The US African Affairs top diplomat on Monday fell short of directly naming China, instead, in a carefully worded written speech in Rwanda said some of America’s competitors were not interested in operating on a “level playing field” in Africa.
“American companies are eager to invest in Africa,” said Tibor Nagy, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, to an audience at the Carnegie Mellow University Africa, in Kigali.
Nagy said the U.S will “bring technology, know-how and, above all, the desire to hire, train, and advance Africans into positions of responsibility.”
Repeating what his bosses back in Washington President Donald Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton who in December challenged African governments to choose the United States over China and Russia, Nagy also spelt out what he called “four key U.S. policy priorities in Africa.”
He said African governments need to increase transparency and fairness in their business environments.
“Investors seek a level playing field, predictable policies, and a despute resolution process that follows the rule of law – not who pays the highest bribe,” said Nagy.
He added: “Sadly, as we all know, some other countries investing in Africa have not been as interested in promoting a level playing field and will not speak out about corruption.”
Bolton said in December that China and Russia, were seeking to increase their “influence in the region through corrupt economic dealings.”
Russia and China’s efforts across the African continent, he said, “stunt” the continent’s economic growth.
Contrary to the combative tone of the White House, Secretary Nagy took a more cautious choice of words in his written speech, saying U.S. “partnership” with Africa was “based on transparency, mutual respect and collaboration”.
“We go beyond simply investing in Africa, to investing in Africans,” he said.
However, during the Q&A session, Nagy fired back at a suggestion that the US impact was not visible in Rwanda compared to China which was building infrastructure such as stadiums.
United States companies are investing $300m in different sectors, but who would go into those Chinese-build stadiums if the population was not healthy and educated, he said
He lavished praise on Rwanda throughout much of the lengthy speech, a country he is visiting for the first time. At some point he said “Rwanda punches well above its weight”.
Referring to the increase in investments to $60billion the Trump administration has been fronting, Nagy said the US government was bringing to Africa “an alternative for foreign direct investment”.
The U.S engagement will “unblock billions in private capital from the United States” he said.
Secretary Nagy dismissed reports that Rwanda had been struck off the US trade preferential regime called AGOA after it slapped very high tariffs on second hand clothing, much of which comes from America.
“We did not eliminate Rwanda from using AGOA, we suspended it,” he said, in response from a question from the audience, adding, “We want to continue negotiating. You know every country makes [its own] decisions, Rwanda makes decisions, and I’m hoping they will change their mind.”
The decision to limit old textiles and footwear was taken across the east African community bloc Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and South Sudan.
But when the U.S fired back with plan to strike them off the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the others silently pulled back. Rwanda stayed put and has even indicated it can survive without apparel exports to America.
For example in March 2008, just days after the US had made the announcement, former Trade and Industry Minister Vincent Munyeshyaka, said Rwanda was more interested in developing its local industries..
“Developing manufacturing capacity in apparel and other industries is a high priority for Rwanda’s economic development. The announced intention to suspend AGOA eligibility for apparel exports from Rwanda is unfortunate, but the maintenance of eligibility for other sectors is welcome,” Munyeshyaka said.
Additional Reporting by Fred Mwasa