Washington’s stance towards Africa has been as chaotic as the Trump administration and with China and Russia continuing to strengthen their ties with the continent, the stakes are dangerously high.
Legalbrief reports that four months have passed since Washington unveiled its new Africa strategy, urging business leaders to ramp up partnerships and trade with US companies which offer ‘unrivalled value’.
Prosper Africa, the new effort aims to shift American focus from aid to industry. The $50m programme is expected to offer technical help to companies looking to enter or grow in Africa, which is urbanising faster than any other continent and is expected to have 1.5bn consumers by 2025. That’s five times the size of the US.
This is not lost on Russia. More than 40 African heads of state have returned from the Black Sea retreat of Sochi after a fervent courting by Russia and with the ink drying on some substantial deals.
Ethiopia and Rwanda have sealed nuclear co-operation agreements to bring the number of African countries keen on nuclear development to 18. SA is not among them.
The Daily Maverick reports that African sovereignty, independence and a disdain for bullish western politics was the charm President Vladimir Putin laid on thick. Analysts say the Kremlin claims that it has racked up $12.5bn in deals over the two-day Russia-Africa summit. But it remains to be seen whether they actually materialise as real investments. The symbolically laden event to bolster co-operation and trade comes as sanctions against Russia persist.
Legalbrief reports that more than a century after the initial Scramble for Africa saw the invasion, occupation, division and colonisation of the continent, relationships remain testy.
Case-in-point: Harare has condemned the US’ decision to place sanctions on State Security Minister Owen Ncube over his alleged involvement in rights violations. The US State Department on Friday announced that it had credible information on Ncube’s role in ‘state-sanctioned violence against peaceful protesters and civil society’ . BBC News reports that Information Minister Nick Mangwana said the sanctions were ‘a form of arbitrary justice’. ‘The US brands itself a fair country but everything we have seen regarding the sanctions issue has been nothing but obstinate arrogance,’ he said. Full BBC News report
And thousands of Zimbabweans on Friday staged a mass protest against sanctions imposed by the US and EU during the Mugabe administration.
A report on the News24 site notes that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been battling to re-engage with the West since Mugabe was ousted by the military in November 2017. His government organised the demonstration in Harare, with protesters demanding the lifting of sanctions that have weighed down the country for more than two decades. ‘Zidera must go,’ they chanted in reference to sanctions imposed by the US in 2001. First News24 report
In another significant matter, Washington is planning to review SA’s eligibility to participate in its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), the largest and oldest American scheme to allow duty-free imports from less developed countries, notes a Business Insider report.
The SA review is ‘based on IP protection and enforcement concerns’, the Office of the US Trade Representative said in an announcement on Friday. Dates for hearings on SA’s involvement have yet to be announced. The review is rooted in SA’s domestically controversial draft updates to copyright legislation, most notably the Performers Protection Amendment Bill and the Copyright Amendment Bill.
The two intertwined drafts have seen heavy lobbying from various interest groups, and remain unsigned on the desk of President Cyril Ramaphosa. Much of the debate on the draft laws is centred on the idea of ‘fair use’, which could effectively exempt some intellectual property from copyright payments – including the likes of expensive textbooks.
That is one of the central complaints of the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), an umbrella organisation of American organisations, which lodged the complaint that led to the review. The IIPA represents five trade bodies: the Association of American Publishers, the Entertainment Software Association, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the American Motion Picture Association.
Members of each organisation, some 3 200 American companies in total stand to lose money if SA loosens its copyright regime. To remain part of the GSP – and benefit from around 3 500 items that can be imported into the US duty free – countries must meet standards around labour rights, provide fair access to their markets in turn, and have effective intellectual property right protections. The IIPA has complained that SA is not meeting its obligations in protecting intellectual property, and so must be kicked out of the scheme.