Okechukwu Uwaezuoke with agency report
U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Rex Tillerson has counselled Nigeria and other African countries not to forfeit their sovereignty when they accept loans from China, the continent’s biggest trading partner.
Tillerson, who spoke in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, thursday on the first leg of his African visit, said the U.S was not trying to keep Chinese dollars from the continent but it was important for African countries to consider the terms of the agreement and not forfeit their sovereignty.
Tillerson is using his first diplomatic trip to Africa to bolster security alliances on a continent increasingly turning to Beijing for aid and trade.
He may also seek to smoothen relations after U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly dismissed African nations as “shithole countries” in January.
Trump later denied making the comment.
“We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese dollars from Africa,” Tillerson told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital.
“It is important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those agreements and not forfeit their sovereignty.”
The U.S. is the leading aid donor to Africa but China surpassed it as a trade partner in 2009.
Beijing has pumped billions into infrastructure projects, though critics have warned that the use of Chinese firms and labor undermines their value.
Tillerson said Chinese investments “do not bring significant job creation locally” and criticised how Beijing structures loans to African governments, reported the AFP.
If a government accepts a Chinese loan and “gets into trouble,” he said, it can “lose control of its own infrastructure or its own resources through default”. But he did not give specific examples.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting Zimbabwe thursday, told reporters that it was inappropriate for Tillerson to criticise China’s relationship with African countries.
“It was not appropriate to criticise the relations of his hosts — when he was a guest there — with another country,” he said.
Earlier this week, Tillerson had criticised “China’s approach” to Africa which he said encouraged dependency through “opaque contracts” and “predatory loan practices”.
But the Chinese government on Tuesday dismissed the U.S. criticism of low interest loans to the continent on the grounds that it had driven some sub-Saharan African countries deeper into debt.
According to the Chinese government, Tillerson’s remark was “totally out of line with the truth”.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Mr. Geng Shuang said China hopes that other countries will do more good for Africa’s development and treat China-Africa cooperation in a fair and objective manner.
“Such remarks are totally out of line with the truth,” Geng told a news conference.
“The debt of some African countries is the result of long-term accumulation instead of a recent appearance. China is not the main creditor of African countries,” he said.
The spokesman said it was hard for Africa to realise industrialisation and modernisation without financial guarantees.
Geng said China’s financing support to Africa was mainly in infrastructure and production areas.
“Chinese companies have built a lot of highways, railways, ports, airports and communication facilities, greatly improving Africa’s economic development environment and helping Africa attract foreign investment.
“I emphasise that the Chinese side attaches great importance to the sustainability of Africa’s debt,” Geng said.
He said China was insistent that large-scale infrastructure and industrial development in Africa go hand in hand, and that attention should be paid to both the economic and social benefits of projects and increasing African countries’ ability for independent and sustainable development.
“We have done our best to avoid increasing Africa’s debt burden,” he said.
Many African governments enjoy close ties with both Washington and Beijing.
Kenya, for example, inaugurated a $3.2 billion railway funded by China last year. For the last three years, Kenya has received more than $100 million annually in U.S. security assistance.
Asked about Tillerson’s criticism of China’s approach on the continent, Kenya’s foreign affairs minister Monica Juma said: “This country is engaging with partners from across the world driven by our own interests and for our own value.”
Tillerson arrived in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, on Wednesday and visited the African Union headquarters.
The complex was funded and built by China and is seen as a symbol of Beijing’s thrust for influence and access to the continent’s natural resources.
Ethiopia is home to some of Beijing’s biggest investments, from a railway to Djibouti that opened last year to factories and industrial parks.
Ethiopia’s prime minister resigned suddenly last month and a state of emergency was imposed but protests in the restive Oromia region have continued.
Tillerson said after meeting his Ethiopian counterpart Workneh Gebeyehu that the answer to political turmoil in Ethiopia was greater freedoms and said the state of emergency should be lifted as quickly as possible.
Tillerson reiterated previous calls for African states to cut ties with North Korea. North Korea has more than a dozen embassies on the continent.
The Trump administration has said that Pyongyang earns hard currency from arms deals with African governments and the trafficking of wildlife parts from Africa.
Tillerson was due to fly to Djibouti, host to military bases owned by the U.S., China, Japan, France and Italy.
He will then visit Kenya, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabaab Islamist militants in Somalia, before traveling to Chad and Nigeria, which are also battling to contain Islamist insurgents.
Analysts have said Trump has focused mainly on security concerns in Africa at a time when China, Turkey and other nations are ramping up diplomatic and business links.
“When you look at the set of countries that are being visited I think it kind of reinforces the perception that security, indeed, is the overwhelming focus,” said Brahima Coulibaly, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings Institution.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the U.S. government announced $533 million in humanitarian assistance for African nations facing life-threatening food insecurity and malnutrition.
Tillerson announced the grant, saying it will support safe drinking water programmes, emergency healthcare and hygiene programmes to treat and prevent the spread of disease, and reunification of families separated by conflict.
From this donation, South Sudan was allocated the highest amount of funds totaling to $184 million for emergency food and nutrition assistance to help the nation’s vulnerable populations.
Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria and nations in the Lake Chad region, affected by ongoing conflicts or prolonged drought would also benefit.
According to a statement issued by the U.S. State Department, a swift influx of assistance from the U.S. government, along with that of other donors, was helping to improve humanitarian conditions in all of these African countries.
It noted that it was up to the leaders in these countries, particularly in South Sudan, to stop the violence and put the welfare of their citizens at the forefront of their actions.
The U.S. government also reiterated calls to all warring sides in South Sudan to allow aid workers safe and unhindered access to civilians in need.
More than 7 million people in South Sudan risk facing severe food insecurity in the coming months without sustained humanitarian assistance and access, three UN agencies said in a report last week.
Last month, 5.3 million people were already struggling to find enough food each day and were in “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity, according to an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report that was recently unveiled.
Jointly issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), the new report warned that progress made to prevent people from dying of hunger could be undone, and more people could be pushed into severe hunger and famine-like conditions from May-July if assistance and access were not made.