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China and the USA in Africa - "Young Africans distrust the Chinese"

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The two great powers, the USA and China, are not only dueling for economic supremacy, but more than ever before they are engaged in a global battle for values. For example in Africa. The US is in danger of losing this fight, warns Tibor Nagy, the former US chief diplomat for Africa.

Tibor Nagy

Former US chief diplomat for Africa

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Tibor Nagy (* 1949) was Deputy Secretary of State of the United States and the top diplomat for Africa in the Trump administration. Nagy was born in Hungary and fled to the USA with his family as a child. He has been in the diplomatic service since the 1980s, especially in Africa - he served as ambassador to Guinea and Ethiopia. He has been working as a freelance consultant and university lecturer since January 2021.

SRF News: “China kicks us in the buttocks”, that's how you recently described the duel between the two great powers in Africa. Tibor Nagy, what do you mean by that?

Tibor Nagy: The Chinese have more funds available in Africa. Their embassies, for example, are much, much better equipped than the US embassies. But even if a country wants to build a port, for example, the Chinese side shows up and has already organized financing and a construction company. Our companies receive less support and have to comply with rules regarding corruption and the environment. It's not a fair competition.

Is the competition between the USA and China in Africa primarily about the economy or about values?

It's about both. The Chinese worldview is different from ours. China thinks in larger time dimensions than the Americans. That is why this global power competition is more dangerous than the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

By calling African countries "shithole countries", as your boss at the time, ex-President Donald Trump, apparently did, you do not win this competition ...

I had - diplomatically speaking - unbelievable challenges after this term had made the rounds. Look at America's deeds, not the words!

Young Africans like the United States and the West.

In Africa, however, you mainly see what the Chinese have built, not the USA.

I always say: "You have a beautiful Chinese stadium, but it would be empty if the US hadn't saved millions of people from HIV." In Uganda, for example, we pay the health system $ 500 million a year. The Chinese build the roads and the railroad - and get paid for it.

That sounds like after frustrating years as the US chief diplomat for Africa.

Not only. Because the good news is that young Africans like the United States and the West - because of our culture, because of the open society. China cares for the old elites of Africa. But the boys distrust the Chinese. A 20-year-old Ugandan and a 20-year-old American - there is no difference. They have exactly the same dreams, the same motivation. We have to take advantage of that.

How come? China has awarded 50,000 scholarships to young Africans in four years.

That's true. The USA urgently needs an exchange program for students. Then we have to push ahead with our Prosper Africa initiative, which is supposed to encourage US investments in Africa ...

... and President Joe Biden should send more US diplomats to Africa, as you suggested.

The Biden administration must be present in Africa. I have made many trips to Africa, but one deputy minister is not very impressive. The president, the vice-president and the foreign minister have to go to Africa. It's very, very important.

Interview conducted by Samuel Burri.

Rendez-vous, March 25th, 2021, 12.30 p.m.

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  • Comment from Robert Altwegg (trebor)
    To Maria Müller (the answer function is defective):
    Wrong, the SP has a position paper on its strategy towards China. Mr. Molina continues to criticize China for human rights violations.
    On the other hand, we don't hear anything from the eloquent SVP. Billionaire Christoph Blocher's party has been preaching to us for years how important freedom and democracy are. No criticism of the party but against China's injustice regime! R.Köppel: You have to maintain a “benevolent neutrality” towards China.
    Agree agree to the comment
  • Comment from Andy Gasser (agasser)
    Not only young Africans distrust China. More and more people are realizing what kind of regime is in power in China. It is time for the EU and Switzerland to wake up and take a clear stance on China.
    Agree agree to the comment
  • Comment from Charles Grossrieder (View)
    The Americans see Africa from the same point of view as their African-born population.
    While the US has mostly set up around thirty new military bases in recent years, China is building new infrastructure, hospitals, etc; bring thousands to China to study and learn professions and trainers to Africa. China gives something, also wants something in return; the West has always only taken but and portrays the Chinese as the evil.
    What the US says is God's blessing for those blind who believe.
    Agree agree to the comment
    1. answer from Walter Foletti (Giuseppe Mazola)
      Please note the following:
      - China also has military bases in Africa
      - China is building roads and rail networks
      - mostly it is Chinese "convicts" who build all this and then
      stay.
      - all of this is used to transport the natural resources
      - China builds seaports to transport mineral resources to China
      - but the African people are starving!
      - what the Chinese do is neo-colonialism beyond compare
      - The African states are worse off than ever
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. Show answers

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