US names Russia, China as threats to Africa with Moscow setting military base in Somalia
MOSCOW, Russia - China and Russia's influence on Africa especially on commercial avenue remains the biggest threat to Africa's security, the US has said.
The US has struggled to expand her influence in a potential economic powerhouse continent, full of raw materials for industries.
For decades, the US has dominated the African market, although the influence has dwindled in recent years due to the emergence of China and Russia.
African heads of governments have strategically eyed the far East, a move that has often faced a backlash at home due to "exploitative loans" sealed.
Russia, China commercial exploits in Africa
Stephen Townsend, the US Africa Command boss, on Thursday identified the two nations as potential "threat" to Africa's security and economic growth.
"China and Russia have long recognized the strategic and economic importance of Africa, and continue to seize opportunities to expand their influence across the continent," he told Senate Armed Forces Committee.
In the past, Washington has faulted China and Russia's approach, which is largely commercial in nature, overlooking the security aspect.
The U.S, Townsend said, encourages constructive partners helping to develop Africa’s economic, infrastructure, humanitarian, and security to benefit all.
While noting the two countries' influence, he added: "Their coercive and exploitative activities undermine and threaten many African countries’ stability."
Scramble for military power
Russia and China have limited military presence in Africa, leading to America's frequent criticism that could escalate in the coming days.
The US has about 7,000 armed forces in Africa, whose major target is to neutralize violent extremists across the continent.
But to counter the US, China has established a military base in Djibouti, close to the US' main base, thus signaling economic and military competition in the scramble for Africa markets.
In a swift response, Russia, the main player in the global military power, has also deployed over 200 mercenaries to Mozambique to counter ISIS, NYT reports.
Also, the Russian government has earmarked Somaliland, a breakaway region in northern Somalia for the establishment of a permanent military base, an indication of Africa's growing influence.
US long-term strategy
The U.S. security cooperation with African partners builds professional, capable militaries that can provide security which sets the conditions for economic growth and development, Townsend said.
Unlike China and Russia, the US has often given conditional and regulated support to Africa, mainly focusing on security in return.
Early this month, Al-Shabaab militants raided a US base in Kenya, further throwing Washington into the scratch in her bid to stabilize the region.
Townsend added: "We achieve and maintain influence with our African partners through security cooperation, exercises, engagements, operations, and “setting the theater” or maturing infrastructure on the continent."
Plans to withdraw US military opposed
Recently, Defense Secretary Mark Esper revealed plans to scale down the US military in Africa, arguing that "it's meant to cut expenses".
But Mr. Esper’s review has drawn sharp criticism from influential congressional Republicans and Democrats who argue that cutting American forces in Africa would help only its rivals.
“A withdrawal from the continent would also certainly embolden both Russia and China,” Senators Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, wrote to Mr. Esper this month.
During the Senate grilling on Thursday, Townsend however, insisted that the US will not compete with the two global powers by using money.
He insisted that “Our competitive advantage is not eroding, we are not going to outcompete China in spending money."
"We have to rely on our strengths – our interagency and our military are our strengths," added the military boss.
The US has for some time remained Africa's major partner, but the influence is on a downward trajectory, this the use of her military to regain confidence.