UPI Correspondent
BRUSSELS, Feb. 1 (UPI)China’s growth and close economic ties with Africa are affecting the ability of the United States and the European Union to influence politics on the continent, experts say.

Europe became aware of its new secondary role in Africa during the latest round of trade negotiations at the EU-Africa summit last month. The EU, which had grown accustomed to getting what it wants from Africa, was fiercely rebuffed by the majority of African nations that refused the terms proposed by the European Commission.

The reason African countries could now stand up to their former colonizers was an alternative and more attractive Chinese market, which has been offering African countries better prices and more investment.

“China’s own economic growth has allowed it, and forced it, to accelerate engagement with Africa pretty much across the board in a way that the EU and the U.S. just don’t,” said Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy, an economic think tank in Brussels.
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Africa supplies a third of China’s oil, and trade between China and Africa has risen by 6,000 percent since 1990, according to Erixon.
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“The EU most certainly overplayed its hand in trade negotiations,” Erixon said. “They pushed Africa into China’s hands. They just asked for too much. They demanded reforms from African nations that they would never be able to do.”
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China’s dispensing of soft loans to Africa makes it easy to plummet the continent back into the debt crisis that it’s just starting to crawl out of. “A buildup of new debt and a new debt crisis could occur one or two decades down the road,” Erixon said.
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“There’s at the margin some erosion of U.S. economic leverage because China is a new alternative market,” Setser said. “When it comes to bidding on the right to develop Africa’s oil fields Africa will sell it to the highest bidders and it will have no qualms of going to Chinese companies instead of EU or U.S. ones.”

The Chinese oil companies routinely overpay in order to secure oil fields, according to Setser. “Growing exports from Africa to China might interfere with exports from Africa to Europe,” Erixon said.

Some are saying Angola may surpass Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer soon, especially since militant political activists and guerilla entrepreneurs in the Delta have cut Nigerian production by around 25%. This is not good news for the west. The US past involvement in Angola’s civil war, and actions that helped prolong that war an extra 10 years give the US very little leverage when dealing with Angola.

I’ve wondered about the debt issue. The west has used debt as a weapon to keep developing countries weak and dependent. Will the Chinese loans do the same?

The Chinese do not care about good governance and human rights, so long as the projects get done and the goods delivered. Of course the west has mostly paid minimal lip service to good governance and human rights, tolerating and supporting ruthless dictators and extreme horrors if the deal is right and corporate interests advantaged.

The Chinese prefer to bring in Chinese workers, so they are not helping much with creating jobs in the countries where they operate. This causes resentment. And flooding those countries with cheap subsidized goods, particularly textiles, clothing and shoes, are putting local manufacturing out of business, or preventing it from getting established. It was distressing to me that the textiles bought for the Ghana@50 celebrations in 2007 were bought from China, and not from Ghanaian textile and clothing producers. Ghana has beautiful textiles.

Nigeria and the US have generally had fairly good relations. And now Yar’Adua is calling for one of the goals of AFRICOM, partnering with African militaries:

01/02/2008 12:40

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua has called for a joint security force in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea amid an upsurge in violence in the Niger Delta, a presidential statement said Friday.

“The establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Guard Force will address emerging security concerns at the region”, the statement quoted Yar’Adua as saying during talks with Equatorial Guinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Addis Ababa.

Both leaders met on the sidelines of the ongoing African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, the statement said.

Yar’Adua called for a meeting of members of the Gulf of Guinea Commission to approve the modalities for setting up the force.

The commission comprises Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sao Tome and Principe.

Yar’Adua said he discussed the proposed force with US President George W. Bush during his recent visit to the United States and hoped that Washington would assist with training and logistics.

The statement said Mbasogo raised security concerns in the volatile Niger Delta with Yar’Adua, who assured him of his government’s resolve to stem the unrest and criminality in the region.

The Niger Delta has seen an upsurge in violence in the past two years as militant gangs renewed their attacks on oil facilities and personnel, slashing Nigeria’s daily output by a quarter.