General Stephen Townsend, US Africa command Head

The head of US Africa Command, General Stephen Townsend, in a statement to the Senate’s Armed Services committee warned that Moscow and Beijing dalliance with Africa has given the emerging powers leeway to “seize opportunities to expand their influence across the continent. ”

“Their coercive and exploitative activities undermine and threaten many African countries stability,”General Townsend told US Senate Committee in a statement dated January 30.

He noted that China is outpacing all it’s competitors in Africa, where, with the construction of a military port and helicopter landing pads, it is converting it’s overseas military base in Djibouti into power projection platform.

China and Russia have strengthened efforts to woe African countries by hosting high-level investment conferences in their cities.

In October last year, Moscow hosted the Russia-Africa summit in Soch, where all 54 African countries were represented with over 43 Heads of State in attendance.

This was barely a year after Beijing hosted the 7th Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) in Beijing, September 2018, where China pledged over $60 billion worth of investments on continent.

The US has also been hosting the Africa business forum as it seeks to counter this growing influence from rivals.

“We know they seek to open more base and their unprofitable sea port investments in East Africa and southern Africa track closely with involvement by Chinese military forces. These Chinese seaports are not genuine commercial ports, these investments are geoeconomics tools to increase the PRC’s geopolitical influence throughout the continent, ”said Townsend.

Beijing remains Washington’s largest competitor on the continent. China has invested heavily in African infrastructure projects and currently maintains 52 embassies across the continent —three more than the US.

Moscow on the other side is the third arms supplier on the continent, selling nearly $9 billion worth of military equipment to African countries.

Russia’s S-400, world’s best surface to air defence as of 2019

“Russian private military companies have highly destabilising influence in Africa as they are frequently employed to secure Russian investments at the expense of Africans to prop up corrupt regimes and establish a broader Russian military footprints globally, ” This is a threat to USA interests and security, ”said Townsend.

Moscow is said to be eyeing a deal with Somaliland for a base at Berbera port, few kilometres away from the one run by Chinese and US in Djibouti.

Russia is also targeting to have a naval logistics centre in Eritrea.

China, United States, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar all have military presence in the horn of Africa region.

“We encourage constructive partners helping to develop Africa’s economic, infrastructure, humanitarian and security sectors to benefit of Africans, ”General Townsend added.

US AH-64 Apache

“It is clear that China prioritises Africa and Russia sees an opportunity to gain a strong position on NATO’s southern flank, ”he said, adding that these two nations erode US influence and access over time within the continent.

“China and Russia’s corrupt and exploitative investments and security assistance often prioritises their own gains rather than building long-term African security capacity, and their activities often undermine transparency, accountability and respect for human rights. ”

US defence secretary, Mark Esper in December emerged that he was weighing proposals for a major reduction, which would include complete American forces pullout from West Africa, something majority of the US Senate Armed services committee members had reservations on that “such withdrawal would certainly embolden both China and Russia.”

Beijing is the second-largest arms supplier to the continent, behind USA, followed by Russia.

Chinese Hypersonic Missiles

“Close to two-thirds of Africa’s military operate Chinese military equipments, with close to a dozen new players emerging to provide for this market. Their equipments are becoming more sophisticated. They can also be delivered at low prices and far more quickly than from other suppliers, ”said Joseph Dempsey, a research analyst at the Military Balance, a global defence think thank.

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