Cooperation, Competition, or Both? Options for U.S. Land Forces vis-à-vis Chinese Interests in Africa

| June 2020

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This paper responds to a topic from the Army War College’s Key Strategic Issues List, 2018-2020: Evaluate the ramifications of China’s and/or Russia’s interests in Africa for U.S. land forces and suggest options, both to compete and to cooperate, to further U.S. interests.As there is no Department of Defense (DoD) definition of “competition,” I will employ a Rand Corporation suggested definition: “Competition in the international realm involves the attempt to gain advantage, often relative to others believed to pose a challenge or threat, through the self-interested pursuit of contested goods such as power, security, wealth, influence, and status.”1For “cooperation,” I reference Helen Milner’s definition of “goal-directed behavior that entails mutual policy adjustments so that all sides end up better off than they would otherwise be.”2 Furthermore, while U.S. land forces may benefit from competition or cooperation with Chinese elements in Africa, I judge that they possess limited agency to compete or cooperate in the context of these definitions. Therefore, I will take a whole-of-government approach to furthering U.S. interests in Africa vis-à-vis China.


Executive Summary

The Chinese presence on the African continent, exemplified by large-scale transportation infrastructure projects, overt and covert arms sales, peacekeeping operations, and the establishment of the first of potentially several overseas bases, is an irritant, but not yet a threat, to America’s enduring interest in establishing a secure, stable, and prosperous Africa. This is not a return to the Cold War where Washington and Moscow saw Africa as a zero-sum game as China has as much to gain as Washington from a stable and prosperous African continent. Nonetheless, a strategy to manage these developments, in an era of global power competition, will ensure America’s standing, meet broader foreign policy objectives, and permit continuous freedom of movement on the continent and its littoral regions. This paper addresses courses of action that for the near to midterm will maintain a favorable balance of power:

  • Negotiations designed to increase the transparency of Chinese arms sales;
  • Formalized engagements with the militaries of China and African nations to develop best practices in peacekeeping operations;
  • Collaborating with our African partners to develop sustainable and affordable means for the financing and construction of transportation infrastructure.

To substantiate these recommendations, this paper reviews the current operating environment as Washington and Beijing develop and maintain military relationships with their African counterparts. It addresses both Chinese and American diplomatic and economic objectives—from both an historical and current perspective—and how Washington’s efforts, until recently, have been comparatively ineffective. Lastly, the paper examines potential impediments, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, which are likely to complicate the implementation of the recommended multi- and bilateral courses of action.


1. Current Operating Environment

This chapter briefly reviews foreign military relations among African nations and the depth of the infrastructure deficit that impedes the continent’s development. It will show how China, over the past two decades, has improved its military-to-military relations with several key African nations as evidenced by increasing arms sales and peacekeeping deployments. In contrast, the influence of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) which has fostered closer ties with many African nations since its 2008 establishment may be decremented owing to more pressing global priorities. Lastly, this chapter offers a precis of Africa’s infrastructure shortfalls and how China, by bankrolling major construction projects, may have undermined the financial solvency and good governance of several African states.


1.1 China’s Military-to-Military Relations

China’s military-to-military relationship with their African counterparts reached a high-water mark in June 2018 when Beijing hosted a two-week “China-Africa Defense and Security Forum” (CADSF) with representatives from 49 African nations.3 A month later, with the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan, Chinese officials addressed how it would provision defense and security assistance to Africa.4

This meeting represented a stark evolution of China’s foreign policy which was forged in 1954 and was more commonly known as the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”:

  • non-interference;
  • mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity;
  • equality and mutual benefit;
  • mutual non-aggression;
  • peaceful coexistence.5

In sum, China refrained from arms transfers, prohibited deploying forces beyond its borders, and avoided establishing overseas bases. That may no longer be the case. Recent academic studies suggest that Beijing policymakers are liberally reinterpreting “non-interference” so that it can be aligned with what many Chinese leaders believe is the start of a “Great Rejuvenation of China.”6


Arms Transfers

Both Moscow and Beijing had ramped up military aid to the continent by the start of the 1960s and began competing with one another in the wake of the Sino-Soviet split of the mid-1960s.7 A 1964 study reported that the Sino-Soviet bloc (when viewed as joint monolith) had provided as much as $60 million to at least eight nations and several revolutionary groups. Typically, assistance was offered to those states that were either denied Western aid or were dissatisfied with what they had received. In some instances, China likely provided financing and training in lieu of weapons:

  • China established a military mission in Mogadishu, Somalia to train guerilla fighters on strategy and tactics. Beijing reportedly provided interest-free loans to Somalia to underwrite their border conflicts with Ethiopia.
  • Beijing later concluded a military aid agreement with Zanzibar before they merged with what is currently known as Tanzania.

By the 1990s, China became a leading arms dealer with a significant stock of old weapons that were sent to Africa, cementing Beijing’s reputation as an affordable but unreliable alternative to Washington or Moscow.8 By March 2016, more than two-thirds of African countries were equipped with Chinese military material which “reflected the broader growth in Beijing’s influence and investment in the continent” according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.9



Concomitant with an increase in the arms trade was the emergence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) that now deploy well beyond China’s borders and littoral regions. The Chinese military has exploited opportunities to develop its military capabilities through multilateral peacekeeping operations, especially in Africa, and anti-piracy patrols off the African coast for the past dozen years:

  • 2008: The PLAN’s three-ship task force assigned to the Gulf of Aden secured the safe passage of Chinese personnel, cargo, and ships transiting Somali waters.10
  • 2013: China deployed conventional and special forces to protect the multinational U.N. presence in Mali.11
  • 2015: Beijing employed an infantry battalion to support peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.12
  • 2017: China established a PLAN base in Djibouti to support counter-piracy missions and peacekeeping forces in addition to serving as a forward operating base to command and control the potential evacuation of nationals from regional crises.13 China signed a ten-year lease for the 36-hectare Djibouti facility for $20 million per year.14 (By way of comparison, the Pentagon parking lot covers 27 hectares.)


1.2 U.S. Military-to-Military Relations

The U.S. military has maintained a measured presence on the continent in deference to the concerns of many African leaders who feared that the continent would become overly militarized. Although United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is headquartered in Germany, the U.S. military has maintained a close working relationship with several African partners, focusing on counterterrorist and counterinsurgency warfare.

In sharp contrast to China’s growing involvement in the continent, the United States will almost certainly further reduce its African presence to confront other priorities such as countering Russian aggression in eastern Europe and sustaining maximum pressure campaigns against Iran and North Korea.15 The Department of Defense has redeployed 17% (or 1,200) personnel from AFRICOM to other assignments over the past two years. The remaining 6,000 uniformed and civilian personnel are chiefly located in Niger in the west and Somalia and Djibouti in the east.16

In contrasting AFRICOM’s 2019 and 2020 posture statements, the command has clearly, at a rhetorical level at least, shifted its focus in support of what they view as “global” power competition. Nonetheless, the al-Shabaab attack on U.S. forces at a Kenyan naval base in January 2020 highlights the persistent threat posed by violent extremist organizations (VEOs). The 2020 posture statement reaffirms that AFRICOM applies an interagency-based approach to achieve foreign policy objectives. Their whole of government model notes three key themes:

  • Partner for success—to include a network of African nations, strategic allies, and U.S. agencies and departments to prevent, address, and mitigate conflict.
  • Compete to win—to expand the competitive space to outpace Chinese influence and maintain the strategic access to the continent.
  • Maintain pressure on global competitors, VEOs, and transnational criminal networks.17

By way of comparison, AFRICOM, in 2019, took a more granular approach that focused almost exclusively on counterterrorism or counterinsurgency or both in six areas:

  • strengthen partner networks;
  • enhance partner capability;
  • develop security in Somalia;
  • contain instability in Libya;
  • support partners in the Sahel and Lake Chad region;
  • set the theater to facilitate AFRICOM’s daily activities, crisis response, and contingency operations.18

As the Department of Defense’s element responsible for training with the African military, AFRICOM oversees annual and biennial joint command post, tabletop, and limited field exercises. (See Figure 1.) AFRICOM also manages the state National Guard partnership program with fifteen African militaries to improve combat enabling functions such as engineering, logistics, and medical readiness.19 In 2018, for $4 million, the program sponsored 120 events involving 3,000 partner nation personnel.20

The State Department manages the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership (APRRP) that funds many of these military-to-military engagements. Established in 2015, this program enables Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda to rapidly generate and deploy peacekeepers.21 APRRP, along with the broader Global Peace Operations Initiative, develops specific capabilities that are in high demand for United Nations (U.N.) or regionally sponsored peace operations.

Unlike China, the U.S. military has been a critical partner in the counter—violent extremist organization (C-VEO) fight. Yet troop reductions are adversely affecting operations. Per an inspector general report assessing counterterrorism operations in Africa during the last quarter of the 2019 calendar year, AFRICOM shifted its focus from “degrading” to “containing” VEOs in West Africa.22 As these are strategic effect terms, they are not defined in the DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, but they do hint at a reduced capacity and could spur African military leaders to seek other partners in the C-VEO fight.23

Given the likelihood that AFRICOM’s presence on the continent will be reduced, it is almost certain that funding will be cut, training will be curtailed, and facilities will be shuttered. The Trump Administration had sought to eliminate APRRP funding, claiming that it was duplicative of other peacekeeping accounts.24 Moreover, given reduced manning, it highly probable that some of the AFRICOM’s 34 acknowledged sites supporting U.S. and partner states across central Africa will either be consolidated or closed.25

Figure 1 depicts the recent and ongoing training exercises being conducted by U.S. forces in Africa from 2018 to the present.

Figure 1.AFRICOM-led training events with partner nations. Data from

CPX—Command Post Exercise
TTPs—Tactics, techniques, and procedures


1.3 African Vulnerabilities

As just one of the remnants of its colonial legacy, African road and rail shortfalls impede economic growth, stifle trade, and delay development. The challenge to upgrade African infrastructure is staggering:

  • In 2018, the African Development Bank estimated that the continent required $130-170 billion annually to meet its infrastructure needs; even with indigenous funding, there would likely still be gap of $68-108 billion.26
  • Regarding surface transportation, 80% of all goods and 90% of all passengers travel by road; over half the roads in Africa are unpaved; less than half of the rural population has access to an all-season road; and an estimated 225,000 lives are lost annually due to poor road conditions.27
  • Outdated infrastructure and limited maintenance have reduced the effectiveness of rail transport, especially lines built during the colonial era.28

McKinsey & Company Consulting estimated that there are $2.5 trillion worth of infrastructure (not just transportation) projects in the pipeline that could be completed by 2025 given construction capacity and consistent funding. However, the firm notes that almost 90% of these projects will not be financed owing to feasibility or business plan difficulties.29 Other complications are a lack of management capabilities and budgets to design and implement such projects. Moreover, short political cycles make long term projects less appealing to an impatient electorate. These difficulties frustrate efforts at finding investors.

A later chapter will provide greater detail, but for now, Beijing has lashed its overcapacities of finance, expertise, and personnel to Africa’s infrastructure challenge. Charts on the following pages demonstrate Beijing’s financial involvement on the continent but Beijing is not motivated solely by altruism.

  • First, Beijing encouraged state-owned enterprises to look overseas as production capacity outpaced domestic demand.30
  • Secondly, China focused on Africa to secure natural resources, such as oil, in return for low-interest loans. This approach, known as the “Angola Model,” enables Beijing to access mineral resources as collateral for the loans. For example, Luanda offered Beijing exploitation rights to multiple oil blocks in return for infrastructure loans and lines of credit.31

The charts below display an elevated level of correlation (but not necessarily causation) among good governance practices, economies dependent upon extracting resources, high indebtedness, and an overreliance on Chinese financing. Per the charts, Chinese aid and investments are contributing to poor governance and more burdensome debt. Figures 2, 4, and 5 strongly suggest that China has explicitly targeted nations with poor governance practices and a history of indebtedness.32 For example, of the 18 countries that derive at least 15% of their GDP from extractive industries (Figure 3), 70% are in the bottom third of good governance. Moreover, of the top 10 recipients of Chinese loans, three were among the bottom fifth in good governance practices. Conversely, of the ten nations that are the least dependent upon extractive resources for their GDP, eight are among dozen best governed while five are among the bottom dozen in loans received from China.33

Figure 2. 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance. Listed from best to worst. Data from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.


Figure 3. Income from Natural Resources as a Perecent of GDP, 2017. Natural resources rents are the sum of oil rents, natural gas rents, coal rents (hard and soft), mineral rents, and forest rents. Data from South Sudan was unavailable. Data from the World Bank.


Post-Completion-Point Countries




Burkina Faso






Central African Republic



Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo

Côte d’Ivorie


The Gambia













São Tomé and Príncipe


Sierra Leone





Figure 4. African nations in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initative as of March 2019. This is a joint IMF-World Bank approach to debt reduction to ensure that no poor country faces a debt burden it cannot manage. Post completion point countries have implemented satisfactory reforms and have complied with their Poverty Reduction Strategy. Data from the International Monetary Fund.


Figure 5.Chinese loans to African nations, 2000-2017.
Amounts in U.S. $ millions.

Note: These totals should be reported as amounts borrowed and should not be reported as current debt figures since many countries have been servicing their debts promptly and have made substantial payments on these loans. Data from the School of Advanced International Studies—China-Africa Research Initiative.


2. China’s Policy

China looked to Africa as a potential market that would sustain its high rate of economic growth. African leaders, furthermore, were receptive to Chinese aid and investment, given their own infrastructure shortfalls and Beijing’s “no-strings attached” foreign policy.


2.1 Beijing’s economic goals

A Brief History

As early as the 1970’s, China financed and built a 970-kilometer-long railway linking the Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the copper mines at Kapiri Mposhi in central Zambia. China built the rail line, 90 intermediate stations, workshops in both countries, and a repair parts facility in Tanzania after the World Bank and the United Nations had deemed the project uneconomical.34 China, decades later, would return to this practice of financing risky projects.

From the late 1970s through the 1980s, China pursued a “Reform and Opening Up” policy by building pragmatic relationships with the West; a strategy that came at Africa’s expense as they had little to offer.35 The backlash from 1989’s Tiananmen Square crackdown, coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later, prompted a retrenchment in Chinese foreign affairs. Deng Xiaoping, then China’s paramount leader, established a “24 character” strategy which roughly translated states: “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”36 This policy, which underpinned China’s foreign relations, did little to advance Chinese-African relations.

By 1999, domestic economic developments prompted Beijing to adjust course with a “Go Out” policy that encouraged the exploitation of emerging and developing markets that would not draw Western competition.37 Key developments, in the 1990s, that accelerated this policy with increased overseas investment and trade included:

  • By 1993 China was a net importer of oil which spurred Beijing to invest in Sudan’s oil industry despite Khartoum’s dismal human rights record that had repelled Western international oil companies.38
  • In the wake of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, China had accumulated substantial foreign reserve holdings that were transferred to large state-owned enterprises (SOEs) for overseas investment opportunities.39
  • By the late 1990s, reforms stripped SOEs of government, regulatory, and public responsibilities compelling them to compete with both domestic and international enterprises.40

The fact that these developments clashed with Beijing’s principle of non-interference did not go unnoticed. One school of thought suggests that this shift was simply a means to accommodate local conditions.41 Another study posits that there are multiple interpretations of non-interference. The old guard remains beholden to the literal concept while more modern globalists advocate greater leadership and responsibility for Beijing within the liberal international order. The latter camp, in fact, favors eliminating the principle altogether.42 Yet at a 2018 gathering of Chinese and African leaders at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China’s leader, Xi Jinping, repackaged and reiterated the sixty year-old guiding principles by pledging to follow “five nos” with respect to Africa:

  • [N]o interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions;
  • no interference in African countries’ internal affairs;
  • no imposition of China’s will on African countries;
  • no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa;
  • and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.43


Diplomacy and Economy

Regardless as to how “non-interference” is understood, China implemented mutually reinforcing diplomatic and economic approaches for Africa.

  • Oil and Mineral Requirements. China, in 2019, became the world’s largest oil importer—a development that had been long anticipated given the growth of its economy.44 Beijing will likely increase its dependence upon Angola, Congo, and Libya which account for about 15% of its energy imports. (Nigeria, curiously, is not among the top 15 oil exporters to China.) Beijing already depends upon Sub-Saharan states for chromium, cobalt, manganese, and timber.45
  • Consumer Market. Africa was an untapped market for manufactured goods.46 In 1992, China exported $1.26 billion of products to Africa; by 2018, China exported over $104 billion in manufactured goods.47 The African market accounts for one-third of China’s foreign trade.
  • Entrepreneurship Opportunities. Africa offers China opportunities to further privatize the economy.48 In 2017, the McKinsey & Company consulting firm estimated there were 10,000 Chinese owned firms in Africa, with nearly a third in manufacturing, a quarter in services, and one-fifth in trade, construction, and real estate.49


2.2 Weaponization of the Chinese economy

As the millennium turned, Africa continued to offer investment opportunities for Beijing’s state and non-state enterprises. Yet by 2020, the law of diminishing returns was taking effect. African states had large debts with underperforming transportation investments that were key to paying the debts. Kenya’s railroad difficulties, as an example, demonstrated what can go wrong when trade negotiations lack transparency. Although not yet a discernable trend, anecdotal reporting of the inferior quality of Chinese construction is raising cost and safety concerns.



In 2002, China hosted the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a triannual summit conference when African and Chinese leaders discuss issues of mutual concern.50 As the conferences progressed, the imbalance between China and African nations became more pronounced, with African nations competing against each another—and reducing their leverage—in search of Chinese aid and investment.51 The 2018 conference was notable because Beijing’s aid and investment funding, rather than increasing as it had in previous sessions, remained unchanged from their 2015 offering. Analysts suspected that China may have grown sensitive to charges of neo-colonialism and debt trap diplomacy.52 It could have also been a case where China was becoming wary of financing big-ticket projects in Africa.


Belt and Road

In 2017, Beijing formally adopted the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to its Party Constitution to achieve, “…shared growth through discussion and collaboration.” BRI is anticipated to involve 68 countries along with $8 trillion in investments to develop a vast network of transportation, energy, and telecommunications infrastructures linking Africa, Asia, and Europe.53



The China Development Bank (CDB) and the Export-Import Bank (Exim Bank) are the key mechanisms that funnel Chinese financing through Africa.54 The CDB, established in 1994, funds infrastructure projects, key sectors of the economy, and the development of China’s western provinces. In 2006, Beijing ordered the bank to provide loans to Chinese firms through its subsidiary, the China-Africa Development Fund. The Exim Bank promotes exports and foreign investment and responds to Beijing’s requests in supporting diplomatic, development, and business objectives. As the government does not guarantee their liabilities, both banks are required to be financially prudent.

The wisdom of lending for large African transportation projects is now a concern. In late 2018, the chief economist of the Chinese state-owned insurer, Sinosure, acknowledged writing off $1 billion in losses on the Ethiopian rail line and lamented the firm’s lack of due diligence.55 In 2019, a Chinese academic noted that SOEs increased their foreign investments to expand their business scale and market share without corresponding risk assessments or feasibility studies.56 Another analyst suggested that China’s investments simply lacked an overarching strategy.57 Lastly, in perhaps a related development, China’s spending on overseas energy projects dropped to its lowest level in a decade prompting an analyst to suggest that Beijing is becoming more cautious with its lending.58

Initial returns on Chinese big-ticket investments do not look promising. The Chinese-built rail line connecting Zambian mines to the Atlantic coastal town of Lobito in Angola was operating at 20% of capacity in 2018.59 Ethiopian Railways’ failure to repay loan obligations and management fees compelled Beijing to restructure Ethiopia’s debt. Addis Ababa secured an extended repayment period and had its interest-free loans cancelled in late 2018.60

Notwithstanding current loan modifications, China’s investment in Africa has been substantial.


African Debt

British researchers with the Jubilee Debt Campaign calculated 2016-17 data to determine African external debt percentages:

  • 32% to private creditors
  • 32% to bilateral creditors
  • 16% to the World Bank
  • 15% to other multilateral creditors (e.g., Paris Club)
  • 5% to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).61

African debt owed to China—the bulk of the “bilateral creditor” debt—is a concern. The Jubilee Debt Campaign estimated that China accounts for 18-24% of the external debt owed by African governments.62

Of further interest are the 16 African countries that the World Bank and the IMF have identified as being in debt distress. Of that total, the three most indebted nations (out of 14 where data was available) to China (and the percentage of debt due to China) are Djibouti (68%), Zambia (30%) and Cameroon (29%).63 Moreover, if African governments, per a DoD-sponsored assessment, continue to avoid public accountability with China in future transactions, then Chinese debt has the potential to become a critical issue.64


Kenya Debt Trap Case Study

Kenya negotiated a $3.3 billion loan for the construction of a standard gauge (i.e., 1,435-mm distance between the rails) line linking Mombasa with Nairobi that began operations in May 2017.65 Thirty months later, the rail line has the hallmarks of becoming a “debt trap” if not a white elephant for Kenya.

  • The rail line’s construction and maintenance were negotiated in secret. In 2019, local media reported that Kenya Railways was paying a monthly service charge and providing immunity from any liability issues to a Chinese-owned “special purpose operating company” to manage the railway.66
  • After two years in service, the line generates less than half its costs prompting Nairobi to provide monthly infusions of $18 million to maintain operations.67
  • To increase revenues, the Kenyan Port Authority (KPA) mandated that all northbound cargo be shipped exclusively by rail. This requirement, along with additional fees and scheduling delays, negated the rail’s competitive advantage of faster delivery times.68
  • Maintenance costs will certainly become a burden. Kenya purchased used Chinese diesel locomotives that were manufactured between 1992—2005 to service the line.69 The China Road and Bridge Corporation sold the KPA six gantry cranes for $19 million to facilitate intermodal delivery. The cranes were inoperable upon their arrival in 2017 and, as they have neither been repaired nor replaced, KPA is now working with less capable cranes in the interim.70

Kenya’s inability to run a profitable railway service has prompted suspicions about their debt management. In early 2018, Moody’s credit rating agency downgraded Nairobi’s obligations as speculative and subject to high credit risk. Moody’s noted:

“Large infrastructure-related development spending needs, combined with subdued revenue collection and a rising cost of debt, will result in large fiscal deficits and keep government debt on an upward trend.”71

By mid-2018, China held over 20% of Kenya’s external debt.72 In late 2018, Kenya’s auditor-general suggested that Nairobi may have to surrender the port container facility at Mombasa to China if it fails to make its debt payments.73


Quality Control

Notable but infrequent quality shortfalls of Chinese built infrastructure have raised considerable safety concerns.

  • In 2009, portions of a Chinese built road linking Zambia’s capital of Lusaka with Chirundo that borders Zimbabwe was damaged by rainwater and rockfalls from nearby mountains. The road was a critical access link for land locked Zambia.74
  • In 2010, a Chinese built hospital in Angola’s capital of Luanda was evacuated owing to a fear of its collapse. The hospital, built for $8 million in 2005, was completed in 2005 but sizable cracks in the walls prompted the withdrawal.75
  • In 2017, a partially completed $10 million Chinese bridge spanning 100 meters in western Kenya collapsed. The bridge was salvageable but required additional funding.76
  • In 2018, the former chief of Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission criticized the deteriorating state of a Chinese constructed sports stadium built in 2016. Dr. Nii Moi Thompson noted the presence of several cracks in the stadium and in the base of the floodlights that illuminated the field.77

These reports, mostly anecdotal, do not discern a trend but do highlight the risk that African clients may be getting less than what they pay for. Furthermore, as some of the newly constructed projects come online, expected wear and tear may lead to additional concerns about quality and safety.


2.3 Improved military ties

Over the past two decades, the Chinese military has made great strides in collaborating closely with their African counterparts—especially as the ethnic Chinese population becomes a more prominent presence on the continent. This military relationship has borne fruit for Beijing as Africa has enabled China to exercise power projection capabilities and deploy forces to support peacekeeping operations. However, China’s peacekeeping experience in Mali has demonstrated numerous shortcomings. Although Africa is a lucrative market for Chinese military goods, Beijing’s moratorium on sales to South Sudan has been constructive and may signal potential U.S.—China cooperation. Lastly, Africa offers China the potential for further foreign basing opportunities along the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.


Military Aid

Attacks on Chinese nationals have been a byproduct of the increased expatriate Chinese population in Africa.78 In 2017, McKinsey & Company assessed that there were as many as 10,000 Chinese-owned firms in Africa, and estimated that 90 percent were privately owned.79

There are between 1—2 million ethnic Chinese with an additional 200,000 working for state-owned enterprises living in Africa.80 The increase in the attacks almost certainly led the Defense Ministry to note in a 2019 White Paper that:

“Overseas interests are a crucial part of China’s national interests. One of the missions of China’s armed forces is to effectively protect the security and legitimate rights and interests of overseas Chinese people, organizations and institutions.”81

As China remains wedded to non-interference, Beijing expects their African hosts to protect Chinese nationals. At the 2018 FOCAC, Beijing and their African partners developed an ambitious defense and law enforcement action plan through 2021. Among the shared goals:

  • China to invest $100 million for the African Standby Force and the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis;
  • Beijing’s provision of military aid to the African Union and unspecified support to security efforts in the Sahel and along the Gulfs of Aden and Guinea;
  • Expanded training for military and law enforcement personnel to secure railways, facilities, and major events in addition to specialized anti-corruption programs.82

As previously noted, the high-water mark in African Chinese military relations was the China Africa Defense and Security Forum held in 2018. The Chinese-sponsored event demonstrated Beijing’s preference for a China-centric, Pan-African defense organization.83 The purpose of the CADSF, per unidentified attendees, indicated that China had three potential goals—separating Africans from the United States, promoting arms sales, and potentially securing more military bases in Africa.84 It is unclear how China plans to further develop the CADSF.



Beijing has become a leading supporter and participant in peacekeeping operations despite long held concerns about the practice. Previously, China held a dim view of U.N.-led operations based on their Korean War experience when the People’s Liberation Army fought U.N.-sponsored forces under U.S. command.85 By the late 1980s, China gradually supported U.N. peacekeeping missions.

  • In 1988, China became a member of the U.N. Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations;
  • In 1989, Beijing deployed 20 observers to support the U.N. Transition Assistance Group monitoring Namibian elections;
  • Shortly thereafter, China deployed 5 military observers to the U.N. Truce Supervision Office in the Middle East.86

Beijing realized that a greater peacekeeping role was strategically beneficial. Participation strengthened China’s authority at the United Nations Security Council, reinforced China’s perception as a responsible power, enabled Beijing to develop its expeditionary power projection capability that would increase its presence where the local resources may prove critical to China.87

China’s peacekeeping operations are bounded by four guidelines:

  • There must be respect for the concerned state’s sovereignty;
  • The U.N. must authorize the intervention;
  • The concerned state must invite the intervention;
  • The use of force is authorized only when all other options have been exhausted.88

China’s 2019 National Defense White paper devoted considerable space to Beijing’s peacekeeping operations by noting that as of December 2018, China had participated in 24 U.N. missions and had deployed more than 39,000 peacekeepers. Additionally, the Defense Ministry highlighted the construction and repair of 13,000 kilometers of road, the disposal of 10,342 mines and unexploded ordnance, and the ground transport of 1.35 million tons of material over 13 million kilometers. In September 2015, China joined the U.N. Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System and built a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops that is capable of replacing or reinforcing the 2,506 PLA peacekeepers who were serving seven missions supported by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations as of December 2018.89 Lastly, according to an official from the U.S. Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, Chinese officials are filling more senior posts at the U.N.’s Department of Peace Operations.90

Figure 6. Chinese Personnel in Support of UNPK as of 30 June 2019. Data from http://peacekeeping/


Mali Peacekeeping Case Study

In 2013, Bamako, fearing an overthrow, requested that France halt a rebel advance and for the United Nations to deploy a follow-on stabilization and peacekeeping force.91 The U.N. authorized the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in April 2013. A year later, the U.N. mandated that MINUSMA re-establish state authority over all of Mali. In response, Beijing deployed 400 personnel to guard a U.N. military camp, build a hospital, and conduct mine clearing operations in Gao in eastern Mali.92 China viewed the deployment as proof that it was a reliable partner for Africa.93

China had a compelling rationale to deploy forces:

  • Beijing’s foreign policy—bounded by the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity—complemented the mission of protecting Mali’s territorial integrity and maintaining its sovereignty;
  • The rebels were extremists and separatists which is a domestic concern for China. Beijing understood that this deployment could be precedent setting for their conflict with domestic extremists;
  • As Mali is not a key economic or trade partner, China could deploy forces without appearing to be a neo-colonialist or predatory power.94

China’s performance has been uneven—demonstrating the shortcomings of a military force that had not undertaken combat operations since their limited incursion into Vietnam in 1979.

  • Dutch peacekeepers assessed that the Chinese were more cautious than proactive, especially after sustaining a casualty in 2016.95In response to the fatality, the Chinese limited their patrols to the immediate Gao area.96
  • Limited French language capabilities in a francophone country, along with the PLA’s aversion to communicating with civil society in the host country impeded coordination and situational awareness.97 Moreover, the PLA’s culture of independence and secrecy further complicated communication.98
  • The deployment did lead to improved Chinese-Malian military relations as Beijing provided counter-IED equipment, aircraft, and training.99 This largess has not led to increased arms sales, as Moscow continues to be Bamako’s chief armament vendor.



A key aspect of China’s security training is Human Resource Development—a capacity building program for army officials, peacekeepers, and private security personnel.100 One academic study indicated that China’s perspectives on security are connected to economic development; the root cause of instability being socio-economic conditions that can be addressed by development which creates security.101 (The implication being that China’s domestic policy of development created stability can be exported.) Other training events, such as sessions held in 2016, were non-ideological and covered basic issues as legal frameworks, protection of civilians, and logistics.102


Arms Sales

Arms sales to Africa is a component of Beijing’s military engagement with the continent and offers the potential for greater expansion. Per the 2019 National Defense White Paper, China supports the U.N. efforts to control the proliferation of arms:

It (the U.N.) firmly maintains multilateralism, advances democracy in international relations, participates extensively in global security governance, actively engages in arms control and disarmament, and endeavors to offer Chinese proposals for resolving major issues and formulating important rules.103

Three years of recent data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) arms transfer database has identified China’s sale of aircraft, armored personnel vehicles, naval vessels, and other weapon systems to 20 African nations.104 Despite a large customer base, arms sales (except for Algeria) are comparatively limited, owing to Russian and American competition.105

In December 2019, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress published a Draft Export Control Law, that if approved, would be China’s first omnibus national legislation regulating exports.106 Currently, China’s legal framework for export controls is codified under several laws with differing enforcement agencies. The proposed law provides Chinese agencies with a statutory export control authority that may curb unauthorized arms transfers.

In 1998, Premier Jiang Zemin ordered the People’s Liberation Army to cease operating civilian businesses that had offered revenue streams that complemented the national budget. To recoup the lost revenue, the PLA pushed arms sales. Several factors enabled the PLA and others to execute likely “off the book” transactions:

  • With the children of senior Chinese leaders staffing military export control corporations, arms sales were often transacted without the knowledge (or consent) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.107
  • A restructuring of defense enterprises, to make them more responsive to market forces, incentivized these enterprises to administer their own ventures and seek out markets.108
  • The number of privately-owned enterprises that require monitoring was overwhelming China’s regulatory bodies. Arms exporting companies may be operating beyond the control of government, according to a 2017 academic study.109

China’s non-interference principle is a competitive advantage, permitting Beijing to sell to any regime regardless of its level of repression. (However, with respect to African states, China is complying with U.N. Security Council-endorsed embargoes.) This factor, along with Beijing’s penchant for secrecy—to include authorized arms sales—led to an unsurprisingly low score in 2019’s Small Arms Trade Transparency Barometer, where China registered an 8.75 out of a possible 25, for 42nd place.110

Loose controls, competitive market-based enterprises, and limited transparency have caused embarrassing episodes such as a shipment of 77 tons of arms and ammunition to Zimbabwe in 2008, deliveries of arms to the Muammar al-Qaddafi regime in Libya, and deliveries to both sides in the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict.111More problematically, these arms sales indicate an increased probability of political violence among the recipients, according to an academic study.112

Lastly, there are concerns about the quality of Chinese military materiel. Notable examples of suboptimal performances to their African clients:

  • In 2015, Cameroon procured four Harbin Z-9 attack helicopters: one crashed shortly after being handed over.
  • Kenya invested in Norinco VN4 armored personnel carriers - vehicles that China’s own sales representative declined to sit inside during a test firing.113


Sudan Arms Case Study

Khartoum’s relationship with Beijing began in 1959 when Khartoum was the first African nation to recognize the People’s Republic of China. By 1995, Beijing’s economic relationship with Sudan began in earnest when a Chinese-led consortium of Asian oil firms sought to exploit Sudanese oil reserves.114 Two years later, Western oil firms abandoned Sudan when the U.S. imposed economic sanctions over Khartoum’s support of international terrorism.115 South Sudan’s internationally recognized cessation from Sudan occurred in July 2011. Beijing maintained relations with both states because the oil reserves, located largely but not exclusively in South Sudan, required transit through the north for export.116

In July 2013, South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, dismissed his deputy, Riek Machar, alleging that the latter was plotting a coup. The ensuring civil war, of six and a half years, created 1.6 million internally displaced persons with approximately 4.6 million people “facing severe food insecurity,” according to a United Nations assessment.117 The conflict has also brought attention to Beijing’s arms trade with Juba.

Chinese-produced ammunition is the most prevalent ordnance used by both sides in the civil war, according to 2018 research from a British non-governmental organization (NGO).118 The ammunition had been supplied lawfully through June 2014 under 2011 and 2013 contracts. Additionally, elements of the Sudanese government clandestinely transferred ammunition to South Sudanese rebels in 2014 and 2015. By 2017, 96% of the ammunition in South Sudan, as documented by the NGO, consisted of Chinese manufactured rounds. On a positive note, the NGO failed to find evidence of new supplies of weapons or ammunition to Juba since mid-2014 which is consistent with official statements from Beijing regarding its moratorium on arms sales to South Sudan.119 China’s last delivery, in 2014, consisted of $20 million worth of arms consisting of 10,000 automatic rifles, 24 million rounds of ammunition, and grenade launchers, according to a United Nations report.120 (An uncorroborated 2018 report from a risk consultancy firm alleged that China, through its base in Djibouti, continued to covertly forward arms to South Sudan.121) By 2018, the United Nations Security Council finally imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan.122 In the interim, Beijing faces another instance of re-assessing their policy of non-interference by deploying peacekeepers to South Sudan to create an environment where Chinese diplomats can end the fighting.123


Figure 7. Chinese Arms Sales 2016-18. Data from the SIPRI Database as of 20 January 2020 for 2016-2018; all numbers are in U.S.$ millions.


Military Basing

Chinese officials prefer discussing “strategic strong points” rather than “overseas military bases” owing to the historical baggage associated with the latter term when China unwillingly had foreign bases on its soil.124 The strategic strong points terminology best describes the PLAN’s mission of securing sea lines of communication and safeguarding China’s overseas interests. The Djibouti base, as an example, met an operational need as the PLA’s Navy had struggled to resupply its vessels supporting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.125 These operations led to the establishment of the People’s Liberation Army Djibouti Support Base to support escort task groups and where Chinese marines could undertake live-fire drills.126 In testimony to Congress, the then AFRICOM commander noted that the Chinese presence created air space and coordination challenges for the U.S. and its partners at Camp Lemonnier.127

A European think tank assessed that Beijing learned three lessons by establishing the Djibouti base:

  • the base is a “win-win” for both China and Djibouti by combining their mutual security interests;
  • offers tangible support to China’s doctrine of the “protection of overseas interests”;
  • identifies the PLA Navy as the lead in protecting overseas interests.128

Other benefits are the likely employment of the base as an intelligence platform, given its proximity to Camp Lemonnier, as well as the experience gained from projecting and sustaining military power overseas.

In 2016, Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggested that more strategic strong points were possible when he remarked, “We are trying to build some necessary infrastructure and logistical capacities in regions with a concentration of Chinese interests.”129 Potential PLAN bases include the Gulf of Guinea region along Nigerian coast, where the Chinese participated in Nigerian military exercises, and the island of São Tomé and Príncipe where China is upgrading their port and airport. Further south along the Atlantic coast is Namibia’s Walvis Bay which has hosted numerous PLA Navy port visits.130


Diplomatic payoff from military/economic policy

Over the past two decades, China has methodically intertwined economic, military, and ultimately political ties with a host of African states. Washington, except for counterterrorism operations in eastern Africa, was largely concerned with crises in other parts of the world—of which the current National Security Strategy attempts to address. Since the turn of the millennium, Beijing has secured access to natural resources, gained a toehold in the Gulf of Aden, and found a receptive market for its exports. More critically, Beijing has marginalized Taipei as only the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) in Africa recognizes Taiwan (Republic of China) as the legitimate government. Continued and perhaps more prudential investment will likely remain a factor as a recent academic study identified a statistically significant relationship between the receipt of highly concessional flows from China and voting in line with Beijing in the U.N. General Assembly.131


3. U.S Policy

During the Cold War, the overriding American policy objective for Africa was containing Soviet communism when Moscow and Washington viewed the stakes as a zero-sum game. Successive administrations treated the continent with policies that bordered on benign neglect, providing limited military and economic aid as Moscow dominated the arms market and Paris provided most of the economic assistance. By the 1990s and especially after 9/11, Washington focused its military efforts on the continent with one, rather than three, unified commands. Furthermore, post 9/11 Administrations developed policy initiatives aimed at improving African economies and enhancing their military capabilities.


3.1 Cold War Era Economic, Political, and Military Objectives

Military Assistance & Arms Sales

Post-colonial Africa offered a promising market for arms sales as newly independent states sought to ensure their nationhood and regional prominence.132 As of the mid-1960s, the International Institute for Strategic Studies assessed Africa as militarily weak due to a lack of trained manpower and advanced equipment.133 The arms markets were along the Mediterranean littoral, where there were 250,000 men under arms, and in Ethiopia and Congo-Leopoldville (now the Republic of Congo) where 145,000 troops were evenly split between the two nations. By the late early 1960s, ten nations (including the United States, the Sino-Soviet bloc, the United Kingdom, and France) were equipping and training several African states.

U.S. military aid to Africa began in earnest in the late 1950s but was substantially less than what had been provisioned to the Middle East and Latin America. Nonetheless, Washington was the largest provider of military aid—by 1963, approximately $138 million had been appropriated for fifteen nations.134 Most of the aid flowed to Northern Africa and Ethiopia—where U.S. bases were located. Military aid for Africa was statutorily limited to internal security and stability absent a “presidential determination” which, among other reasons, likely prompted Washington to reject a Nigerian request for jet fighter aircraft.

Despite the provision of aid from the East and West only a handful of African states were capable of maintaining or operating military equipment either in combat or when deployed without external support by 1979.135

In the following decade, U.S. sales increased but lagged behind the Soviet Union who had cornered the African market. In constant 1973 dollars, U.S. arms sales to Africa, from 1965 to 1974, totaled $386 million.136 From fiscal year (FY) 1976 to FY 1979, U.S.-financed arms supplies to Africa under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program dropped from $62 million to $26 million. The Soviet Union reigned as the continent’s largest arms supplier. From 1966 through 1976, Moscow accounted for more than half of African military imports, eleven times the U.S. share. The Soviet Union was the sole or predominant supplier to 13 African states—twice as many as any other supplier.137

By 1979, Washington had mostly disengaged from Africa as it budgeted $290 million in economic aid, with two-thirds of it channeled through multi-lateral institutions; bilateral aid accounted for about 5 percent of all aid to Africa with aid decreasing when measured in constant dollars.138

By the post-colonial era of the 1980s, the Reagan Administration rewarded its allies who helped contain Soviet expansionism in Africa. In 1987, the Reagan Administration requested $210 million in military aid for sub-Saharan Africa, with $174 million for the provision of defense articles and services on a grant basis, $14 million in FMS financing, and $13.4 million for International Military Education and Training support. The bulk of this aid was concentrated, by priority, to Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Chad, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) who were then America’s closest allies on the continent.139 In keeping with the African practice of asking for more than what they could manage, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs testified that an unspecified number of requests for military aid were rejected because the requirements were better met through training.


Policy Objectives

The Kennedy Administration was optimistic that its Africa policy, as the colonial order was deteriorating, would not be encumbered by East-West tension as the Administration planned:

  • to insulate African affairs from the broader Cold War conflict and let Africa determine its fate absent superpower interference;140
  • to detach itself from the African policies of Brussels, Lisbon, London, and Paris—who still maintained colonial holdings—by supporting an “Africa for the Africans” approach;
  • to signal its displeasure with South Africa’s treatment of South-West Africa (present day Namibia) by banning arms exports to Pretoria.141

Support for African independence, however, was tempered by the need to retain ties with European allies. For example, the Administration overlooked Portugal’s treatment of its Angola and Mozambique colonies to ensure access to the Azores.142

The Johnson Administration limited its attention on Africa to providing airlift support to a Belgian rescue mission in Stanleyville (now Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo) and sanctioning Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) when its unilateral declaration of independence ignored majority rule.

With the end of the Cold War, the Clinton Administration promoted peace and democracy, supported economic growth, and, when necessary, provided humanitarian assistance. Two critical programs were the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the African Crisis Response Initiative. The former created trade preferences for African exports to the U.S. and the latter enhanced African peacekeeping and humanitarian relief capacity.143


Military Bases

The U.S. military maintained several African bases in northern and northeastern Africa from the end of WW II through the 1970s. Expulsions and voluntary withdrawals prompted the closure of key African bases:

  • In 1977, a communications base in Asmara, Ethiopia (now in Eritrea) was evacuated when the government of Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam expelled the U.S. military shortly after he seized power.144
  • In 1969, Wheelus Air Force Base, outside of Tripoli, Libya was abandoned in the wake of the coup that brought Muammar al-Qaddafi to power.
  • In 1963, Washington and Rabat mutually agreed to close 4 air bases, 2 auxiliary air bases, and a naval facility in Morocco after 13 years of operation.145

As a hedge, the U.S. signed pacts such as a 1980 agreement with Somalia that authorized U.S. forces access to facilities at the port of Berbera.146

The U.S. military returned to the continent in 2002, when Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa assumed control of Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion outpost in Djibouti. Initially, the facility was under the control of Central Command (CENTCOM) but in 2008 the base was subordinated under U.S. Africa Command upon its establishment.147 In 2014, the Obama Administration agreed to a 20-year lease with the Djibouti government to secure Camp Lemonnier at $70 million annually. The U.S. military, as of 2014, had invested $500 million in developing the 500-acre facility.148



G. Mennen Williams, the assistant secretary of African affairs during the Kennedy Administration, commissioned a study to demonstrate to Congress the strategic importance of Africa. His efforts backfired when the study concluded that the “United States has no strategic interest in Africa.”149 In 1995, the DoD’s Office of International Security Affairs repeated the refrain by noting, “…ultimately we see very little traditional strategic interest in Africa.”150 This ambivalence was displayed by the U.S. military’s Central, European, and Pacific Commands as each command had portions of Africa as an area of responsibility.151 Developments in the ensuing decades contributed to establishing United States Africa Command:

  • The U.S. military’s humanitarian assistance mission to Somalia, Operation RESTORE HOPE, in late 1992, saved 250,000 lives.152 However, the mission ended shortly after the Battle of Mogadishu in October 1993 with 18 U.S. fatalities and anywhere from 500-1000 Somalis dead.153
  • In 1994, over the course of 100 days in Rwanda, over 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed in the wake of the death of the Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, whose plane had been shot down.154
  • The 1998 near-simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that killed over 200 people.
  • Highly destructive civil wars within the Democratic Republic of Congo (1994-2003) and Côte d’Ivoire (2002-2004), in addition to the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan that began in 2003.
  • A congressionally appointed panel in 2003 noted five factors that prompted a reappraisal of Africa’s significance: HIV/AIDS, oil, terror, armed conflicts, and global trade.155

Coalescing the continent under one unified command (absent Egypt which remained under Central Command), Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established on 1 October 2008 and headquartered in Stuttgart Germany. AFRICOM, unlike other geographical commands, would focus on conflict prevention through the employment of “soft power” and emphasize stability operations through interagency coordination.156 Initially, the Defense Department anticipated that a quarter of the staff, about 125 personnel, would be from other government agencies until it became apparent that neither the State Department nor the Agency for International Development could fill those billets.157

Washington’s failure to adequately prepare their continental partners as to the command, fed concerns of a militarized Africa. The South African Defense Minister railed against AFRICOM during a meeting with fellow defense ministers; Algeria and Libya declared their opposition; and Morocco, which had housed bases in the past, demurred about hosting the command.158 Ultimately, plans for an African based headquarters were shelved.


3.2 Post 9/11 Era Economic, Political, and Military Activity

The Bush Administration’s War on Terror prompted greater American involvement with select African states that were battling homegrown terrorist threats. One key measure of U.S. assistance was financial outlays as measured in constant dollars. In 2001, Washington provided $1.05 billion and $5.9 billion respectively in economic and military aid to sub-Saharan Africa. By 2017 (the latest available data) the region received $2.02 billion in economic aid and over $14 billion in military aid.159 In addition to becoming more engaged in Africa, successive Administrations developed programs to rival China’s investments in the region.


Bush Administration

The Bush Administration built upon the economic aid efforts of its predecessors by established the Millennium Challenge Corporation to partner with developing countries who were committed to good governance, economic freedom, and investing in their citizens.160 For example, eighteen sub-Saharan countries received $6.8 billion in development assistance to include funds dedicated to road expansion in Ghana, Mozambique, Senegal, and Tanzania.161 An African-centric initiative was the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief. The program has invested over $85 billion in the global HIV/AIDS response which has saved 18 million lives, prevented millions of HIV infections, and accelerated progress toward controlling the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.162


Obama Administration

The Obama Administration’s signature African initiative was Power Africa, an effort to increase the continent’s electricity generation capacity by 30,000 megawatts (MW) that would electrify 60 million homes and businesses by 2030. The Administration staked $7 billion to the program with additional funding through public-private partnerships. As of 31 October 2019, the program had completed 126 deals that will generate over 10,000 MW.163 This will be a daunting challenge, as McKinsey & Company consultants reported that as much as 70% of the sub-Saharan population currently lacks electricity, yet the demand is likely to quadruple between 2010 and 2040.164

Obama Administration policies, unrelated to Africa, may have unintentionally added impetus to China’s “Go Out” policy and spurred the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

  • The announced military pivot to Asia and negotiating (before withdrawing from) the Trans-Pacific Partnership preferential trade agreement that excluded Beijing—may have reinforced China’s sense of encirclement spurring the BRI to mitigate this disadvantageous position.165
  • A five-year delay by the Administration and the Senate to ratify an accord increasing China’s voting share in the IMF almost certainly prompted Beijing to establish its own multilateral lending capacity.166
  • Washington’s refusal in 2013 to endorse World Bank financing for coal-powered generation enabled China to strike a deal with South Africa when Pretoria was more concerned with power generation than hydrocarbon emissions.167

In addition to supporting AFRICOM training missions, the Obama Administration intensified military activity ranging from stability to offensive operations. Some of the missions included expanding drone bases in Djibouti and Ethiopia for operations in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia, aiding French forces in Mali, responding to the Ebola crisis in Liberia, and setting the conditions for the eventual overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya.168


Trump Administration

The Trump Administration has built upon successive policies contesting China’s economic role on the continent. Although the Administration’s Africa policy is brief—a press release highlighting the President’s Africa Strategy is less than two pages long—the Administration through its Prosper Africa initiative, the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act (BUILD Act), and the reauthorization of the EXIM bank, is aimed at spurring greater U.S. trade and investment on the continent. Then National Security Advisor, John Bolton, identified three key aspects of the policy in December 2018:

  • advancing U.S. trade and commercial ties;
  • countering the threat from radical Islamic terrorism and violent conflict;
  • ensuring U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.169

Through inference, the first point addresses China’s involvement on the continent. The Africa Prosper initiative, like China’s approach to trade, envisions a governmental role in facilitating trade with Africa. As currently structured, the initiative is staffed by the International Trade Administration of the Department of Commerce along with representatives from 15 Cabinet departments and agencies.

Tibor Nagy, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, described the key elements of the initiative in June 2019:

  • Modernizing and synchronizing U.S. government capabilities and efforts by providing a “one-stop” capability for trade and investment.
  • Co-ordinating government agencies to facilitate, expedite, and mitigate the risk of transactions with African firms.
  • Focusing U.S. agencies’ support to African partner governments by identifying policy, regulatory, and logistical barriers to trade and investment.170

As a complement, the State Department, established “embassy deal teams” to present trade and investment opportunities for American and African businesses.171 Last August, the administration announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Côte d’Ivoire and the Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation for a five year, $525 million program to prioritize infrastructure projects designed to promote sustainable economic growth and stability.172

In October 2018, President Trump signed the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act of 2018 into law. The BUILD Act modernizes the development finance capabilities of the former Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Development Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development into a new independent agency: the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).173

The DFC will have twice OPIC’s lending capital (at $60 billion) and the authority to invest up to 20% of the total equity of a project, thus enabling the U.S. to compete with Chinese state-backed funds that also invest in a project’s equity. Given that Africa comprised the largest share of OPIC’s investment portfolio (27 percent), or $6.2 billion, the proposed DFC will likely focus U.S. commercial engagement in Africa.174

In November 2019, the DFC, with the African Development Bank Group, signed an MOU in Johannesburg, South Africa. The MOU, which calls for a joint investment of $2 billion, with a goal of garnering an additional $3 billion from the private sector, will support infrastructure, energy, financial services, and agricultural investments.175

In September 2019, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) authorized a direct loan of up to $5 billion to support the export of U.S. goods and services for the development and construction of a liquified natural gas plant in northern Mozambique. The EXIM’s participation was necessitated by the size and scope of the project that was beyond the lending capability of private investors.176 The President, in December 2019, authorized funding the EXIM through 2026 along with legislation permitting temporary board decisions in the absence of a quorum which had limited the bank’s lending authority for the past six years. The bank has a backlog of $39 billion in loan requests owing to the absence of a quorum.177


3.3 Reconciling African defense policy with the National Security Strategy

The Trump Administration finds itself between a need to maintain a robust and dedicated military presence on the continent—to be Africa’s military partner of choice—and the need to execute a national defense strategy that emphasizes great power competition. As of early March 2020, this conundrum has yet to be reconciled.

The December 2017 National Security Strategy clearly identified concerns regarding Beijing’s involvement with Africa:

China is expanding its economic and military presence in Africa, growing from a small investor in the continent two decades ago into Africa’s largest trading partner today. Some Chinese practices undermine Africa’s long-term development by corrupting elites, dominating extractive industries, and locking countries into unsustainable and opaque debts and commitments.178

The 2018 National Defense Strategy focused on terrorist threats in Africa with an implied reference to China’s presence seemingly tacked on as an afterthought.179

Support relationships to address significant terrorist threats in Africa. We will bolster existing bilateral and multilateral partnerships and develop new relationships to address significant terrorist threats that threaten U.S. interests and contribute to challenges in Europe and the Middle East. We will focus on working by, with, and through local partners and the European Union to degrade terrorists; build the capability required to counter violent extremism, human trafficking, trans-national criminal activity, and illegal arms trade with limited outside assistance; and limit the malign influence of non-African powers. (Emphasis in the original.)

Yet, in 2018, a congressionally chartered National Defense Strategy Commission recommended changes to the National Defense Strategy so as to better compete, militarily, with China and Russia.180 The panel noted that the U.S. military may lack the capability to win in one theater of war, let alone two, which had been the military’s planning construct. As the commission made only a passing remark about China’s BRI efforts in Africa, it would seem highly likely that DoD decision makers will reallocate forces from Africa to Europe and the Pacific. According to a Washington Post article from 20 January 2020, there were about 6,000 troops in Africa, including about 1,400 in West Africa, primarily in Niger. Some 4,400 are in East Africa, with most in Djibouti, and between 650 and 800 in Somalia, where the U.S. military advises African forces combating al-Shabab.181 This is absent the numbers for the headquarters element in Stuttgart, Germany. By early March 2020, the DoD had yet to adjust the size of any of the combatant commands. Although key Congressional leaders, along with the French government, oppose a drawdown of AFRICOM forces, they may not be able to prevent a reallocation of personnel.182


4. Proposed Courses of Action

This paper has identified several multilateral areas of convergence such as establishing mechanisms for maintaining regional stability and peacekeeping operations. Bilateral Sino-American efforts—that may become multilateral over time—focus on participation in international good governance organizations, determining humanitarian assistance-disaster relief lanes of the road, and participation in a precedent-setting arms sales summit. Bilateral convergence with the U.S. and Africa focuses on taking advantage of new U.S. financial authorities, building African governmental administration capabilities by deploying, among others, civil affairs teams; additional efforts include bolstering the National Guard sponsorship program and continued employment of Security Force Assistance Brigades. By their nature, all these recommendations will require a whole-of-government effort to succeed.


4.1 Areas of Trilateral Convergence

Maintaining Stability

As noted in the executive summary, with respect to Africa, the competition between Beijing and Washington is not the zero-sum game that was the hallmark of the Cold War. In fact, it is advantageous for an African state to be as neutral as possible. For instance, Kenya is heavily indebted to China yet is negotiating a preferential trade agreement with Washington.183 Furthermore, Beijing is looking for clients, not client states. For example, China, owing to its close economic ties to both Khartoum and Juba, finds itself in the unenviable position of settling inter- and intra-state squabbles that runs counter to their non-interference policy. With that understanding, there may be an opportunity worth pursuing of a trilateral discussion, perhaps with the Organization of African Unity, convening at regular intervals to discuss mutually beneficial ways and means of maintaining stability that fosters economic growth and political development.



Another field of convergence for the U.S., China, and various African nations is developing a mechanism to document, train, and execute best practices of peacekeeping operations. As noted earlier, AFRICOM conducts several command post exercises with their African partners on peacekeeping command and control. Presently, DoD’s peacekeeping center, U.S Army’s Peacekeeping & Stability Operations Institute, is no longer conducting joint activities with the Chinese Peacekeeping Center that began in 2015. This relationship yielded several “agreed-to actions” between the peacekeeping centers in later Army to Army staff talks; however, that effort is at a standstill although U.S. military members continue to participate in U.N. training courses at the Chinese Peacekeeping Training Center (as do many other nations’ personnel).184 A model to build upon might be the multilateral effort to establish Vietnam’s peacekeeping capability in Hanoi which included Chinese and U.S. advisors. Though working separately, they established collegial relationships to support Vietnam’s requests. As such, Vietnam has become a regional provider of peacekeeping training, is actively involved in providing units and soldiers to U.N. peacekeeping operations and is currently a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

A European Council on Foreign Relations assessment suggested a similar course of action, through the auspices of the European Union-China Dialogue on Security and Defense.185


4.2 Areas of bilateral convergence (China, U.S.)

International Organizations

Given China’s compliance with the moratorium on arms transfers to South Sudan, Washington should urge Beijing to join the Wassenaar Arrangement that promotes transparency and responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies.186 A similar effort could be undertaken to persuade China to sign the Arms Trade Treaty, which regulates the international trade in conventional arms. The treaty also aims to prevent or eradicate the illicit trade and diversion of conventional arms through international standards governing arms transfers.187 Along these lines, Beijing may also be predisposed to joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which builds trust among governments, companies, and civil society.188 Given China’s interest in Africa’s oil, gas, and mineral resources, Beijing’s membership would strengthen an organization that monitors the extractive industry value chain to strengthen public and corporate governance.


Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief

The current COVID-19 pandemic illustrates that a humanitarian disaster may be unexpected and overwhelming. Fortunately, as of early March, there have been relatively few confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases in Africa.189 Yet the threat remains. For example, as testing becomes more ubiquitous, there may be an uptick in victims that may challenge local and national medical capabilities. Moreover, as of late February 2020, infectious disease experts, based on their modeling, anticipated that Algeria, Egypt, and South Africa would have the highest risk. Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sudan were estimated to be at moderate risk. As Ethiopia Airlines schedules almost half of the flights from Africa to China, it is conceivable that cases may pass through Ethiopia and affect destination countries.190 In these instances, Beijing and Washington (along with perhaps the EU) should conduct exercises to identify capacities and shortfalls. Furthermore, protocols should be developed to ensure that humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts are complementary and not redundant.


Arms Sales Summit

In the Winter (1976-77) edition of Foreign Policy, the late Leslie Gelb, who served in leadership positions at the Defense and State Departments, suggested that future administrations should discuss with the Russians about their respective arms sales to the developing world.191 He questioned why the U.S. and the Soviet Union were supporting sales to African nations rather than attempting diplomacy that would obviate the need for such weaponry. Perhaps, there can be a mechanism where Beijing and Washington (and perhaps Moscow and the EU) review their respective arms sales objectives to Africa.


4.3 Areas of bilateral convergence (Africa, U.S.)

New Financial Authorities

As previously discussed, Washington policymakers are armed with new financial tools and are making the case to their African counterparts of the hidden costs of Chinese finance and construction. Examples of the success of the new authorities has been previously covered. Moreover, African nations have caught on to the costs of dealing with Beijing. For example, in 2017, Tanzania balked at joining Kenya in developing a Chinese financed and constructed railroad. Rather, Dar es Salaam opted to contract with a Turkish firm ensuring that their electric rail service will be faster than the Kenyan line but at a fraction of the cost.192 These developments have the potential to adversely affect China’s near monopoly on lucrative transportation infrastructure projects.


Administrative Capacity Building

Per the McKinsey & Company consulting firm’s assessment that 90% of potential projects fail to be funded, they recommend that efforts be undertaken to build the capacities of our African partners to assess technical and financial risk; quantify and correctly allocate risk to their natural owners; and to plan, manage, and execute the projects.193 These capacities are likely to lead to infrastructure projects that will be more attractive to Western investors.


Deploying Civil Affairs Teams

Several low-cost yet high-return opportunities exist at the local level for greater U.S.—African cooperation. In these instances, there are openings for the U.S. to provision aid and training to improve African transportation infrastructure:

  • Identify high social but low financial returns on rural road and rail projects.194
  • Develop capacity building programs for chronically underfunded, local governments to enable them to engineer and maintain local road links.195
  • Provide training to local construction companies, where there is little or no cartelization of the industry, on the skills needed to rehabilitate and maintain roads. (Losses of $45 billion on the continent’s road network could have been avoided had $12 billion been spent on preventive maintenance during the 1970s and 1980s.)196
  • Collaborate with local governments to provide the private sector opportunities to participate where viable traffic volumes (and their tolls) would cover their costs to operate and maintain sections of the road network.197

Army civil affairs teams mobilized to support of AFRICOM can perform most of these tasks.


Bolster SFAB / NG Partnerships

The recent deployment of a Security Force Assistance Brigade, in relief of an element from the 101st Airborne Division, demonstrates the value of possessing a fulltime train and assist capability.198 Frequent rotations to select African states will ensure that the U.S. remains the preferred military trainer of choice. These rotations will enable Africans to counter VEOs and insurgencies that threaten their stability. This core competency—that China lacks—is well within AFRICOM’s capability to plan, coordinate, and execute. Furthermore, if there is capacity within the National Guard Bureau, the state sponsorship program should be expanded in Africa.199 At present, there are no formalized partnerships with such nations as Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Kenya.


5. Potential Impediments

The COVID-19 contagion has been an unanticipated wildcard and has the potential to upend cooperation on far more pressing Sino-American matters than Africa. The jolt sustained to their economies, plus China’s recriminations as to how they have confronted the virus, along with chronically problematic differences regarding the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are likely to stymy any potential for cooperation in Africa. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that the recommended bilateral actions between the United States and African nations cannot proceed accordingly.



The COVID-19 coronavirus that originated in the western Chinese city of Wuhan in late January has been a global catastrophe—and as of mid-March 2020 the contagion shows no signs of abating. For Beijing, the spread of the coronavirus has severely depressed its economy based on an analysis undertaken by the Financial Times.200 With a maximum rating of 100 on 1 January 2020, the economy rated a 60 by mid-March, a sharp contrast from the mid-80s rating Beijing enjoyed a year ago.201 Moreover, China is experiencing a slowdown in exports which has served as its as its economic engine. For instance, business at Shenzhen Port, the world’s fourth largest by container volume, has dropped by 50-75% since the outbreak of the coronavirus.202 In another development, the Kenya Ports Authority, in early March, reported that 4 large cargo ships that regularly dock at Mombasa Port failed to dock in January and February—8 shipments in all. Relatedly, the China Development Bank is providing low-cost financing to companies involved in BRI projects who have been adversely affected by the slowdown. The CDB was compelled to issue nearly $2 billion in bonds to generate the needed revenues.203 Cumulatively, these developments strongly suggest that China’s economy is unlikely to grow at the rate required to support its infrastructure projects in Africa which may prompt significant cutbacks. Moreover, the U.S. economy, also battered by COVID-19, may not be positioned to take advantage of China’s setbacks.

Second and third order effects are now surfacing—portending a more competitive rather than cooperative operating environment. Beijing has a heightened level of sensitivity as to its role in the origination and spread of COVID-19. Frustrated by American reportage, Beijing ordered journalists from leading American newspapers to depart.204 To ameliorate the damage to its reputation as a reliable global partner, Beijing is pushing a questionable narrative that the Communist Party’s quick and decisive actions prevented a far more lethal outcome.205 This storyline is at odds with reporting that indicates that Beijing had attempted to downplay the severity of the outbreak during its initial, and more containable, stages.206 In an ominous development, Beijing has insinuated that the U.S. military developed the coronavirus.207

These actions, in the short term, will likely spur Washington to retaliate with quid pro quo reactions. However, in the long term, Washington may pursue actions that could harm the Chinese economy such as influencing American firms to move production facilities back to the U.S. or to lower cost Asian nations. (An exodus that had been underway months before the coronavirus surfaced but may now accelerate.208) Moreover, it is unlikely that current trade negotiations will advance until the pandemic ends, and it is conceivable that both parties will harden their positions in the interim—which raises another set of competitive concerns.



Residual trade war tensions, somewhat ameliorated by the January 2020 Phase One accord, may complicate cooperation, and intensify the potential for competition. Beijing’s announced GDP growth of 6.1% for calendar year (CY) 2019, the lowest since the early 1990s when China’s economy was far smaller, can be attributed, in part, to recent trade difficulties with Washington.209 A further aggravation is that China sustained a greater economic loss with the imposition of tariffs. Two European economists noted that the greatest share of the tariff burden fell on Chinese exporters and not on American consumers. They assessed that a 25-percentage point increase in tariffs raised U.S. consumer prices on affected Chinese products by only 4.5% on average as Chinese firms paid approximately 75% of the tariff.210


Chronic Irritants

Cooperation with China remains at risk because of other persistent irritants in the Washington-Beijing relationship. China may spurn cooperation on African matters as a means of expressing its displeasure with American support for the protesters in Hong Kong, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan, and freedom of navigation voyages in the South China Sea.


6. Conclusions

Previously considered as a backwater by both Washington and Beijing, Africa has grown in importance in the new millennium for economic, political, and military reasons. China’s aggressive approach in pursuing these lines of effort certainly complicate, but do not frustrate, the execution of U.S. foreign policy for Africa. Nonetheless, they have the potential to become threats if left unchallenged.

After evaluating the ramifications of China’s varied interests in Africa for U.S. land forces, it is apparent that a whole-of-government approach is required to successfully compete or cooperate or both with Beijing.

One is hesitant to suggest a new bureaucracy as they often outlive their usefulness. Nonetheless, as the U.S. grapples with near peer competition, there should be some bureaucratic means to implement and keep track of whole of government initiatives aimed at managing, if not winning, this competition. Policymakers may see great power competition limited to the European continent and the Pacific waters, but influence and power will be contested in Africa, South America, and in the Middle East.

A task force, likely led by the Vice President, would consist of rotating sub-task forces with a regional focus. Representatives from Commerce, Defense, and State along with other relevant organizations would chart how the instruments of power—diplomacy, information, military and economic are working vis-á-vis Beijing, and to a lesser extent, Moscow. This would ensure that our approach is consistent, integrated, and responsive.

As noted in the introduction, U.S. land forces have limited agency to handle these developments. However, the judicious deployment of civil affairs personnel to build administrative capacity, Security Force Assistance Brigade to advise and assist, along with National Guard personnel to develop long term relationship with their African counterparts will greatly enhance military-to-military relationships. More importantly they may offset what is likely to be a reduction of personnel and attendant capacity assigned to AFRICOM. As to whole-of-government approach, it would be in the DoD’s interest to collaborate with the Department of State to urge China to expand its moratorium on arms and ammunition sales to South Sudan and to join the community of responsible nations in conducting such trade in an open and transparent manner. Momentum on this front—with an awareness of competitive pressures—could set the conditions for Washington and Beijing to discuss their respective strategies for provisioning their partners on the continent to ensure that they are not fueling an unnecessary arms race in Africa. Similarly, the nascent Development Finance Corporation and a re-invigorated EXIM Bank are probably the most promising vehicles to compete with China on matters pertaining to the infrastructure financing and construction.

Regrettably, these actions may have to be delayed, owing to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, until such time that an operating environment akin to the status quo ante returns.



1 Michael Mazarr et al., Understanding the Emerging Era of International Competition: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives (RAND Corporation, 2018),
2 Helen Milner, “Review: International Theories of Cooperation: Strengths and Weaknesses,” World Politics, Vol 44, No. 3 (August 1992), 466-496.
3 “China-Africa Security Forum Concludes in Beijing | Africa Times,” July 11, 2018,….
4 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Republic of China, “Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021),” September 5, 2018,
5 Richard Aidoo and Steve Hess, “Non-Interference 2.0: China’s Evolving Foreign Policy towards a Changing Africa,” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 44, no. 1 (March 2015): 107–39, The country’s constitution has enshrined the Five Principles and they can be found in every subsequent bilateral treaty signed by Beijing.
6 Benjamin Barton, “China’s Security Policy in Africa: A New or False Dawn for the Evolution of the Application of China’s Non-Interference Principle?,” South African Journal of International Affairs 25, no. 3 (July 3, 2018): 413–34,; Paul Nantulya, “Chinese Hard Power Supports Its Growing Strategic Interests in Africa,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies (blog), January 17, 2019,….
7 McArdle, Catherine, “The Role of Military Assistance in the Problem of Arms Control” (Center of International Studies, MIT, 1964).
8 Robert I. Rotberg, China into Africa: Trade, Aid, and Influence (Brookings Institution Press, 2009),
9 Ling Li and Ron Matthews, “‘Made in China’: An Emerging Brand in the Global Arms Market,” Defense & Security Analysis 33, no. 2 (April 3, 2017): 174–89,
10 Jérôme Henry and Institut Français des Relations Internationales, China’s Military Deployments in the Gulf of Aden: Anti-Piracy and Beyond, 2016,….
11 Frans-Paul van der Putten, “China’s Evolving Role in Peacekeeping and African Security | Clingendael,” September 14, 2015,….
12 “Chinese Peacekeepers to Exceed 3,000 by Year End,” April 8, 2015,
13 Neil Melvin, “The New External Security Politics of the Horn of Africa Region,” SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security, No. 2019/2, April 2019.
14 Michael Kovrig, “China’s Expanding Military Footprint in Africa,” The Mail & Guardian (blog), October 24, 2018,….
15 Laurie Mylroie, “U.S. to Continue Iran Maximum Pressure Campaign, but Try to Avoid Military Action,” January 22, 2020,; Helene Cooper et al., “Pentagon Eyes Africa Drawdown as First Step in Global Troop Shift,” The New York Times, December 24, 2019, sec. World,…; Tom O’Conner, “Russia Says It ‘Will React’ to Massive U.S. Military Move on Its Border, ‘It’s Unavoidable,’” Newsweek, February 4, 2020,
16 Michael M. Phillips, “U.S. Weighs Troop Cuts in Africa, Leaving Allies to Confront Growing Militant Threat,” Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2020, sec. World,….
17 U.S Africa Command, “Statement by General Stephen J. Townsend, United States Army, Commander United States Africa Command before the House Armed Services Committee,” 10 March 2020.
18 U.S. Africa Command, “Statement of General Thomas D. Waldhauser, United States Marine Corps, Commander United States Africa Command before the Senate Committee on Armed Forces,” 7 February 2019.
19 Laureen Fagan, “Rwanda Becomes 15th Nation in U.S. AFRICOM Program | Africa Times,” December 13, 2019,….
20 U.S. Africa Command, “Statement of General Thomas D. Waldhauser, United States Marine Corps, Commander United States Africa Command before the Senate Committee on Armed Forces.”
21 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Peacekeeping Capacity Building Assistance,” (blog), July 1, 2019,
22 Lead Inspector General Report to the United States Congress, “East Africa and North and West Africa Counter Terrorism Operations,” 1October—31 December 2019.
23 More problematically, the National Defense Strategy specifically references “degrades” as the sought-after strategic effect against VEOs.
24 Office of Management and Budget, “Major Savings and Reform Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2018,” 2017
25 Nick Turse, “U.S. Military Says It Has a ‘Light Footprint’ in Africa. These Documents Show a Vast Network of Bases.,” The Intercept (blog), December 1, 2018,….
26 Africa Development Bank, “Africa’s Infrastructure: Great Potential but Little Impact on Inclusive Growth,” African Economic Outlook 2018, 24 January 2018.
27 African Development Bank, “Infrastructure Development,” African Development Bank - Building today, a better Africa tomorrow, August 28, 2019,….
28 Norton Rose Fulbright, “Nexus 2016 - a Global Infrastructure Resource | Global Law Firm | Norton Rose Fulbright,” May 2016,….
29 Kannan Lakmeeharan, et al., “Solving Africa’s Infrastructure Paradox | McKinsey,” March 2020,….
30 Ana Cristina Alves, “China’s ‘Win-Win’ Cooperation: Unpacking the Impact of Infrastructure-for-Resources Deals in Africa,” South African Journal of International Affairs 20, no. 2 (August 2013): 207–26,
31 Yun Sun, “Africa in China’s Foreign Policy,” April 2014; Shelly Zhao, “The China-Angola Partnership: A Case Study of China’s Oil Relations in Africa,” China Briefing News, May 25, 2011,….
32 Mo Ibrahim Foundation, “2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance: Index Report,” October 2018. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation publishes annual scorecards for African nations based on the following factors: safety and the rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development.
33, “Natural Resources Income in Africa,”, Undated,….
34 M. B. Gleave, “The Dar Es Salaam Transport Corridor: An Appraisal,” African Affairs 91, no. 363 (1992): 249–67.
35 Ambassador Phillip Carter III, Dr. Raymond Gilpin, and Paul Nantulya, “China in Africa: Opportunities, Challenges, and Options,” China’s Global Influence: Perspectives and Recommendations, 1 February 2019.
36, “Deng Xiaoping’s ‘24-Character Strategy,’” Undated,
37 Ambassador Phillip Carter III, et al.
38 Xu Yi-Chong, “Chinese State-Owned Enterprises in Africa: Ambassadors or Freebooters?,” Journal of Contemporary China 23, no. 89 (September 3, 2014): 822–40,
39 Yi-Chong.
40 Yi-Chong.
41 Aidoo and Hess.
42 Barton.
43 Shannon Tiezzi, “FOCAC 2018: Rebranding China in Africa,” September 5, 2018,
44 Jude Clemente, “China Is the World’s Largest Oil & Gas Importer,” Forbes, October 17, 2019,….
45 IDE-JETRO, “China’s Mining Footprint in Africa - China in Africa - AGE (African Growing Enterprises) File,” Institute of Developing Economies, Undated,
46 David Haroz, “China in Africa: Symbiosis or Exploitation,” The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 35, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 65–88.
47 SAIS-CARI, “Data: China-Africa Trade,” Data: China Africa Trade, Undated,
48 Haroz.
49 Kartik Jayaram, Omid Kassiri, and Irene Yuan Sun, “The Closest Look yet at Chinese Economic Engagement in Africa | McKinsey,” June 28, 2017,….
50 The meetings to date: 2000—Beijing; 2003—Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; 2006—Beijing; 2009 Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt; 2012—Beijing; 2015—Johannesburg, South Africa; 2018—Beijing.
51 European Parliamentary Research Service, “China’s Growing Role as a Security Actor in Africa,” 2019.
52 Tiezzi, “FOCAC 2018”; Yun Sun, “China’s 2018 Financial Commitments to Africa: Adjustment and Recalibration,” Brookings (blog), September 5, 2018,….
53 John Hurley, Scott Morris, and Gailyn Portelance, “Examining the Debt Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative from a Policy Perspective 2018,” Center for Global Development Policy Paper 121, March 2018.
54 Yi-Chong.
55 David Pilling and Emily Feng, “Chinese Investments in Africa Go off the Rails,” December 5, 2018,
56 Bingqi Zhou, “Cooperation between China and Africa under the One Belt One Road Initiative: China’s Benefits and Problems,” Chinese Studies 08, no. 02 (2019): 27–41,
57 Yun Sun, “Africa in China’s Foreign Policy”.
58 Faseeh Mangi and Dan Murtagh, “China’s Overseas Energy Financing Plummets to Lowest in a Decade,” February 13, 2020,….
59 “Angolan Government Prepares Privatization of Railways,” CLBrief (blog), October 9, 2018,….
60 Luis Franceschi, “The Future of State Capture: Lessons from the SGR,” Daily Nation, December 20, 2019,….
61 Jubilee Debt Campaign, “Africa’s Growing Debt Crisis - Who Is the Debt Owed to?” October 2018.
62 Jubilee Debt Campaign.
63 Owing to a lack of World Bank data, the Jubilee Debt Campaign did not include Eswatini, Namibia, Seychelles, and South Sudan in their analysis. However, South Sudan is estimated to owe China approximately $100 million or 10% of their external debt. By way of comparison, South Sudan owes the Qatar National Bank $610 million or 63% of the external debt.
64 Ambassador Phillip Carter III, et al.
65 During the colonial era, railways were frequently built with track gauges of 1067-mm. Known as narrow gauge, it conveyed less cargo than that of a standard gauge track.
66 Edwin Okoth, “Mysterious Local Owners of SGR Firm,” MSN, June 9, 2019,….
67 Okoth.
68 Reuters, “Kenya Forcing Importers to Use Costly New Chinese Railway, Businessmen Say,” CNBC, December 3, 2019,….
69 Otiato Guguyu and Manji Oaizer, “Why Kenya May Have Got Short End of the Stick in SGR Locomotives Deal,” The Standard, January 16, 2017,….
70 Allan Olingo, “Sh2bn Faulty SGR Cranes Lie Idle,” Daily Nation, May 19, 2019,….
71 “BRIEF-Moody’s Downgrades Government of Kenya’s Issuer Rating to B2 And Assigns Stable Outlook,” Reuters, February 13, 2018,….
72 Abdi Latif Dahir, “China Now Owns More than 70% of Kenya’s Bilateral Debt,” Quartz Africa, July 10, 2018,….
73 David Mwere, “Chinese May Take over Mombasa Port: Ouko,” Daily Nation, December 20, 2018,… There is a precedent for seizing a port due to a default. Sri Lanka, unable to make good on its loan payments to Beijing, leased the Hambantota Port along with an adjacent 15,000 acres for 99 years to a Chinese SOE to erase a $1 billion debt. The port will only serve commercial interests unless Colombo invites the PLAN. .
74 ZNBC/APA, “Rains Damage Lusaka-Chirundu Road | LusakaTimes.Com,” March 20, 2009,….
75 Global Times - AFP, “Chinese-Built Hospital in Angola in Danger of Collapse - Global Times,” September 7, 2010,
76 Lily Kuo, “A Chinese-Built Bridge Collapsed in Kenya Two Weeks after It Was Inspected by the President,” Quartz Africa, June 28, 2017,….
77, “China’s Cape Coast Stadium a Disaster Waiting to Happen—Nii Moi Thompson,” September 23, 2018,….
78 Eleanor Albert, “Fresh Kidnappings of Chinese Nationals in Nigeria,” July 12, 2019,…; Edward White, “Analysis: Unpacking Attacks on Chinese Workers in Africa,” The News Lens International Edition, August 5, 2016,; AP News, “Angry Crowd Kills 3 Chinese Nationals in C. African Republic,” AP NEWS, October 5, 2018,
79 Kartik Jayaram, et al.
80 Loksan Harley, “African Countries Relax Short-Term Visa Policies for Chinese in Sign of Increased Openness to China,”, July 31, 2019,…; SAIS-CARI, “Data: Chinese Workers in Africa,” China Africa Research Initiative, 2018,
81 The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s National Defense in the New Era,” July 2019.
82 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The People’s Republic of China, “Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021),” September 5, 2018,
83 Richard D. Fisher, “China Militarizes Its Influence in Africa,” The National Interest, November 25, 2018,….
84 Fisher.
85 Chin-Hao Huang, “From Strategic Adjustment to Normative Learning? Understanding China’s Peacekeeping Efforts in Africa,” Journal of International Peacekeeping 17, no. 3–4 (2013): 248–271,
86 Huang.
87 Wu Zhengyu and Ian Taylor, “From Refusal to Engagement: Chinese Contributions to Peacekeeping in Africa,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 29, no. 2 (April 2011): 137–54,
88 Zhengyu and Taylor.
89 The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China.
90 Interview with PKSOI official on joint Sino-American peacekeeping efforts, Telephone, February 2, 2020.
91 Jean-Pierre Cabestan “China’s Evolving Role as a U.N. Peacekeeper in Mali,” United States Institute of Peace, Number 432, September 2018.
92 United Nations Peacekeeping, “China - U.N. Peacekeeping,” United Nations Peacekeeping, June 30, 2019,; Cabestan.
93 Mathieu Duchâtel et al., “Into Africa: China’s Global Security Shift,” June 2016.
94 Niall Duggan, China and Africa: Building Peace and Security Cooperation on the Continent (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).
95 Duchâtel et al., In China, the deceased sergeant was hailed as a hero and a martyr, with over 500 officials on hand to mark the return of his body.
96 Cabestan.
97 van der Putten, “China’s Evolving Role in Peacekeeping and African Security | Clingendael.”
98 Cabestan.
99 Cabestan.
100 Lina Benabdallah, “China’s Peace and Security Strategies in Africa: Building Capacity is Building Peace,” African Studies Quarterly, Vol 16, Issue 3-4, December 2016.
101 Benabdallah.
102 Benabdallah.
103 The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China.
104 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “China Arms Exports 2017-2018,”
105 European Parliamentary Research Service.
106 WilmerHale, “China Publishes Draft Export Control Law,” January 16, 2020,….
107 Ian Taylor and Zhengyu Wu, “China’s Arms Transfers to Africa and Political Violence,” Terrorism and Political Violence 25, no. 3 (July 2013): 457–75,
108 Taylor and Wu.
109 Li and Matthews, “‘Made in China.’”
110 Small Arms Survey, “Small Arms Survey - The Transparency Barometer,” Undated,….
111 Mohammed Abbas, “Libyans Say China, Europe Sent Arms to Gaddafi,” Reuters, September 5, 2011,; David Beresford, “Chinese Ship Carries Arms Cargo to Mugabe Regime,” The Guardian, April 17, 2008, sec. World news,; Earl Conteh-Morgan, “China’s Arms Sales in Africa,” Oxford Research Group, April 19, 2017,
112 Cassady Craft and Joseph P. Smaldone, “The Arms Trade and the Incidence of Political Violence in Sub-Sahara Africa 1967-1997,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol 39, No. 6, (November 2002) 693-710.
113 ANI, “Chinese Military Equipment Lack Quality, Say Experts,” Big News, November 5, 2019,….
114 Joseph Hammond, “Sudan: China’s Original Foothold in Africa,” June 14, 2017,….
115 Anthony Morland, “U.S. Ends 20 Years of Sanctions on Sudan,” The New Humanitarian, October 6, 2017,….
116 Xinhua, “Sudan, South Sudan Agree to Extend Oil Deal until March 2022 - World - Chinadaily.Com.Cn,” December 24, 2019, //
117 Panel of Experts on South Sudan, “Letter Dated 21 August 2015 from the Panel of Experts on South Sudan established Pursuant to Security Resolution 2206 (2015) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” August 21, 2015.
118 Conflict Armament Research, Ltd., “Weapon Supplies into South Sudan’s Civil War: Regional transfers and international intermediaries,” November 2018.
119 Conflict Armament Research, Ltd.
120 Lily Kuo, “China’s Largest Weapons Manufacturer Is Allegedly Selling Arms to South Sudan—Again,” Quartz Africa, August 26, 2015,….
121 Africa Business, “The Secret Chinese Arms Trade in the Horn of Africa - AfricaBusiness.Com,” September 5, 2018,….
122 Siobhán O’Grady, “U.N. Security Council Imposes Arms Embargo on South Sudan, despite Concerns It Might Jeopardize Peace Process,” Washington Post, July 13, 2018,….
123 Mu Xuequan, “Chinese Troops Arrive in South Sudan for Peacekeeping Mission - Xinhua | English.News.Cn,” September 9, 2019,
124 Conor Kennedy, “Strategic Strong Points and Chinese Naval Strategy,” March 22, 2019,….
125 Duchâtel et al.
126 Minnie Chan, “Live-Fire Show of Force by China’s First Overseas Military Base,” South China Morning Post, September 25, 2017,….
127 The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China; U.S. Africa Command, “Statement of General Thomas D. Waldhauser, United States Marine Corps, Commander United States Africa Command before the Senate Committee on Armed Forces,”
128 Duchâtel et al.
129 Duchâtel et al.
130 Fisher.
131 Axel Dreher et al., “Apples and Dragon Fruits: The Determinants of Aid and Other Forms of State Financing from China to Africa,” International Studies Quarterly 62, no. 1 (March 1, 2018): 182–94,
132 McArdle.
133 Neville Brown and W. F. Gutteridge, “The African Military Balance,” The Adelphi Papers 4, no. 12 (August 1964): 3–15,
134 McArdle.
135 Chester A. Crocker and William H. Lewis, “Missing Opportunities in Africa,” Foreign Policy, no. 35 (1979): 142,
136 Leslie H. Gelb, “Arms Sales,” Foreign Policy, no. 25 (1976): 3–23, In contrast, sales to the Middle East were $2.7 billion.
137 Crocker and Lewis.
138 Crocker and Lewis. France had provided approximately $1 billion. .
139 Chester A. Crocker, FY 1987 Assistance Request for Sub-Saharan Africa / (Washington, D.C.:, 1986),
140 The Carter Administration had a similarly optimistic perspective.
141 David A. Dickson, “U.S. Foreign Policy toward Southern and Central Africa: The Kennedy and Johnson Years,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 23, no. 2 (1993): 301–15.
142 Dickson.
143 Office of the White House Press Secretary, “African Crisis Response Initiative,” April 1, 1998,
144 Additionally, satellite technology was replacing the need for fixed terrestrial ground stations for global communications.
145 Lutfullah Mangi, “U.S. Military Bases in Africa,” Pakistan Horizon 40, no. 2 (1987): 95–102 In 1982, Washington and Rabat agreed to emergency landing rights for U.S military aircraft and naval port call visits; the access-authorizing treaty was still in force as of 2019.
146 Kenneth A. Oye, Robert J. Lieber, and Donald S. Rothchild, eds., Eagle Defiant: United States Foreign Policy in the 1980s (Boston: Little, Brown, 1983).
147 Commander Navy Region Europe Africa Central, “Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti,” Undated,….
148 Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Signs New Lease to Keep Strategic Military Installation in the Horn of Africa,” The New York Times, May 5, 2014, sec. World,…. By way of comparison, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall covers 270 acres.
149 David D. Newsom, “After the Cold War: U.S. Interests in Sub-Saharan Africa,” The Washington Quarterly 13, no. 1 (March 1990): 99–114,
150 US Department of Defense, “Defense.Gov Speech: U.S. Security Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa,” August 1, 1995,
151 Jan Bachmann, “‘Kick Down the Door, Clean up the Mess, and Rebuild the House’—The Africa Command and Transformation of the U.S. Military,” Geopolitics 15, no. 3 (August 19, 2010): 564–85,
152 Mark Bowden, “The Legacy of Black Hawk Down,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 2019,
153 Megan Krementowski, “Today in History: Battle of Mogadishu,” Warscapes, October 4, 2015,
154 BBC News, “Rwanda’s 100 Days of Slaughter,” BBC News, April 4, 2019, sec. Africa,
155 Bachmann.
156 Sean McFate, “Briefing: US Africa Command: Next Stop or Next Stumble,” African Affairs, Vol 107, Issue 426, January 2008, 111-120
157 Bachmann.
158 Peter J. Pham, “America’s New Africa Command: Paradigm Shift or Step Backwards?” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Vol 15 (1), Fall 2008, 257-272.
159 US Agency for International Development, “U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants (Greenbook) -- Data | Development Data Library,” November 13, 2018,….
160 Millennium Challenge Corporation, “About MCC,” Millennium Challenge Corporation, Undated,
161 Millennium Challenge Corporation, “MCC and the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA),” Millennium Challenge Corporation, Undated,….
162 U.S. Department of State, “The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief,” United States Department of State (blog), Nicolas van de Walle, in U.S. Policy Towards Africa: The Bush Legacy and the Obama Administration, in the Royal African Society (January 2010) suggested that these programs could have been better served had the United States Agency for International Development managed them.
163 Power Africa, “Power Africa Generation Projects,” October 31, 2019.
164 Lakmeeharan. et al., “Solving Africa’s Infrastructure Paradox | McKinsey.”
165 Gal Luft, “China’s Infrastructure Play: Why Washington Should Accept the New Silk Road,” Foreign Affairs 95, no. 5 (October 2016): 68–75.
166 Janne Suokas, “China Gets More Voting Rights in the IMF,” GBTIMES, January 28, 2016,
167 Jake Spring, “Gore Calls out China for Financing Coal Power Plants,” December 12, 2019,…; Anna Yukhananov and Valerie Volcovici, “World Bank to Limit Financing of Coal-Fired Plants,” Reuters, July 16, 2013,…; Luft, “China’s Infrastructure Play: Why Washington Should Accept the New Silk Road.”
168 Nicolas van de Walle, “Obama and Africa,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2015,; Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis, “Operation UNITED ASSISTANCE: The DOD Response to Ebola in West Africa,” January 6, 2016.
169 The White House, “President Donald J. Trump’s Africa Strategy Advances Prosperity, Security, and Stability,” The White House, December 13, 2018,….
170 Tibor Nagy, “How US’s Prosper Africa Plan Can Benefit Businesses on the Continent,” BusinessLIVE, June 28, 2019,….
171 U.S. Department of State, “Deputy Secretary John J. Sullivan Remarks at Roundtable Discussion on Enhancing Trade and Investment in Africa,” United States Department of State (blog), September 25, 2019,….
172 Millennium Challenge Corporation, “Millennium Challenge Corporation, Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation, and the Government of Côte d’Ivoire Launch New Strategic Collaboration,” August 5, 2019,….
173 OPIC, “Annual Management Report of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation for Fiscal Years 2019 and 2018, Submitted Pursuant to the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 and in accordance with OMB’s Circular A-136,” November 14, 2019.
174 Witney Schneidman and Joel Wiegert, “Competing in Africa: China, the European Union, and the United States,” Brookings (blog), April 16, 2018,….
175 Africa Press Office, “U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and African Development Bank Partner to Support Development in Africa,” CNBC Africa (blog), November 13, 2019,….
176 EXIM Bank, “EXIM Approves $5 Billion to Finance U.S. Exports to Mozambique LNG Project | EXIM.Gov,” September 26, 2019,….
177 Andrew Ackerman and Lindsay Wise, “A Reversal by Trump Revives Agency That Aids Exporters,” Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2020, sec. Politics,….
178 President of the United States, “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” December 2017.
179 Department of Defense, “Summary of the National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening American Military’s Competitive Edge,” 2018.
180 National Defense Strategy Commission, “Providing for the Common Defense - The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission,” 2018.
181 Dan Lamothe, and Danielle Paquette, “Pressure Builds against the Pentagon as It Weighs Reducing Troop Numbers in Africa,” Washington Post, January 20, 2020,….
182 Dan Lamothe, et al.
183 Claire Felter, “What Would a U.S.-Kenya Trade Deal Mean?,” Council on Foreign Relations, February 21, 2020,
184 PKSOI Interview.
185 Duchâtel et al.
186, “The Wassenaar Arrangement,” The Wassenaar Arrangement (blog), February 28, 2020,
187 ATT, “The Arms Trade Treaty | Home Page,” 2018,
188 EITI, “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative,” Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Undated,
189 Adam Vaughan, “We Don’t Know Why So Few Covid-19 Cases Have Been Reported in Africa,” New Scientist, March 10, 2020,….
190 John N. Nkengasong and Wessam Mankoula, “Looming Threat of COVID-19 Infection in Africa: Act Collectively, and Fast,” The Lancet, February 27, 2020,
191 Gelb, “Arms Sales.”
192 Paul Wafula, “Tanzania Building Electric Railway at Half Price of Kenya’s Diesel SGR Line,” October 8, 2017,….
193 Lakmeeharan.
194 Mthuli Ncube and Charles Leyeka Lufumpa, eds., Infrastructure in Africa: Lessons for Future Development (Bristol, UK Chicago, IL, USA: Policy Press, 2016).
195 Ncube and Lufumpa.
196 Ncube and Lufumpa.
197 Ncube and Lufumpa.
198 Alyssa Farah, “Statement on the Deployment of Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade to Africa,” U.S. Department of Defense, February 12, 2020,….
199 National Guard, “State Partnership Program - The National Guard,” Undated,….
200 The Financial Times estimate was based on real estate floor space sales, traffic congestion within cities, coal consumption in major power plants, container freight, box office receipts at movie theaters, and air pollution in China’s ten largest cities.
201 Steve Bernard, Cale Tifford, and John Burn-Murdoch, “Coronavirus Tracked: The Latest Figures as the Pandemic Spreads,”| Financial Times, March 18, 2020,….
202 Robert Armstrong et al., “Ports Feel Coronavirus Impact on Global Scale,” Financial Times, March 17, 2020,….
203 RWR Advisory Group, “RWR Belt & Road Monitor (Standard),” March 3, 2020.
204 Lily Kuo, Helen Davidson, and Graham Russell, “China: Expulsion of U.S. Journalists Was Response to ‘Unreasonable Oppression,’” The Guardian, March 18, 2020,….
205 DeutscheWelle (, “How Chinese Propaganda Is Reframing the Coronavirus Narrative | DW | 16.03.2020,” DW.COM, March 16, 2020,….
206 Shadi Hamid, “China Is Avoiding Blame by Trolling the World,” The Atlantic, March 19, 2020,….
207 Editorial Board NY Post, “China’s New Top Priority: Spinning Coronavirus — and Blaming the U.S.,” New York Post (blog), March 17, 2020,….
208 J. R. Reed, “President Trump Ordered U.S. Firms to Ditch China, but Many Already Have and More Are on the Way,” CNBC, September 1, 2019,….
209 James T. Areddy, “China’s Xi Faces New Limits, at Home and Abroad,” Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2020, sec. World,….
210 Benedikt Zoller-Rydzek and Gabriel Felbermayer, “Who is Paying for the Trade War with China?” European Network of Economic and Fiscal Policy Research, EconPol Policy Brief, Vol 2, November 2018.
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: McDonnell, James. “Cooperation, Competition, or Both? Options for U.S. Land Forces vis-à-vis Chinese Interests in Africa.” Paper, June 2020.