I can see many reasons why European countries should focus more attention on Africa. I can’t see many why the U. S. should, as Philippe Benoit urges at The Hill:
As I wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill immediately following the U.S.-Africa December Summit: “To achieve [a] strong partnership, the U.S. will need to demonstrate that it is interested in Africa because the continent itself matters, not merely to address other U.S. international objectives.”
The recent events in Sudan, however, serve as a reminder that it is also important for Washington to vigorously engage Africa precisely to support American geopolitical interests globally.
Over the last several months, the fighting by Russia to take Bakhmut in Ukraine has been spearheaded by the Wagner Group, a paramilitary Russian group of mercenaries. The battle for Bakhmut has become a strategic focus of the war as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine extends into a second year.
While fighting raged in Bakhmut, several thousand miles to the south in Khartoum, Sudan, fighting broke out between two rival generals for control of the city and, by extension, the country. Once again, the Wagner Group is present. As reported by NBC, “The Russian mercenary outfit Wagner Group is sending surface-to-air missiles to one of the sides in Sudan’s war, fueling the conflict and destabilizing the region, the Treasury Department said this week.” Wagner’s strategy in Africa is closely linked to the war in Ukraine as it is “profiting off African countries’ mining wealth, with the proceeds helping to fund Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
Yet, as U.S. geopolitical competitors in Moscow and Beijing have already recognized, Africa matters for its own sake, independent of the Ukraine situation. Wagner, for example, has worked to establish itself across the continent in a campaign that predates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by many years. From the Central African Republic to Mali to Sudan and more, Wagner has implanted itself, gaining influence and generating massive revenues by exploiting Africa’s rich mineral resources. Notably, from a geopolitical perspective, experts interviewed by NBC said: “Wagner’s role in Sudan is part of a growing presence in Africa aimed at undercutting U.S. and French influence,” and its “aim has been to bolster Moscow’s influence in Africa.”
My own view is that the U. S. should focus significantly more attention on Central and South America while the Europeans devote more attention to Africa. Nearly every argument Mr. Benoit makes about Africa is also true of Latin America. For example, the Wagner Group has a toehold in Venezuela, too.