORE, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.
“Africa comprises one of the biggest portions of China’s weapons sales,” Moore said. “So it is possible if the U.S. were to completely close the door so that Nigeria has no access to U.S. materials, then it makes sense for Nigeria to seek others.”
In 2017, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, and the Pentagon believes that Beijing is eyeing an installation in West Africa on the Atlantic coast.
Despite the power dynamic between both superpowers, Moore believes there likely won’t be a drastic shift in Nigeria’s foreign policy considering the party in power will remain the same.
“I think the most of the changes we’re going to see are going to be more in domestic policy,” Moore said. “The new president has been around Nigerian politics for a long time.”
Source : Politico