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United States Looks to Counter China in Africa
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United States Looks to Counter China in Africa

Plus: It’s Opening Day! ⚾

Happy Thursday! And more importantly, happy Opening Day! To quote the late, great Roger Angell: “I felt what I almost always feel when I am watching a ballgame: Just for those two or three hours, there is really no place I would rather be.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Senate voted 66-30 on Wednesday to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against Iraq, about 20 years after the U.S. invasion in 2003. The motion to repeal the AUMF—which subsequent presidents used as legal justification for military actions beyond the original invasion—now goes to the Republican-controlled House, where it may stall. The Biden administration supports the repeal.
  • The Taliban arrested prominent women’s rights activist Matiullah Wesa in Kabul on Monday, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Wesa founded PenPath1, an organization that brings mobile classrooms to remote areas of Afghanistan, where the Taliban have barred women from attending school.
  • China threatened retaliation should Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen meet with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California during her trip to the Americas in mid-April. A meeting between McCarthy and Tsai has not yet been confirmed, but a spokeswoman for China’s Taiwan affairs office said on Wednesday the meeting would represent a “provocation” that harms Chinese sovereignty and China would “definitely take measures to respond.”
  • The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved over-the-counter distribution of the opioid overdose-reversing drug Narcan as a nasal spray, the first such approval of the drug for non-prescription use. Already carried by many police officers and emergency responders, Narcan can rapidly reverse the effects of an overdose on opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and prescription oxycodone. The manufacturer, Emergent BioSolutions, will determine the timeline of its availability. 
  • The grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump’s alleged hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels will take a pre-planned, one-month break from hearing evidence, according to people familiar with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s inquiry. The hiatus—which spans upcoming religious holidays and New York City public schools’ spring break—would push a potential Trump indictment to late-April at the earliest.
  • The Vatican announced Wednesday Pope Francis has been hospitalized with a pulmonary infection and will likely remain in the hospital for several days. The Pope—who is 86 years old—does not have COVID-19, according to a spokesman. 

VP Harris Heads to Africa

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers a speech at the Kotoka International Airport on March 26, 2023. (Photo by Ernest Ankomah/Getty Images)
Vice President Kamala Harris delivers a speech at the Kotoka International Airport on March 26, 2023. (Photo by Ernest Ankomah/Getty Images)

From a banquet with Hollywood stars at the Ghanaian presidential palace and a visit to a skatepark and music studio in the nation’s capital to a tour of a colonial-era fort used to imprison millions of enslaved people on their way to the Americas, Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip across Africa this week has thus far been a study in contrasts, a blend of hopeful and solemn talking points. 

With Harris’ high-profile visit—complete with more than $1 billion in funding announcements—the Biden administration is determined to prove its commitment to African nations is more than just a charm offensive. Harris has made only oblique references to the subtext of her travels—the United States’ intensifying competition with China for influence on the continent—but in order to make a meaningful change, analysts told The Dispatch, the U.S. will need to encourage economic investment, not just aid.

The African continent is young and growing: By 2100, the United Nations expects the world’s population to swell to around 11 billion from today’s 8 billion, with much of that growth coming in Africa, where the populations of 26 countries are projected to double. The median age on the continent is just 19—a point Harris has repeatedly brought up to argue Africa should be a top priority for the U.S. “It is your spark, your creativity, and your determination that will drive the future,” she told a crowd at a monument to Ghana’s independence. “We must invest in the African ingenuity and creativity that will unlock incredible economic growth and opportunities.”

To that end, the Biden administration in August rolled out a new strategy on Sub-Saharan Africa, aimed at resetting relationships and shifting from exploitation and great-power conflict—and the previous president’s “s—hole countries” descriptor—toward mutually beneficial economic ties and a recognition of African nations’ role on the world stage. The administration created an advisory council on engaging the African diaspora in the U.S., announced formal support for the African Union to become a permanent member of the G20 group of large economies, and hosted a three-day summit of African leaders in Washington, D.C., in December. The White House also gathered old and new spending pledges into a commitment of $55 billion over the next three years for infrastructure, agriculture, health, security, and other spending on the continent. Harris is the fifth high-level U.S. official to visit the continent already this year. After Ghana, she’s headed to Zambia and Tanzania.

Biden administration officials have taken pains to avoid framing all this effort as an effort to counter Chinese influence, but they can’t avoid that narrative entirely. Some Western officials and analysts have accused China of predatory lending to African nations, but regardless, the investment gap is striking: While the U.S. financed about $14 billion of projects in Africa from 2007 to 2020, comparable institutions in China financed a whopping $120 billion-worth, according to an assessment by Oyintarelado Moses, a data analyst with the Global China Initiative at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. Over that same time period, a 2022 study by the Center for Global Development suggested, China’s developmental banks lent more than twice as much for public-private infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa as the U.S., Germany, Japan, and France—combined.

The U.S. consistently provides humanitarian aid and support for democracy to African countries, but some analysts say that help isn’t enough to produce self-sustaining development. “People don’t eat democracy and good governance,” said Mvemba Dizolele, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “People need jobs. People need schools. People need hope as they contemplate the future.” 

Focusing more on these types of projects may put the U.S. in competition with Chinese investments, but Dizolele argued the Biden administration is wise to downplay that point. “When the Chinese go to Africa, they don’t talk about the United States,” he said. “They talk about their interests. They talk about Africa’s needs, and they try to bridge that gap.”

Still, it’s a constant undercurrent. “It seems implausible that America’s growing surge of interest in Africa isn’t related to the ever increasing global power competition,” argued Mark Green, former ambassador to Tanzania and head of the Wilson Center. “American leaders should tread carefully as they describe why Africa matters.” 

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo noted this dynamic, telling reporters this week he considers Harris sincere in her desire to work with his country and its neighbors—but calling for a light touch. “Great powers of whatever ilk, even friendly ones, trampling on small nations is not something we welcome,” he said. “And in our modest methods, we will register our disapproval of it.”

The aid and investment money Harris has so far announced reflects these tensions. $100 million over the next 10 years will go toward helping West African nations stave off threats from extremist groups like al-Qaeda making inroads in the region. According to data from the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, the Sahel—a horizontal strip of land traversing the continent south of the Sahara—saw a near 25 percent increase in Islamist militant attacks last year.

The $1 billion for women’s economic development—much of it expected to come from charitable foundations—is set to include $500 million to help African women access technology, as well as money for female entrepreneurs and job training for women. Harris also pledged $139 million, pending congressional approval, for a number of initiatives in Ghana, ranging from reducing child labor to supporting local musicians. A major cocoa producer and longtime U.S. ally, Ghana has been struggling with a debt crisis and negotiating debt restructuring—including with China, its largest creditor.

The parade of high-level U.S. officials visiting Africa and pledging investment is a welcome sign, Dizolele said, but he argued follow-through is needed if, as promised, the Biden administration wants to move “from aid to trade” on the continent. “The U.S. needs to increase its investment in de-risking business that wants to go to Africa,” he told The Dispatch. An Iowa farmer interested in expanding operations to arable land in Congo, for example, should receive insurance—and reassurance—from the U.S. Export-Import Bank and other institutions.

This won’t be a quick transition. “The current model will take a lot of effort to reform,” argued Ken Opalo, an assistant professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and nonresident fellow at the Center for Global Development. “America’s advantage lies in financing and technology.” The United States could be effective, he suggested, by contributing agricultural expertise to farming on the continent and helping African countries access cheaper capital through the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions.

All in all, Dizolele said, Harris’ visit thus far—along with the administration’s focus on economic development over great-power competition—has been a success. “There was a lot of skepticism” when the Biden administration began highlighting African initiatives, he told The Dispatch. “You bridge that trust deficit by announcing things that make sense to the Africans, not by just making pronouncements.”

Worth Your Time 

  • Is the United States overbanked? The high-profile failures or near-failures of the past month seem to indicate so, Marc Rubinstein argues for Bloomberg. “At the end of last year, there were 4,706 commercial banks in the country, far more than anywhere else,” he writes. “Canada has fewer banks than the single state of North Dakota. Japan has just 4 percent the number of banks. The European Union is much more fragmented, but it has 1.2 banks per 100,000 people, compared with America’s 1.4. In a tradeoff between financial stability and competition, authorities will mostly choose stability. U.S. authorities are unusually squeamish about the trade-off. Partly, it reflects a respect for private markets but mostly it’s because their smaller banks harness significant lobbying power. More members of Congress have a small bank among their top 25 donors than a large bank, according to data compiled by newsletter writer Byrne Hobart. As a result, U.S. banks are subject to a cap on their size. The result is a two-tier system in the U.S.: Big banks, subject to full supervisory scrutiny, and a long tail of smaller banks that are exempt. The recent banking crisis has exposed this divergence.”
  • Forgive us for double-dipping, but here’s Roger Angell in the April 3, 1983 edition of the New York Times: “With the exception of an Opening Day no-hit game pitched by Bob Feller in 1940, no baseball history was ever made Opening Day. Yet fans throng to their home parks in very large numbers for these chilly inaugurals, because Opening Day represents so much to them,” he writes. “It is a ceremony of renewal and welcome—a celebration of the simultaneous return of springtime and baseball time, a brief moment of pure hope, and a noisy, cheerful restoration of the bonds of loyalty and affection that bind the fans to their home club, and vice versa. The game means little to the players, who will be back the next day and the next week, of course, to struggle with the difficulties of their arduous profession, but its meanings for the fans are psychic and profound. The fans who turn up on Opening Day are not the family groups who come to the park in such numbers on warm summer nights or sunlit Sunday afternoons, nor are they the celebrities and frontrunners who appear in September when a team has suddenly become chic and famous because of its recent successes and its swollen autumn prospects. The first April crowds are the fans—the supporters and rooters who have thought about the team through the winter and have stood behind it through the years, not just when it was winning but also when it was down on its luck and out of contention. Their bonds to their own team are serious and of long standing; in most cases, their attachment predates that of the owner and of all the players on the field.”

Presented Without Comment 

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics team previews House races in New York and a likely Mitt Romney reelection campaign, Scott pans (🔒) state-led industrial policy, Nick reflects on (🔒) the difference between patriotism and nationalism, and Jonah pines for (🔒) the blogosphere in a “bloggy” G-File that flits from Trump to Nietzche to TikTok.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah is joined by National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke for a conversation about the shooting in Nashville, and Sarah and David discuss the reversal of Adnan Syed’s acquittal before turning to commercial litigation with special guest Christopher Bogart.
  • On the site today: Harvest explains the latest GOP-led probe into Hunter Biden and Alec looks at Ford’s role in a growing debate over Chinese involvement in the American automotive industry.

Let Us Know

What do you think is the best way for the U.S. to reach fast-growing African nations? Have China’s investments on the continent already given it a head start?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.