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Ivor Ichikowitz: Choice is ours as global powers woo Africa

Ivor Ichikowitz: Choice is ours as global powers woo Africa
  • PublishedMarch 1, 2023

Global powers are competing among themselves to gain greater influence in Africa as the continent’s workforce grows into the world’s biggest. Who should win our trust, asks Ivor Ichikowitz.

In the competition for hearts and minds in Africa today, one word rises above all others in significance: jobs. Recognising the promise of the continent that will be home to nearly half of the world’s youth in the next decade, global powers are, in 2023, vigorously re-energising their efforts to engage African leaders and thus our citizenries.

However, it is the ones that propose win-win economic partnerships with us that will see the most success.

China, the United States, the European Union (EU) and Russia are the primary global influencers that have positioned themselves for partnership with African nations of late, both in terms of investment and popular perceptions.

A poll conducted among young Africans in 15 countries by my foundation last year, based on over 4,500 interviews, the African Youth Survey (AYS) looks in depth at what the rising generation’s expectations of, and concerns about global powers are.

More than three-quarters of Africans between the ages of 18 and 25 years expect to realise a standard of living better than their parents, and an astonishing 78% plan to start their own business in the next five years, our survey found.

The African workforce does not reflect the West’s present state of ‘Great Resignation’. Our human capital is our greatest resource.

So, with this in mind, how do the respective approaches of the great powers to Africa today stack up?

After hosting a promising US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington at the end of last year, the Biden administration is proposing a more carefully nuanced plan to increase engagement than its predecessor, which looked at Africa simply as a place to compete with China.

Prospective benefits for Africa here include a permanent seat for the African Union (AU) at the G20, and continued support for democratic development, which young Africans want – however today, on their own terms.

A planned visit by the US President this year also raises hopes that he will bring with it job-creating partnerships. It is important to note that more than a third (37%) of African youth see Joe Biden as the foreign leader most likely to impact their lives in the coming years, versus the 13% who say the same of China’s President Xi Jinping, according to our study.

When wrapping up a visit to Africa recently, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said:

“The world is finally catching up to recognising Africa’s contributions – past and future…[African] countries need to be wary of shiny deals that may be opaque and ultimately fail to actually benefit the people they were purportedly designed to help in the first place.”

This in my view is a not-so-subtle slight at China’s massive uptick of economic and political influence in Africa over the past decade in particular.

China most influential

Today, 77% of young Africans see China as the most influential foreign power as opposed to 67% who say the same of the United States, 62% of the EU and 39% of Russia.

Much of China’s economic engagement, Yellen seems to suggest, consists of large infrastructure projects that may not serve the best interests of Africans and specifically young Africans.

China’s Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, made his first foreign trip of the year to Africa in January, visiting five countries and sitting down with AU leaders. Nearly all of Africa’s 54 nations have signed onto China’s Belt and Road initiative, which brings hopes of expanded trade opportunities.

But in the Initiative’s practical application, we must note the clear red flags, at least in terms of those raised regarding youth perceptions of China.

36% of those polled say China simply extracts African resources with little benefit to them, while nearly a quarter say the Chinese projects are creating few if any jobs for Africans.

January also saw the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to South Africa, Angola, Eritrea and Eswatini, indicating that, despite the worldwide condemnation of his country’s current invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s top diplomat places priority on Russian-African ties.

Last year’s $20bn in trade between Russia and Africa would suggest as much; it is a marked 17% increase over the previous year, but still a fraction of the commitment other powers are making, and with fewer strings attached.

Ivor Ichikowitz is an African industrialist and philanthropist. He is the Founder of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation

Written By
Ivor Ichikowitz

Ivor Ichikowitz is an African industrialist and philanthropist. He is the Founder of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and the African Oral History Archive.

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