US-China fight for influence in Africa continues amid threats

US President Donald Trump, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a working dinner after the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina Dec. 1, 2018. Photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

As Africa gears towards its economic independence and liberation from Western agencies and countries to be able to trade as a single body with whoever it wishes, the United States of America and China are competing for influence in the continent.

After threatening Africa in its “Prosper Africa” strategy that states that countries that “repeatedly” vote against the U.S. in international forums or “take action counter to U.S. interests” are not entitled to U.S. aid, the Trump administration has issued another threat amid China’s growing relationship with Africa.

“We went through, just in the last 20 years, this big debt forgiveness for a lot of African countries. Now all of a sudden are we going to go through another cycle of that?” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa for African Affairs Tibor Nagy told reporters in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sunday with reference to the 1996 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative which helped clear poor countries’ billions of dollars worth of unsustainable debt.

“I certainly would not be sympathetic, and I don’t think my administration would be sympathetic to that kind of situation,” he warned African countries as agencies like the IMF have cautioned against a potential debt crisis that could hit the continent which is largely indebted to China which is Africa’s largest lender with investments totalling 100 billion dollars and covering almost every country.

“All of these countries are sovereign states, so it’s for them to decide who they want to trade with. We feel we have an obligation to point out to them when we believe they are getting into severe economic difficulties,” Nagy added.

China quickly denied the U.S. claims of creating debt traps in the continent through its cooperation with African countries.

“For some time, however, some outside forces have tried to vilify and undermine China-Africa cooperation by cooking up (accusations of) so-called neo-colonialism and debt traps, which are totally groundless and are not accepted by African people,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told senior African ministers on Tuesday in Beijing.

“Such attempts expose a total lack of respect for Africa, lack of understanding about China, absence of knowledge about the true friendship between China and Africa that has stood the test of time.

“We need to take forward project cooperation in such a way as to ensure real economic and social benefits and respect market principles. The African continent is the independent homeland for the 1.4 billion people of Africa, not a sphere of influence for any major country,” he added.

China’s investments in Africa surged by more than 100 times from 2000 to 2017 and the total trade volume increased by 17 times. In 2017, China’s trade with Africa surged by 14 percent year on year to 170 billion U.S. dollars with Chinese direct investment hitting about 3 billion dollars annually on average.

Last year, a USD $60 billion commitment was made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the form of grants, loans and special funds to Africa, as well as, the investment of $10 billion by Chinese companies in Africa through 2021.

Jinping also said that the government debt from Chinese interest-free loans due by the end of the year (2018) would be written off for the poorest African nations. A gesture convincing Africa that China does not pursue selfish gains within the continent and would never impose its will on others.

The U.S. has always maintained that China is using its influence in Africa to serve as a security threat to them and they will do everything in their power to end China’s cooperation.

“China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption, and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as U.S. developmental programs.

“Such predatory actions are sub-components of broader Chinese strategic initiatives, including “One Belt, One Road”—a plan to develop a series of trade routes leading to and from China with the ultimate goal of advancing Chinese global dominance,” explained U.S. national security adviser, John Bolton, early this year.

While the war of influence rages on, Africa is steadily pursuing economic independence with its iconic African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement which would turn the continent into the single largest free trade market in the world after the market is launched on July 7, 2019.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on face2faceafrica.com

It is over for the U.S. as China completely ‘conquers’ Africa by the end of 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping — Photo: Reuters

The devil is in the detail as China’s generosity towards African countries has peaked in recent years coinciding with the great economic vision and strides by the continent as a single body in the face of threats and sanctions from long-time allies, the United States of America.

The U.S. is clueless on how to position itself ahead of other developed nations like the United Kingdom, EU states, Russia and new entrant China which is unleashing strategies to get a fair control over trade in Africa.

However, the unperturbed faction is China which has slowly laid a formidable foundation around the heart of the continent winning the favours of the continental body, the African Union, and more than 99 percent of the continent’s national leaders through loans, grants and the almighty infrastructure development strategy, Belt and Road Initiative.

On May 30, 2019, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement became a binding international legal instrument and the market would be launched on July 7, 2019, days after China meets 54 African countries in Beijing on June 24 and 25 to discuss last year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit.

The meeting is more of a reminder than a mere discussion about the implementation of the USD $60 billion commitment made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the form of grants, loans and special funds, as well as, the investment of $10 billion by Chinese companies in Africa through 2021.

Inasmuch as 52 out of the continent’s 55 African Union-member countries have signed the free trade agreement with the exception of Benin, Eritrea, and Nigeria, China’s move will secure them the largest share of partnership benefits from dealing with the soon-to-become the single largest free trade market in the world since the formation of the World Trade Organization.

With the commitment of all countries, the AfCFTA is expected to bring together the 1.2 billion African population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $2.5 trillion to remove tariffs on 90 per cent of goods, with 10 percent of “sensitive items” to be phased in later.

These goods would definitely include the $10 billion investments of Chinese companies with more prospects for the Chinese government’s advantage in trade with the continent.

Beginning today, June 18, is the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, which is likely to end with nothing significant for the U.S. government as even President Donald Trump, who has never stepped in Africa, has failed to attend.

Despite the presence of 12 African heads of state and government, including the presidents of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau and Malawi, the highest-ranking member of the U.S. government is the Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley, reports DW.

China’s influence in Africa

China has filled the vacuum in Africa created by the position of the Donald Trump administration’s “America First” policy which is doing them more harm than good.

The African Union (AU) signed an agreement with Huawei late last month to “strengthen their cooperation in information and communication technologies”. This happened days after the U.S. placed Huawei on a list of suspicious companies to which American entities cannot do business with, as part of the trade war between the United States and China.

The AU has benefited immensely from China which built its headquarters, in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, in 2012 to house and host continental meetings and the biannual heads of state summit. Despite reports in 2018 of China spying on the AU, the relationship remains tighter as the continental body also launched another office in Beijing last year which was also financed by the Chinese government.

America’s dwindling position in Africa

By the end of Barack Obama’s eight-year term as president, the United States was still a dominant force in Africa and the first black president deepened the relations with eight monumental visits to the continent to solidify trade and encourage good governance.

The United States, which is currently the most generous in terms of aid to Africa, might lose that position by the end of 2019 as a result of Donald Trump’s debilitating attitude against Africa which started after calling African states “shithole countries” and firing former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a visit to Africa in an attempt to clear up his mess.

It got muddy when Trump suspended Rwanda’s duty-free benefits to export clothes to the U.S. following the decision to increase tariffs on used clothes imports and a subsequent ban by 2019.

The Rwandan government responded to the suspension saying that their garment companies are already being introduced to European buyers and they don’t need the United States to survive.

Openly declaring war on China’s influence in Africa and latecomers, Russia, the United States’ latest “Prosper Africa” strategy went beyond the three core interests of advancing U.S. trade and commercial ties with African nations.

National security adviser, John Bolton, categorically mentioned China and Russia as “deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States” which the U.S. strategy will target to “safeguard the economic independence of African states and protecting U.S. national security interests”.

This clearly exposes the United States’ disinterest in global partnership and attempt to end the competition in the region to gain its former glory. The plan is to counter China and Russia’s economic and political influence in Africa.

“China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as U.S. developmental programs.

“Such predatory actions are sub-components of broader Chinese strategic initiatives, including “One Belt, One Road”—a plan to develop a series of trade routes leading to and from China with the ultimate goal of advancing Chinese global dominance,” explains John Bolton.

He also charged at Russia with accusations of seeking to increase its influence in the region through “corrupt economic dealings” and advancing its political and economic relationships with “little regard for the rule of law or accountable and transparent governance”.

Bolton accused Russia of selling arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations that “run counter to the best interests of the African people.

Meanwhile, in March 2018, Russia backed Africa’s quest for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to have a say in the maintenance of international peace and security.

Russia’s foreign affairs minister, Sergey Lavrov, made the assurance after a meeting with the African Union chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at the AU Headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

John Bolton also said China and Russia were using “predatory practices” to stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.

On the contrary, Russia has expressed interest in Africa with new bilateral agreements signed to help create trade links and development partnership. The Soviet country has signed agreements with Ethiopia and Sudan to set up nuclear technology to help power their countries.

In the diamond, gold and uranium-rich Central African Republic (CAR), Russia has overtaken France to establish a strong influence

Russia was recently cited in leaked documents obtained by the Dossier Center, an investigative unit based in London which is funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian businessman and exiled Kremlin critic which say it seeks to bolster its presence in at least 13 African countries building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming new generation of “leaders” and undercover “agents”.

U.S. strategy to get Africa on its side

The U.S., on the other hand, adopted a solution to regain its influence in Africa which is to use the aid it provides as bait to get African countries to dance to its music. 

“Under our new Africa strategy, we will target U.S. funding toward key countries and particular strategic objectives. All U.S. aid on the continent will advance U.S. interests, and help African nations move toward self-reliance,” said John Bolton.

He stated also that countries that “repeatedly” vote against the United States in international forums or “take action counter to U.S. interests” are not entitled to U.S. aid.

Bolton said the U.S. is revisiting a cold-war era Marshall Plan that “furthered American interests, bypassed the United Nations, and targeted key sectors of foreign economies rather than dissipating aid across hundreds of programs.”

In 2016, the United States gave Africa a total of $13 billion in aid. In 2017, $7.9 billion was given in aid as partially reported by the USAID.

Besides Eritrea, Seychelles and Mauritius, all African countries received aid from the United States in 2017. Ethiopia is the highest recipient of U.S. aid followed by South Sudan and then Nigeria.

China’s investments in Africa surged by more than 100 times from 2000 to 2017 and the total trade volume increased by 17 times. In 2017, China’s trade with Africa surged by 14 percent year on year to 170 billion U.S. dollars with Chinese direct investment hitting about 3 billion dollars annually on average.

Since 2009, China consecutively became Africa’s largest lender with investments totalling 100 billion dollars and covering almost every country on the continent.

The Asian country is yet to securely position itself as continental Africa’s principal trading partner if it beats EU states who are currently Africa’s largest trading partners with an export volume of $827 billion over a 10-year period.

But for the U.S., China is king and this will be official after the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement kicks in.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published at face2faceafrica.com

Meet the first black priest and ex-slave from the U.S. who is on the path to becoming America’s first black saint

The Rev. Augustus Tolton, who was born into slavery in 1854 and went on to become the first acknowledged black priest in the United States, was decreed “venerable” by Pope Francis on June 11, 2019. (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Out of about a dozen Saints from the United States, none of them is black and that could change in a few years as the pope has placed the first African-American priest and a former slave on the path to sainthood. Father Augustine Tolton is one of five African American Catholics who are the focus of campaigns by black Catholics in the U.S. to advance their sainthood and change the perception of institutional racism bedevilling the Church.

Photo: Wiki

The others are Pierre Toussaint, a former slave and New York City philanthropist, There’s Julia Greeley, a former slave who distributed charity to the needy in Denver, Henriette Delille of New Orleans and Mary Elizabeth Lange of Baltimore who both founded religious orders.

Augustus Tolton, baptized Augustine Tolton in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Brush Creek, was born in Missouri to enslaved parents Peter Paul Tolton and his wife Martha Jane Chisley on April 1, 1854.

Their master, Stephen Elliott, was a Catholic who imposed his faith on his slaves. Tolton and his family gained freedom at the start of the American civil war with divergent stories of how they escaped.

Some accounts said Father Tolton had told friends and parishioners that his father escaped and then joined the Union Army while his mother ran with him and his three siblings and crossed the Mississippi River into the free state of Illinois with the help of Union soldiers. However, descendants of the Elliott family say their ancestor freed all his slaves and allowed them to move to the North at the outbreak of the War.

Tolton worked with his siblings at a tobacco company in Illinois where they held onto their Catholic faith. He gained more interest in the faith after he met Irish immigrant priest Father Peter McGirr who gave him the opportunity to attend St. Peter’s parochial school despite the racism at the time even in the parish.

Subsequently, Tolton was rejected in all American seminaries he applied to and McGirr sponsored him to study in Rome where he graduated from St. Francis Solanus College (now Quincy University) and became fluent in Latin, Greek and the Italian language after attending the Pontifical Urbaniana University.

Photo: Wiki

A 31-year-old Tolton was ordained as a priest in Rome in 1886 where he served his first Mass. His dream of serving as a priest in Africa was shattered when he was directed to serve the black community in the U.S.

He faced resistance from white Catholics and Protestant blacks since his first U.S. Mass at St. Boniface church in Quincy where he had wanted to organize a parish, a Catholic church and school.

He gained the attention of the national Catholic hierarchy after he was reassigned to Chicago where he developed a Negroe national parish which grew with hundreds of parishioners and a new church built with money from philanthropists Mrs. Anne O’Neill and Saint Katherine Drexel.

Father Tolton, popularly referred to as “Good Father Gus”, was widely covered in the news and several articles were written about his fluency and sweet singing voice as well as his influence in the establishment of several African American Catholic churches in Chicago.

He was afflicted with many illnesses which forced him to take a temporary leave of absence at the St. Monica’s Parish in 1895. He died a day after he collapsed on July 8, 1897, at the Mercy Hospital following a heat wave in Chicago that year. He was 43.

Photo: Wiki

Father Augustine Tolton was buried in the priests’ lot in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Quincy as he had wished. He is the subject of a 1973 biography From Slave to Priest by Sister Caroline Hemesath. He also has several educational institutions named after him.

After a five-year investigation in Chicago by the Church’s historical and theological commissions, Pope Francis approved on June 12, 2019, a decree recognising Tolton’s heroic virtues, a move that kick starts the canonization. Tolton has now been granted the title “Venerable” which means Catholics can pray to him for intercession with God.

As part of the canonization process, his remains were exhumed on December 10, 2016, and verified by a forensic pathologist.

Pierre Toussaint who died on June 30, 1853, at the age of 87, was also declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II on December 17, 1997 for his outstanding service to his people and society. However, he has since not moved on to the next phase of canonization.

For both Tolton and Toussaint to move to the next phase which is beatification, one miracle would have to be attributed to them. And the final phase is when a second miracle is attributed to them and also proved by the Vatican. This would complete the canonization process and they will be declared saints.

It could take five years to a century for this to happen.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on face2faceafrica.com

How trillions of dollars were stolen by greedy African despots and kept in the West

Former Nigerian president Sani Abacha who stole over $5 billion in only five years of reign

Poor African countries have trillions of dollars stacked up in European banks and in United States’ institutions by African despots with limited knowledge of their existence. These monies were stolen by leaders whose greed got them to deny their people the basic necessities of life while they enrich themselves and their families.

One of such leaders is Nigerian despot, Sani Abacha, who is believed to have stolen over $5 billion and kept them in banks abroad. His criminal ways were uncovered after his death in 1998 and the country is fighting to recover the few monies they are aware of.

A few months ago, Switzerland repatriated $322 million looted by Abacha and kept in their banks. The money follows the $700 million Switzerland returned to Nigeria after Abacha’s demise.

Switzerland, a safe haven for stolen money and other ill-gotten gains, has kept a huge sum of stolen money stashed in their banks by corrupt African leaders and their families. They have started making conscious efforts to return some of the monies to redeem their image.

In 2004, Abacha was ranked as the fourth most corrupt leader in history. Together with his National Security Adviser Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, they made false funding requests which they approved. The funds would then be transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria before laundering them to offshore accounts.

Like Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko had also laundered over $6 million to Switzerland and the money was returned in 2009 to his eldest son François-Joseph Mobutu Nzanga Ngbangawe who had become deputy prime minister. The DRC government publicly denounced the return of the money to the Mobutu family.

The explosive Panama Papers which contained 11.5 million documents held by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed information about offshore, secret bank accounts and transactions of hundreds of thousands of the firm’s clients who were evading taxes.

Tax evasion has also resulted in the looting of at least $60 billion illicit funds leaving Africa every year, says former South African president Thabo Mbeki in a report. He said the dubious means of looting the money included registering companies that earn their profits in Africa, in offshore tax havens.

In 2014, the anti-poverty group ONE also reported that at least $1 trillion is stolen yearly from Africa by criminals and corrupt officials who syphon cash through money laundering, tax evasion and embezzlement.

“If the missing millions were taxed, it could bring in revenues of $19.5 billion a year,” the report stated.

A former Nigerian oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke received bribes from Nigerian businessmen Kolawole Aluko and Olajide Omokore between 2011 and 2015 and used her influence to steer lucrative oil contracts to companies owned by Aluko and Omokore.

She laundered the proceeds of those illicitly awarded contracts through the United States to purchase various assets that have now been seized. The properties include a $50 million condominium located in one of Manhattan’s most-expensive buildings at 157 W. 57th Street and the Galactia Star, an $80 million yacht.

The eldest son of Equatorial Guinea President, Teodorin Obiang, was also convicted of laundering $115 million stolen from his country’s coffers to France. His trial revealed the acquisition of luxury properties and exotic vehicles in Paris which were all confiscated.

The controversial acquisitions consist of more than $30m (£24.5m) worth of properties, including a vast villa in Malibu, California, and a dozen luxury cars, $38m private jet and collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia, which includes a crystal-studded glove.

Switzerland is not the only country where stolen monies have been kept. The United States is also culpable when it comes to keeping stolen money that belongs to African countries.

The Swiss government has appealed to African countries to also trace some of the money to various banks in countries like the United Kingdom, United States of America, Germany, France, Japan, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium and Scandinavia countries.

In 2014, the United States Department of Justice announced that it had frozen more than $458 million believed to have been stolen by Abacha and other corrupt Nigerian government officials.

A Nigerian economic and social rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) wrote an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, demanding the return of $500 million that was stolen by General Sani Abacha during his reign. They insisted that the amount is separate from the $480 million frozen by the U.S.

In March 2018, local Belgian media revealed that about 10 billion euros ($12.3 billion) have disappeared from four frozen Euroclear Bank accounts belonging to two Libyan state agencies.

The accounts containing 16.1 billion euros of state funds were frozen since March 2011 in accordance with a United Nations resolution as part of sanctions against the late Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle, reports weekly newspaper Le Vif.

Euroclear Bank had refused to hand over the accounts belonging to Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and its subsidiary Libyan Foreign Investment Company (LFICO) in Bahrain and Luxembourg, prompting the probe.

European weekly newspaper Politico reported that interest from the accounts was released every month without authorization by the Belgian authority to an “HSBC account in Luxembourg belonging to LIA and to several other LIA accounts at the Arab Banking Corporation whose main shareholder is the Libyan Central Bank.”

The disappearance was noticed when Belgian authorities tried to seize the funds in 2017 during a probe into alleged money laundering by Gaddafi’s inner circle.

With laws being formulated by several European Union countries to reveal owners of foreign bank accounts upon suspicions of corruption, a new safe haven for stolen money has emerged. Dubai is one of the new highly secretive financial centres that lack transparency in their dealings.

Unlike Switzerland which is calling on African governments to give them full legal cooperation in persuading its courts to unfreeze accounts of corrupt leaders, other countries are living off the stolen wealth of poor African nations whose leaders have done a great disservice to them.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published at face2faceafrica.com

Another $267m stolen by ex-Nigerian president discovered in Channel Islands bank

Former Nigerian president Sani Abacha who stole over $5 billion in only five years of reign

The government of Jersey, a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom in the Channel Islands between England and France has seized an amount of £211 million ($267m) that belonged to former Nigerian military dictator General Sani Abacha who died in 1998.

He laundered the recovered money through the United States into a bank account held in Jersey by Doraville Properties Corporation, a British Virgin Islands company, reports British media Metro.

The money is being held by the government awaiting a decision by the governments of the United States, Nigeria and Jersey on how it should be distributed.

“In restraining the funds at the request of the United States of America, through whose banking system the funds were laundered prior to arriving here, and in achieving the payment of the bulk of the funds into the Civil Asset Recovery Fund, Jersey has once again demonstrated its commitment to tackling international financial crime and money laundering,” said the Attorney General Robert MacRae. channel islands

The United States first discovered the laundered money and directed the Island’s Attorney General to apply for a restraining order over the Jersey bank account of Doraville in 2014. The request was granted by the Royal Court to preserve the money, reports Metro.

Doraville also applied for the restraining order to be lifted in 2016 but their application was dismissed. They challenged the decision at Jersey’s Court of Appeal in 2017 and it was again rejected. They took the matter higher to Jersey’s ultimate appellate court which also rejected the appeal in 2018.

General Sani Abacha, who is believed to have stolen over $5 billion in his five-year reign, kept the money in banks abroad. His criminal ways were uncovered after his death in 1998 and the country is still fighting to recover the few stolen funds they are aware of.

Last year, Switzerland repatriated $322 million looted money kept by Abacha in their banks. The money follows the $700 million Switzerland returned to Nigeria after Abacha’s demise.

Switzerland, a safe haven for stolen money and other ill-gotten gains, has kept a huge sum of stolen money stashed in their banks by corrupt African leaders and their families. They have started making conscious efforts to return some of the monies to redeem their image.

In 2004, Abacha was ranked as the fourth most corrupt leader in history. Together with his National Security Adviser Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, they made false funding requests which they approved. The funds would then be transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria before laundering them to offshore accounts.

After assuming power in 2015, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari has been seeking assistance from other countries to recover stolen assets taken abroad.

In February last year, Buhari stated that all unclaimed stolen assets recovered will be sold off and the proceeds deposited in the national treasury. He said the move forms part of his administration’s anti-corruption campaign.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on face2faceafrica.com