As Pan-Africanists in D.C. and across the world celebrated Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s 132nd birth anniversary last weekend, a small group gathered at a conference in Northwest to discuss the implications of a proxy war between the U.S., China and Russia currently unfolding on the African continent.
In recent months, Trump administration officials, in remarks before Congress and reports to government agencies, have framed their concerns about China and Russia’s foothold in Africa as an issue of national security.
However, a slew of speakers at the Festival Center on Columbia Road spent much of Saturday deriding that narrative as propaganda designed to maintain U.S.-European Union-NATO dominance over the continent.
“We’re in an interesting time where U.S. imperialism could seize on well-placed concerns about Africa to convince us to take a hands-off approach because all parties are equally bad and have ill intent for Africa,” Sean Blackmon of the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition told an audience of nearly 30 people.
Blackmon, along with Netfa Freeman of Pan-African Community Action, Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo and Heather Benno of Party for Socialism and Liberation, gave presentations on aspects of what’s been touted as the Great Powers competition between the U.S., China and Russia.
In their rhetorical assault on U.S. imperialism, the speakers said they didn’t want to promote China and Russia as entities with wholly pure intentions. Rather, they intended to show how the U.S. often threatens the independence of African nations under the guise of protecting human rights and individual freedoms.
“To think that [former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon] really care about Africa and its plight is laughable,” Blackmon said. “This concern for Africa must be understood in the context of D.C’s ongoing trade war. The anti-Chinese sentiment and fearmongering about Russia are all tied to what the U.S. is calling the Great Powers conflict, which is a euphemism for a new Cold War reality.”
The Great Powers competition reflects the Trump administration’s shift in U.S. foreign policy from Islamic groups to its Chinese and Russian competitors. Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis presented this strategy early last year, saying that the U.S. would also maintain cordial relationships with both countries as a means of containing North Korea’s nuclear prowess.
More than a year later, China and Russia has continued to expand its influence on the African continent. Thirty-nine out of 54 African countries have signed on with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiatives, an effort to merge trade and infrastructure via a vast network of roads and railways throughout Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Russia’s trade with Africa has also increased by more than $9 billion in the past decade, primarily through investments in oil, nuclear infrastructure and technology.
With the launch of the Confucius Institutes of Africa and Russkiy Mir Foundation, China and Russia have infused aspects of its language and culture in the fabric of African societies, all while increasing its military presence. Russia opened private military companies in 15 African countries. China also conferred with African government and military officials during its first China-Africa Peace and Security Forum last month.
For the past decade, U.S. Africa Command, also known as AFRICOM, has advanced U.S. policy goals in Africa with a military presence in 53 out of 54 countries. This year, nearly $264 million has been expected to fund operations.
In October, the Black Alliance for Peace launched a campaign to dismantle AFRICOM, likening its presence to that of militarized police forces in majority-Black neighborhoods in the United States.
Freeman, a BAP affiliate, reiterated those sentiments Saturday.
“We want to make clear that standing against AFRICOM is part of the struggle against war oppression,” he told the audience at the Festival Center. “People are silent and voting for the increase in military spending. Politicians and people who migrate here are put in a position to pledge and demonstrate allegiance. The biggest threat to peace is the U.S., the European Union and NATO. They pose this threat and we have to be clear about that.”