Murder of Black Man in US Strains Fragile Relations with Sub-Saharan Africa

Derek Chauvin, 44, a white police officer at the U.S Minneapolis Police Department has now been caught up in the labyrinthine issue of geopolitics involving Sub-Saharan Africa and the world’s largest economy at a time when China’s growing influence in the region is irking the Trump Administration.

The Floyd Murder’s Global Ripple Effect

Chauvin is presently facing up to 40 years in prison for murdering George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed and cuffed black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chauvin, a 19-year veteran at the Police department now unwittingly finds himself thrust on the global stage epitomizing a negative racial caricature that pigeonholes the white race as being predators of people of color, particularly towards members of the black race.

With Sub-Saharan Africa being the second most populous continent on earth with an estimated population of 1.2 billion people and disproportionately black, this May 15 incident happening 14,108 km away rekindled a strong feeling, that the US under the leadership of Donald Trump has an uphill task navigating the issue of race relations globally.

Africa: Talking Truth to Power

Unlike in the past when the leadership of the African continent courted diplomacy and behind-the-scenes engagement as a strategy of resolving sticky issues revolving around the super power, this time round, the continent has embraced the unprecedented mode of talking truth to power, a probable indication of how low the fortunes of the US have sunk on the continent.

“The paternalistic attitude being displayed by President Donald Trump towards emerging nations has muddied the warm diplomatic relations that hitherto existed and Africa is following the cue by calling out an Administration that has intent of shunning the rest of the world as it perpetrates an inward looking foreign policy referred to as America First, which is unilaterally and isolationist in nature,” said Dr. Godfrey Muriuki, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

‘Africa Demands a Full Investigation into this Killing’

For now, within Africa, Chauvin’s sordid action is being interpreted as a manifestation of the endemic, entrenched and institutionalized racism, prevalent within US, that victimizes people of black color.

With the chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, condemning the murder saying, “The AU Commission firmly reaffirms and reiterates its rejection of the continuing discriminatory practices against Black citizens of the United States of America.”

While, Kwesi Quartey, a top AU official saying “This is one too many. We may be black, but we are people too. Africa demands a full investigation into this killing.”

An emboldened, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo also spoke up loudly on Twitter, writing that:
“Black people the world over are shocked and distraught by the killing … it cannot be right that in the 21st century the U.S., this great bastion of democracy, continues to grapple with the problem of systemic racism.”

“We stand with our kith and kin in America in these difficult times, and we hope that the unfortunate, tragic death of George Floyd will inspire a lasting change in how America confronts head on the problems of hate and racism,” Akuffo-Addo added.

South Africa Calls for ‘Amicable Solution’

South Africa’s ruling party the African National Congress (ANC), while deploring the rising racial discrimination in the US, is calling for “an amicable solution” to what is turning out to being a racial impasse with the ongoing protests and riots.

“It’s deplorable that almost 70 years since racial segregation was abolished in America, people of color are still routinely slaughtered for the color of their skin,” the party remarked in late May.

China vs. USA in Africa

Close watchers of the sub-Saharan Africa say the change of attitude towards the US is driven in big measure by the emergency of China as the biggest trading partner in the region. In 2009 China supplanted the US as Africa’s biggest trading partner. In 2019 China-Africa trade hit the $170 billion mark which was a big contrast compared to the US trade with sub-Saharan Africa for the same period which registered $39 billion.

And there is a reason for this seismic change of fortunes. China’s approach towards Africa has eternally been trade oriented. The region morphed to became one of the top destinations for Chinese investment after Beijing introduced the so-called “Go Out” policy in 1999 which, encourages private and state-owned business to seek economic opportunities abroad.

China has for example expanded African railways across the region from Kenya in East Africa to Nigeria in West Africa; currently its building a massive hydropower plant in Angola, in addition to building Africa’s longest railway connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti; it has also built the headquarters of the AU in Addis Ababa and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS in Abuja.

US Approach to Africa

In contrast, the US has instead viewed Africa as a battlefield where it can confront its enemies, whether its terrorists after 9/11 or the Soviets during the Cold War, or presently the Chinese brands ascendancy. Invariably, other States have taken a cue from China and as a result Sub Saharan Africa has copious suitors to choose from.

An exemplar is the Africa-India trade which grown 10-fold from US $5.3 billion in 2001 to $62 billion in 2018, — making India Africa’s fourth biggest trading partner, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Russia also is readying itself to have a piece of the action in Africa.

From October 23 to 24, 2019, the first Russia-Africa Summit was held on in Sochi, Russia, co-hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took place. A total of 43 heads of state or government were in attendance. Putin emphasized “state sovereignty” and willingness of Russia to offer aid or trade deals “without political or other conditions”, saying tongue-in -cheek that “an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments,” adding Russia was well suited to help African states .

‘S**thole Countries’

Worsening relations between the US and Africa was a condescending statement made by President Trump in January 2019 during a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office to discuss the terms of a potential bipartisan deal to resolve the status of 800,000 young immigrants protected from deportation by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, where he derogatorily refereed to Africa states as “s**thole countries,” indelibly cementing the perceived American view of Africa.

When immigration from African countries came up, Trump reportedly complained, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He then suggested bringing immigrants to the United States from Norway, a country that, many observers noted, is overwhelmingly white.

Awkwardly, Trump had announced an expanded travel ban in early February of that year, affecting nearly a quarter of Africa’s 1.2 billion people — including Nigeria, the continent’s biggest economy and its most populous nation. This helped create a lingering perception that people of Africa extraction were been singled out.

Pompeo’s Mission to Salvage Africa Ties

Seen as a last ditch effort aimed at mollifying Africa, the Trump Administration sent U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later that same month as part of his first foray into sub-Saharan Africa ostensibly to convince its leaders to shun Chinese investments and, instead, look to Washington and American companies for collaboration.

He traveled to three countries, namely Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia where he ironically offered zero investments, initiatives or assistance, sending a mixed signal of the true intentions the US has with Africa.

Ever since January 20, 2017, when Trump became arguably the most powerful man on the planet, Africa has had no reason to count the US as a reliable partner and its diplomatic representative Pompeo and his predecessor Rex Tillerson have visited fewer than ten African countries — a decline from the nearly two dozen African states visited by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who served under President Obama for four years.

Indeed, the unraveling of the Floyd incident only strengthen the perception in the minds of Sub Saharan Africans that so long as Trump is the US President, the African race remains vulnerable and discriminated against. This is not a good omen for a country that seeks to re-gain its glory in a region with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.