Bolton to Outline U.S. Africa Strategy to Counter Russia, China

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton will accuse Russia and China of “predatory practices” in Africa in a speech on Thursday announcing a new American strategy for the continent that will direct American aid to key countries.

“The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization,” Bolton will say in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, according to prepared remarks.

Bolton to Outline U.S. Africa Strategy to Counter Russia, China

The Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development gave about $8.7 billion in aid to African nations in fiscal year 2017, Bolton will say.

“Unfortunately, billions upon billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have not achieved the desired effects,” he will say, according to the remarks. “They have not stopped the scourge of terrorism, radicalism and violence.”

He didn’t identify countries that would see their American support reduced in his prepared remarks, but singled out Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali for their participation in a joint military force with U.S. support. It is “a great example of the enormous potential for African joint security cooperation,” he will say.

Bolton will directly criticize Russia and China, which are competing with the U.S. for influence on the continent.

“The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa, threaten the financial independence of African nations, inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment, interfere with U.S. military operations, and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests,” Bolton will say, according to the prepared remarks.

In Djibouti, China has a military base “only miles” from a U.S. base that supports counter-terrorism operations in East Africa, Bolton will say. U.S. officials accused the Chinese of using military-grade lasers to target and distract American pilots on 10 different occasions in May, causing eye injuries to two of them, according to the remarks.

Djibouti may soon give control of a port on the Red Sea to a Chinese state-owned company, Bolton will say. “Should this occur, the balance of power in the Horn of Africa — a major artery of maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia — would shift in favor of China,” he will say, according to the remarks.

Russia, meanwhile, “continues to sell arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations” that “keep strongmen in power, undermine peace and security, and run counter to the best interests of the African people,” Bolton will say.

China under President Xi Jinping has made major investments in Africa as part of his Belt and Road Initiative, and Russia has been seeking to revive its Cold War ties with various African countries.

In addition to raising concerns about Chinese and Russian influence and its implications for sovereignty in countries including Djibouti, Zambia and the Central African Republic, Bolton also will highlight concerns about the Islamic State’s growing influence in Libya.

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Bolton will make clear that the U.S. intends to consolidate aid and investment in nations such as Kenya that have taken positive steps toward governance, and reduce or withdraw assistance to countries that don’t meet governance or anti-corruption standards. He intends to call out South Sudan by name.

“We will not provide loans or more American resources to a South Sudanese government led by the same morally bankrupt leaders, who perpetuate the horrific violence and immense human suffering in South Sudan,” Bolton will say.

A U.S. review of peacekeeping missions also is under way.

The rollout of the Africa strategy comes halfway through President Donald Trump’s four-year term. It follows the administration’s release of its national security and defense strategies, and First Lady Melania Trump’s October trip to Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Egypt.

The U.S. has previously signaled a reduction of its troop presence in Africa, but the Trump administration has continued several of its predecessors’ policies aimed at combating AIDS and HIV, improving access to electrical power, and increasing opportunities for young leaders. Trump wants to focus on shifting U.S. spending on Africa from aid to investment and trade, said the administration officials, who were granted anonymity to discuss the speech before it was delivered.

“It’s a really important speech, something that the Africa policy community has been waiting for,” said Joshua Meservey, senior policy analyst for Africa and the Middle East at Heritage.

“This administration in all areas of foreign policy views geopolitical competition as the most urgent challenge to U.S. interests," he said. "But I don’t want to suggest they’re going to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Counter-terrorism is going to remain a part of the U.S. Africa strategy just because it’s too pressing of a challenge not to deal with it.”

In one of Trump’s first foreign policy setbacks, four American soldiers were killed in October 2017 in an ambush by Islamic State-affiliated forces in Niger. The incident drew attention to U.S. counter-terrorism activities in the region and prompted investigations by Congress and the Defense Department.

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