Book Review: Moi’s Kleptocracy and Its Spillovers

In the book, Moi’s Kleptocracy and Its Spillovers, the author, Duncan Ndegwa attempts to relate Kenya’s social, political and economic challenges to Moi’s presidency. Ndegwa was the first post-independence Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Public Service. He also served as Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya from 1967 to 1982.

Ndegwa argues, though unconvincingly in most cases, that Moi is squarely to blame for his kleptocratic tendencies and the after-effects two decades later.

Primarily, the book sounds more of an attempt by the author to settle scores with former president Moi, and is analytically shallow and jumbled up to measure up to its title. Perhaps much thought and effort were not put into writing it.

It is illogical to defend Moi’s presidency, but it’s irrational not to strongly condemn graft engineered by Jomo Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki. Ndegwa notes that Moi eroded all the advances made during Kenyatta’s presidency. He goes ahead to state how Moi resorted to divide-and-rule tactics to impoverish Kenyans.

In a way, Ndegwa tries to avoid the weight of history; Moi simply echoed Kenyatta’s tune of divide-and-rule! Isolating the Kenyatta presidency from Moi’s is historical backhandedness.

The author comes close to appreciating the role of Kenyatta’s era in laying the foundation for graft in Moi’s regime. First, he points out the recommendation of the Ndegwa Commission (chaired by the author) in aiding corruption – civil servants were allowed to engage in business even with the government as a measure to enable them to earn extra income thereby hindering corruption. This remains one of the biggest historical blunders in Kenya.

Second, Ndegwa points out the sentiments of Kenyatta to police officers who were on a go-slow a year or so before the valueless commission was formed; “President Kenyatta advised them to use the power of their crown to make ends meet…the police took Kenyatta’s advice to use their crown to extort bribes from lawbreakers…”. However, he does not call out any of these historical missteps. Anyway, he unapologetically profiles Kenyatta as “a giant of destiny.”

One thing Ndegwa somehow gets right is the power politics and the geopolitical landscape during the Cold War in light of the support of Moi’s regime by the so-called Western democratic states. He notes that the financial resources advanced to the Moi regime were used to facilitate corruption in Kenya.

In addition, Ndegwa points out some of the failed projects initiated by Moi such as the Nyayo Tea Zones, the Nyayo milk project, the Nyayo Bus Corporation and the Nyayo Pioneer Car Project. He hilariously describes the launch of the car project noting that “Once the ceremony ended it was found that the fuel pipe of the car was not connected to the pump neither was the distributor cable in place.”

However, he cantankerously mocks the products of Moi’s initiated 8-4-4 education system claiming that it “has produced hundreds of thousands of witless graduates who find no fault in destroying institutional property.”

It could be true that 8-4-4 was not the best education system compared with its predecessor the 7-4-2-3 system. But it is ingenuine for Ndegwa to unashamedly brand the witless nature of its products. The challenges of the 8-4-4 system should be holistically considered. In essence, the structural adjustment policies (SAPs) by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank punctured the 8-4-4 system. The SAPs reduced spending on the social sector in favour of the much acclaimed economically productive sectors.

Ndegwa intentionally bypasses the furthering of corruption and other governance challenges under the Kibaki administration. He adopts the role of a fence sitter and goes to the extent of profiling the failures of Kibaki as spillovers from the Moi era which is somehow right. But Kibaki’s major failures include perpetuating systemic corruption and ethnic chauvinism which fanned the flames of the post-election violence (PEV).

Amid other half-truths on Kibaki’s political sainthood, the author claims that Western states were behind the International Criminal Court (ICC) cases in which Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto as well as other four people were accused of facilitating the PEV. Ndegwa, intentionally or otherwise, fails to appreciate the fact that the ICC cases only materialised after joint efforts by Kibaki and Raila Odinga to champion the formation of a local tribunal collapsed on the floor of Parliament. In fact, Uhuru and Ruto were vocal on their preference for the ICC route.

A keen reader may easily lose interest in the book with Ndegwa’s lame description of Uhuru in the lead up to the 2013 elections as follows: “His political pedigree, his personal qualities and his journey (he was 52 in October 2013), all mark him as the youngest, the best and the brightest.” I wish these attributes would be positively correlated with competence and governmental performance. Uhuru and Ruto have so far performed dismally.

It is unclear what Ndegwa drives at by claiming that Kikuyus, especially of his generation, are great admirers of the ancient Jews and of the Old Testament. His analogy of Jewish entrepreneurial success with that of the Agikuyu exceptionalism is a factual blunder and borders on ethnic chauvinism.

Spuriously, the author castigates devolution insinuating it would increase marginalisation and thus the level of poverty. His argument is premised on the majimbo system of governance at the dawn of independence. Ndegwa incoherently argues against devolution without looking at the bigger picture of its benefits. Neither does he take into account the regional economic imbalances and ethnic dynamism of Kenya. Appreciating the regional and ethnic marginalisation advanced by the colonial and successive post-colonial governments would have prompted Ndegwa to embrace devolution.

Overall, the book is thin on historical facts given its weighty title. One would have expected it to portray well-defined contours of the plunder under Moi’s presidency and its generational effects. It passes as a rushed text that may not stand the test of time.

Reviving African Indigenous Political Systems for A New Dawn of Development

The next paragraph is the abstract of an essay that I wrote sometime in 2021 titled “Reviving African Indigenous Political Systems for A New Dawn of Development“. A copy of the essay can be downloaded here:

Africa has a chequred social, economic and political history. This essay examines the essence of reviving the so-called indigenous political systems, a move that could help create a new dawn of development in Africa. The essay discusses how historical events such as slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism shaped the African political systems. It also highlights the need to revive the African political systems that will enhance the eroded dignity of the African people in addition to having such governance systems based on a unique value-driven approach based on the Ubuntu philosophy. Botswana’s Kgotla system is examined and affirmed as an example of a successful African governance system. The establishment of Ubuntu Institutes is primed as the fundamental step in reviving African indigenous political systems to realise a new dawn of development.

Imperialism, Instability and Coups in the Sahel Region

By Sitati Wasilwa

About ten African countries have experienced successful or attempted military coups in the last two or so years. Guinea, Sudan, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea Bissau have a troubled history of coups. Conditions that historically precipitated coups in these countries barely faded before the recent takeovers. Instead, they were firmed up by decades of poor governance and imperialism. These countries are victims of harsh, brutal and extractive autocratic regimes and foreign states.

Burkina Faso’s former president Blaise Compaore, for instance, ascended to power with the help of the French government. France’s foreign policy in Africa, especially West Africa, though driven by realism, is historically imperialist – notorious for propping regime change and endemic economic dependence.

While the aforementioned countries are historically predisposed to coups, context is key in understanding the recent wave of political instability in the Sahel region.

Superficially, one could be tempted to consider the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso as structurally different from the rest – they were fanned by rising insecurity. For Guinea, Sudan and Chad, it was the typical military hegemony fighting back. But these are conventional takes, I suppose. Unconventionally though, a few may agree, the primary cause of coups in Mali and Burkina Faso is imperialism.

Collapse of the Libyan State

A lot has been said and written by Muammar Gaddafi’s apologists and denigrators in almost equal measure. The once christened ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’ was right after all on the primary objectives of the power war by the United States of America (USA) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allied states – “…to control Libyan oil and to control Libyan land, to colonise Libya once again”.

The post-Gaddafi Libyan state is a wretched territory, unfit for human subsistence. Libya is another Iraq and Afghanistan in the making. Attaining stability in Africa’s once considered welfare state is presently nightmarish. How quickly it would turn out to be a graveyard of empires is a function of time!

Gaddafi’s warning to former British prime minister Tony Blair now sounds prophetic! The slain Libyan revolutionary warned Blair that his ouster would pave the way for Al Qaeda not only to call the shots in Libya, but to invade Europe.

It’s a shame that African scholars and intellectuals have barely engaged in discourses about Gaddafi. Methinks that he was a widely misunderstood personality largely because of one-sided Western narratives. Reliving Gaddafi’s thoughts and ideas is a tale for another day.

Gaddafi’s ouster led to the proliferation of arms across Sahelian states. Mercenaries were hired from Chad, Mali, Sudan and a host of other Sahelian countries to fight in the Libyan civil wars. The occasional retreats of the mercenaries, and of course their need for economic, and partly political survival, would lead to trade in arms – temporary or otherwise.

What’s more, terrorist groups whose fighters played a role in toppling Gaddafi found the need to spread their radical ideologies in the Sahel. The two factors led to a surge in attacks by terrorist groups and other armed groups in the region. This qualifies my thinking on imperialism as the structural cause of some of the recent coups, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Lame Duck Thinking?

Naysayers may sneer at my submission on the fall of Gaddafi and the disintegration of the Libyan state as the systemic causes of the mutinies, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso. They may argue that some countries neighbouring Libya such as Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania have successfully guarded themselves against attacks by terrorists and other armed groups. That’s true, but context is important.

Governance institutions in these latter countries, though led by authoritarian regimes over time, are way superior to the dilettantish, sub-par, outright malfunctional institutions in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Chad. Could be a good example of benevolent and malevolent autocrats.

Where do we go from here in view of imperialism, instability and the recent coups?

Geopolitical Implications

Rising insecurity and the institutionalisation of military regimes in some of the Sahelian states have led to a spurt in anti-French sentiments. Anti-French protests have been held in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea. France deployed its troops in Mali in 2013, but their presence can be considered a failure.

The commencement of Operation Barkhane in the larger Sahel region under the command of French troops barely addressed the immediate security needs of the region’s populace. The eventual withdrawal of French forces from Mali could as well lead to their ultimate exodus from the Sahel region. The USA’s failed mission and cowardly pullout from Afghanistan could tweak France’s military policy in West Africa. The redeployment of French forces from Mali to Niger could trigger anti-French sentiments in the latter. This would bid a long, somehow strange goodbye to France’s direct military engagement in the Sahel.

Russian influence is poised to grow in the Sahel, especially with the rise of anti-French sentiments. More deployment of Russian mercenaries and security forces could likely occur with the military-led governments seeking external help in containing the insecurity situation. Bear in mind that protesters in pro-coup and anti-French rallies in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso have ritualistically waved Russian flags. The imminent rise of Russia as a major global power player could be well reflected by its increased involvement in some of the troubled Sahelian states.

The African Union (AU) could come out as a discredited institution following the growing insecurity and coups. What’s its capacity? How is it competently structured? Is it a dog that barks, but seldomly bites? It may be a good-for-nothing institution after all.

And, most importantly, the recent spate of coups could trigger attempted or successful ousters in other African countries. Countries at risk include Benin, Niger, the Central African Republic and Togo given their troubled histories and a somewhat upward trajectory of terrorist attacks.

Sitati Wasilwa is a political economist and geopolitical analyst. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa LinkedIn: Sitati Wasilwa

What Next After Discontinuation of the Doing Business Report?

The decision by the World Bank to halt the publication of the Doing Business Report has elicited mixed reactions, though most of the reactions seem to be celebratory – was it disliked that much?

Yours truly is somehow pinned at a crossroad contemplating whether to sympathise with the World Bank or attempt to join the militancy bandwagon to further demonise the Doing Business Report, and extensively, the Bank itself. If a gun was to be pointed at my head, or if kidnappers were to come calling, with the two choices offered as ransom, I’d gladly opt for the militant feat; hammer and tongs on the Bank and its doomed Report.

I am tempted to dig out the history of the Doing Business Report, but the information is all over the internet for you to scour. At the outset, however, a better understanding of the ill-fated Report can only be obtained by acknowledging the ideological standing of the World Bank; something along the lines of free-market economics.

In 2020, I ranted on Facebook about the careless mannerisms of politicians, journalists, researchers, and other people religiously – and blindly for that matter – embracing the Doing Business Report. The comments on the post reflected the varied opinions and beliefs on the validity of the report.

On one hand, some conveyed their mistrust about the Report based on its detachment from the reality on the ground – more on this is covered later in the article. On the other hand, some were unbowed and unshaken, insisting that the Report is extremely valid, among other foggy reasons, the long hours of work spent searching and compiling data. You can tell that I was miffed by the latter group, partly because of ideological reasons and of course common sense.  

Observing high standards of integrity in research and stitching data is akin to walking on landmines. Proverbially, and so, practically, stories sell, but data tells. Most people, organisations and governments use data to drive their agenda and lie!

Lorenzo Fioramonti’s book, Gross Domestic Problem, sheds light on how Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been historically and fashionably used by governments and other mainstream policy institutions to drive political and economic narratives with little consideration of the prevailing realities.

As such, data is subject to manipulation. The renowned British economist Robert Coase famously remarked that, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything.” To surmise, the suspension of the Doing Business Report indicates an exercise shrouded in data manipulation.

The inappropriate alteration of data – a decent description for data manipulation – from Azerbaijan, China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the 2018 and 2020 reports was cited as the primary reason for pausing the publication of the Report in 2021. The Report raised the stakes of scorecard diplomacy.

Never mind that in 2018, an external audit indicated that there was no evidence regarding the manipulation of the Ease of Doing Business indicators for Chile.

But don’t get me wrong; it is not just the manipulation of data that is the primary problem of the Report, subjective data collection processes are also a systemic challenge.

The disputed ‘father of economics’ Adam Smith – yes, disputed because the great Ibn Khaldun made riveting economic contributions three centuries before Smith’s supposed landmark ideas – documents in The Wealth of Nations about the society’s benefit from the pursuit of self-interest of the butcher, the brewer and the baker: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

The World Bank obstinately dons the robes of the butcher, the apron of the baker, and the slacks of the brewer in pursuing its self-interest – advancing free-market economic policies. A quick one: how the butcher swings his axe, or how the baker mixes his dough, or how the brewer distils the alcohol is solely informed by their interests. They can as well manipulate processes and systems to achieve their goals. In essence, there is no benevolence in the market, and so, the World Bank is a profit-making business, and not after mounting charity parades. This is a low-hanging incentive for the Bank’s staff to seek solace in monkey business exercises.

When Paul Romer poked holes on the credibility of the Report in 2018, I embarked on an unholy mission to further understand the underhand dealings by the Bank to admonish some countries while praising others.

I never doubted Romer’s retracted comments on the aim of the Report to lower Chile’s rank on the account of having a socialist government given the Bank’s tainted policy history.

Romer’s Damascus Moment triggered other reactions from organisations and individuals alike. A blog post published by Oxfam in January 2018 highlights some weaknesses of the Report. First, the ideological bias of the Report tramples on any form of regulation dealing a heavy blow on attempts by governments to advance social benefits to the most vulnerable individuals. Second, the “total tax and contribution rate” indicator that perfectly enhances the conventional economic wisdom that low taxes are effective incentives for business prosperity, more so, in attracting foreign investment. Typical trickle-down economics! Tom Bergin busts this myth (cutting taxes to enhance investment and economic growth) in his book Free Lunch Thinking.

In 2013, the Independent Panel Review of the Doing Business Report made several recommendations including reforming the Report’s methodology, increasing its level of transparency, removing aggregate rankings (the Ease of Doing Business Index), and permanent deletion of the labour market flexibility and tax rate indicators.

An open letter (dated March 11th, 2021) to the Bank’s Executive Directors undersigned by 361 civil society organisations, social movements, trade unions, academics and independent experts from 80 countries highlights reasons for ceasing the publication of the report as premised on “methodology, data selection and scope, questionable robustness of the aggregate rankings, and its anti-regulation bias.”

Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the Bank, further punctures the Report noting that: “…I thought it was a terrible product. Countries received good ratings for low corporate taxes and weak labor regulations. The numbers were always squishy, with small changes in the data having potentially large effects on the rankings. Countries were inevitably upset when seemingly arbitrary decisions caused them to slide in the rankings.”

I came across an article authored by Gerard McCormack and published in the European Business Organization Law Review journal and admired his thoroughness in analysing the Doing Business Report. Consider one of his statements: “The DB project has a universalist, quasi-imperialist vision in that it puts legal rules and legal systems at the fulcrum of the development equation but a variety of non-legal factors clearly impact on a country’s economic performance.” Yes, the imperialist dream marches on – a sort of one-size-fits-all approach to economic growth and development.

McCormack further notes that “the DB project should be stripped of its preoccupation with rankings—the process of simplifying complex matters of policy execution and design into a simple, single ranking.”

But his remarks on the misleading broad-brush approach of the Report rang the loudest in my ears: “Context and cultural sensitivity are all important in the ‘real’ world and reducing all sorts of complicated matters to a single ranking hardly seems compatible with bringing about genuine improvements in the legal architecture for doing business.”

Way Forward?

The World Bank seems to have abandoned its attempt to swim through a river infested with hungry and bloodthirsty crocodiles. Let’s assume the Bank is now patched on an isolated island in the waters, will it resolve to change course, or just pause and embark on its mission with gusto?

The press statement issued by the Bank communicating the discontinuation of the Report hints at the development of “a new approach to assessing the business and investment climate.” I guess that the Bank may decide to rename the Doing Business Report and panel beat a few aspects here and there in line with the recommendations of the 2013 Independent Panel Review of the Doing Business Report.

What’s more, the Bank may consider scaling up the transparency processes of the Report’s successor. As noted by Ian Richards, UNCTAD’s Global Enterprise Index offers a benchmark for the World Bank to learn from with regard to transparency, and more specifically, inviting input from the public instead of relying on specialists and experts holed in some ivory towers.

Governments and other policy institutions should cease relying on the Doing Business Report to guide policy formulation because its methodological weaknesses and benchmarks advance inequality and derail broad-based socio-economic growth and development. Social indices are just as important as economic indices in assessing growth and development.

Is it difficult to move on from past or toxic romances? The failure of the Doing Business Report indicates that, after all, moving on from ex-sweethearts or toxic lovers is something the World Bank is not ready to embrace. The Bank’s romanticisation of raw free-market economics ignores the failure of its past and present romantic advances such as the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs). Context should always dictate policy formulation and implementation. This is a vital lesson noted by Ha-Joon Chang in his two books Bad Samaritans and Kicking Away the Ladder.

The goose is cooked. Time will tell how delicious or unpalatable the meal is.

Sitati Wasilwa is a political economist, and a researcher, writer and consultant on geopolitics, public policy and governance affairs. He is a youth leader at Kenya YMCA, a member of the Local Solutions Youth Panel at the Global Youth Mobilization and a contributing writer for The African Executive Magazine. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa LinkedIn: Sitati Wasilwa Blog: The Kavirondo Facebook: Sitati Wasilwa

How will political realignments in Kenya shape up ahead of the 2022 elections?

By Sitati Wasilwa

In a year, Kenyan voters will have an opportunity to elect political leaders. Much focus has been directed towards the presidential election given its high stakes stemming from Uhuru Kenyatta’s imminent exit.

It is natural that politicians – the presidential hopefuls – embark on crafting alliances based on their interests. But how will the alliances shape up? This article attempts to discuss the prospects of new political formations drawing from a series of post-handshake political events.

The handshake is one of the most significant political events in Kenya after the promulgation of the current constitutional dispensation. Other landmark political events include the nullification of the 2017 presidential election results and the rulings by the High Court and Court of Appeal with regard to the unconstitutionality of the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill 2020.

My hypothesis about the significance of the handshake is premised on its aftermath. Some political formations have since been emasculated or collapsed while new ones have emerged. Political players have also been changing gears and shifting lanes to solidify their political standing.

One of the notable political events post-handshake is the Jubilee-KANU post-election agreement. At the outset, this political manoeuvre helped Uhuru Kenyatta to solidify his political power and also enabled him to play a primary role in the 2022 succession politics.

I extensively wrote about this agreement a while back and highlighted some of its possible effects such as the eventual death of the Jubilee Party, Mt. Kenya politicians joining KANU or establishing their political vehicles, formation of a broad coalition comprising of KANU, Jubilee, ODM, ANC, Wiper and FORD-Kenya and the possible betrayal of Raila Odinga by Uhuru Kenyatta.

The creation of the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee in January 2019 is another post-handshake event engineered by Kenyatta to strengthen his position and manage his succession.

Fred Matiang’i was tasked with the role of chairing the Committee, a move aimed at ostracising Deputy President William Ruto.

In September 2020, a plot was hatched by Uhuru Kenyatta’s lieutenants in the Jubilee Party to split the Deputy Party Leader’s position into four. I wrote about this machination likening it to past instances involving former Vice Presidents Oginga Odinga and George Saitoti.

Oginga’s date with the devil took place at the infamous Limuru Conference held on the 12th and 13th of March, 1966 when his post of deputy party president was replaced by eight party vice presidents.

Saitoti’s baptism with fire was on the 18th of March, 2002 when the position of KANU’s National Vice-Chairman was replaced by four Vice Chairmen’s positions. He was replaced by Kalonzo Musyoka, Katana Ngala, Musalia Mudavadi and Uhuru Kenyatta.

While writing about the possible consequences of the Jubilee-KANU post-election agreement, I suggested that William Ruto ought to find a new political home or risk further humiliation and isolation in the Jubilee Party. He has since embraced the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.

Another post-handshake development is the formation of One Kenya Alliance (OKA) by KANU, ANC, Wiper Party and FORD-Kenya.

OKA’s survival, however, hangs in the balance considering KANU’s position to bring on board Odinga as a major stakeholder. Kalonzo and Mudavadi are cagey about KANU’s proposal and this could as well spell doom for the fledgling alliance.

KANU’s withdrawal from the coalition would deal it a heavy blow since Gideon Moi is the only principal who can finance a well-oiled presidential campaign.

One more hurdle that OKA should overcome is the Jubilee-KANU post-election agreement. KANU has made it clear that this agreement runs until 2022. A joint statement issued by the OKA principals in late July 2021 indicates the desire by their parties to leave their pre-and post-election agreements.

ANC, Wiper and FORD-Kenya have since left the National Super Alliance (NASA) after the latter’s formal dissolution. KANU, however, is yet to cut off its engagement with the Jubilee Party due to the strong ties between the Kenyatta and Moi families.

Plans are underway to formalise a coalition between ODM and the Jubilee Party. On this, ODM is walking on eggshells given the waning stature of the Jubilee Party. The latter has already lost its footing in William Ruto’s backyard and stares at further losses in the Mt. Kenya region owing to the mushrooming of smaller parties.

The rulings by the High Court and the Court of Appeal against the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill 2020 will certainly redefine political realignments. Leading presidential hopefuls would have massively benefited from an expanded Executive but the Courts’ pronouncements present a tough balancing act for them in choosing suitable running mates and plotting formidable political formations.

Fast forward, Kenya’s political landscape is set to experience waves of realignments, but what will shape the expected developments? Who are the major players? What are some of the prospective outcomes?

Uhuru Kenyatta’s Succession Planning

Naturally, every president manages his or her succession and Uhuru Kenyatta is not an exception. The infancy stages of the Jubilee administration were dominated by narratives of Kenyatta clearing his two terms and thereafter pass the baton to Ruto for another ten years! That was far-fetched and naïve.

The handshake dented Ruto’s hopes of being supported for the top office by Kenyatta, a move woven out of the typical Machiavellian script of discarding those who help one to obtain power.

Kenyatta has effectively used the handshake to consolidate power in his second term and to plan his succession.

His remarks, while on a tour in Nyeri in November 2018, on his active participation in the 2022 succession politics, and whose preferred successor will confound many, is a wild card that Ruto wouldn’t have anticipated.

Moreover, Kenyatta’s comments in January 2021 at Vihiga on the need for other ethnic groups other than the Agikuyu and Kalenjin to take over the presidency in 2022 is an indicator of him not intending to support Ruto.

In June 2021, while meeting leaders from the Kamba community, Kenyatta yet indicated his intentions to back a presidential candidate collectively selected by the now-defunct NASA coalition affiliated parties.

Kenyatta has since met twice with Odinga and the OKA chiefs in Mombasa with reports indicating the ODM leader as his preferred successor.

Several people have chided Kenyatta’s active participation in the 2022 presidential elections but I do not think it is immoral as it is made to sound; most incumbents across the world have a hand in who succeeds them.

Others have gone ahead to liken Kenyatta’s succession planning to Moi’s in 2002. Wild cards are being drawn and shuffled attempting to paint Kenyatta’s ultimate choice as a poisoned chalice that would be rejected by the majority of voters. But what are the odds?

KANU was widely unpopular in 2002 and faced a united opposition. Besides, KANU endured a mass walkout of politicians who were dissatisfied with Moi’s decision to support Uhuru Kenyatta as the party’s presidential candidate.

This time around, the ruling party – Jubilee – is unlikely to field a candidate and could only do so in a coalition. That notwithstanding, Jubilee is a lame party that is likely to suffer from mass walkouts in the months leading to the general elections. ODM should be wary of this as it cements its coalition with Jubilee.

The rejection of Moi and Project Uhuru in 2002 was at the backdrop of citizens fatigued by decades of poor governance. I’m uncertain that Kenyatta’s preferred successor will be defaced with accusations of enhancing a legacy characterised by a huge public debt, general economic mismanagement and abrogation of the rule of law. In any case, it is the candidature of Ruto that should be subjected to thorough scrutiny with regard to the performance of the Jubilee administration.

Furthermore, Kenyatta, learning from Moi’s and Kibaki’s succession planning, may not want to directly campaign for his preferred successor but would help in mobilising resources and networks within and without the country.

Odinga seems to be reaping the fruits of Kenyatta’s patronage in the post-handshake era. Several wealthy industrialists from Kenyatta’s backyard have paid homage to him and he has also been hosted by some of them. Also, Odinga’s launch of the Azimio La Umoja in Nakuru in the presence of several politicians and leading entrepreneurs from the Agikuyu community sent a clear signal as Kenyatta’s preferred successor.

David Murathe’s sentimental expressions are pointers of Kenyatta’s inner sanctum having sanctioned Odinga as the preferred successor.

Gideon Moi will be a major player in the Kenyatta succession primarily due to the strong ties between their families. This is the only opportunity for Kenyatta to prop him up to the national political scene. As previously stated, the Jubilee-KANU post-election agreement was no coincidence and the younger Moi’s insistence on the formation of a broad coalition with Odinga on board is a clear sign of his desire to play a visible role in Kenyatta’s succession.

Raila Odinga’s Candidature

Odinga personifies Law 25 of the 48 Laws of Power of recreating oneself. For instance, he sought for re-election on a National Development Party (NDP) ticket in 1994 after decamping from FORD-Kenya.

After the 1997 elections, Odinga recreated his political life by striking a deal with President Moi in February 1998 culminating in the formation of a KANU-NDP coalition government, and eventually, a merger between the two parties. Odinga hoped to be KANU’s flagbearer in the 2002 elections banking on the strategic friendship he’d cultivated with Arap Moi.

Arap Moi’s unexpected pronouncement of supporting Uhuru Kenyatta pushed Odinga to reinvent himself and he led other disgruntled voices out of KANU forming the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that partnered with the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) to establish the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (NARC).

Betrayal within the NARC administration – caused by the failure to implement the election MoU – resulted in Odinga opposing it, and capitalized on the 2005 constitutional referendum to chart his political path. He successfully led the NO/Orange campaigns leading to the rejection of the proposed constitution. This birthed the Orange Democratic Movement.

After a fractious presidential election in 2007, Odinga formed a Grand Coalition Government with Mwai Kibaki and successfully campaigned for the institutionalisation of a new constitutional dispensation.

Having lost the 2013 presidential elections through the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), Odinga engineered a move to push for constitutional reforms through the Okoa Kenya Movement banner. This made him politically relevant.

Okoa Kenya failed to attain its goals after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) rejected some signatures collected to approve the call for constitutional reforms.

A presidential election marred with irregularities in 2017 that was eventually nullified by the Supreme Court gave Odinga the impetus to showcase his political recreation skills. He took oath as the people’s president cornering Kenyatta’s administration into negotiating with him resulting in the historical handshake – otherwise known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Odinga was at the forefront of pushing for constitutional changes through the BBI, a move thwarted by the High Court and the Court of Appeal. He appears to be unmoved by the rulings and has quickly moved on to preparing for the 2022 elections.

His launch of the Azimio La Umoja was the clearest indicator of the ODM leader contesting for next year’s presidential election. But he faces a Herculean task in settling for a running mate given the failure to expand the Executive as hoped for through the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill 2020.

Kalonzo and Mudavadi are unwilling to support Odinga’s presidential ambitions though the latter stands a better chance than the two with more resources and extensive networks to his name.

There is talk of Odinga picking a running mate from Kenyatta’s Mt. Kenya bloc but the region currently lacks a political heavyweight to take up such a responsibility.

Equally important, Odinga is keen on securing a significant number of votes from the Mt. Kenya region by banking on the handshake. As earlier stated, he has played host to several delegations of financially powerful individuals from the region and his party is in the process of creating an alliance with the Jubilee Party.

Jimmy Wanjigi has declared his intention to vie for the presidency on an ODM ticket but he’ll first have to face Odinga in the party primaries. Odinga is definitely behind Wanjigi’s presidential ambitions using it as a slate to capture the attention of the Mt. Kenya bloc.

While several attempts have been made by Kenyatta to sell his candidacy to the leaders of OKA, the unrelenting nature of Kalonzo and Mudavadi is a stumbling block that Odinga needs to overcome.

In essence, this would involve creating a broad coalition bringing on board Kivutha Kibwana, Charity Ngilu and Alfred Mutua to isolate Kalonzo in lower Eastern, and settling on Mudavadi as his running mate. It will be easier for Odinga to do without Kalonzo than Mudavadi.

Another headache for Odinga is the Coastal region. It may prove challenging for him to accommodate the interests of Coastal politicians with Amason Kingi having already been kicked out of ODM. Kingi is advocating for a Coastal political formation though he seems isolated with Odinga having scattered his move by reaching out to Hassan Joho and Granton Samboja among other politicians.

The Moi and Matiang’i factors will play to the advantage of Odinga. Moi may not bring a substantial number of votes to Odinga’s camp but will certainly be a key financier and deal-breaker for the other OKA principals to support the former Prime Minister. Matiang’i will utilise government resources to rally the Gusii community to support Odinga and the recently convened Nyanza Leaders’ Convention at Sikri is a solid signal.

William Ruto’s Candidature

Ruto is an effective and energetic politician and one of the frontrunners of the 2022 elections alongside Odinga.

It would have been easier for Ruto to bag the presidency if it were not for the handshake but the post-handshake politics complicate his political equation.

Ever since the handshake, the Deputy President has attempted to cleverly take credit for the accomplishments of the Jubilee administration and dissociate himself from its failures. It is too soon to conclude if this approach will work in his favour.

From lamely opposing the BBI to advancing his ‘Hustler Narrative’ packaged as the bottom-up economic model, Ruto appears defiant on building any political alliances with senior politicians drawn from Kenya’s largest ethnic blocs.

This borders on arrogance and has already ruffled feathers in Central Kenya. I am persuaded that politicians from the Mt. Kenya region will not be naïve to decamp to Ruto’s UDA party based on the unwise merger between The National Alliance (TNA), the United Republican Party (URP) and other fringe parties that gave rise to the Jubilee Party. Rejecting alliances with other parties will cost him dearly.

Aside from overestimating his national popularity, Ruto faces a hard time selecting his running mate. His most likely choice will be from the Mt. Kenya region and this may not augur well with politicians and Kenyans from other ethnic communities. As such, the expansion of the Executive would have worked to his advantage despite his opposition to it.

Ruto has the financial means to run an effective presidential campaign but his networks especially external ones are limited. His main ally is Yoweri Museveni and the two have never shied away from displaying their camaraderie. Word has it that Museveni is helping Ruto gain access to some political networks across the world.

In December 2019, Museveni organised for the beleaguered Deputy President to launch the William Ruto Institute of African and Leadership Studies at Makerere University, a move that stirred controversy.

Earlier in 2015, Ruto campaigned for Museveni’s reelection in Kapchorwa and was back in the same region in 2018 to co-launch the Kapchorwa-Suam road.

Also, in 2018, Ruto was in Kampala to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award organised by Uganda Young Achievers Awards. In July 2021, Ruto was the chief guest at a ceremony to lay the foundation stone of a manufacturing plant for biological drugs and mRNA vaccine.

The formation of a broad coalition by Ruto’s competitors will work against him. Perhaps it is time he considers building alliances with other parties or risks isolating himself.

And are some of his political associates following him to secure the bag? With his much-acclaimed generosity, any unprincipled, pauper politician will not hesitate to strike a genuine or fake friendship with him. It will be interesting to see if such political friends will stick with him as the 2022 election nears.

OKA’s Prospects

None of OKA’s four principals stands a chance to win the presidency, individually or collectively. Each of them lacks solid backing from their ethnic blocs. Kalonzo is staring at a supremacy battle against Ngilu, Mutua and Kibwana in Ukambani. Mudavadi is not guaranteed solid support from the former Western Province because of the inroads made by Odinga and Ruto. Moi lacks the mettle to marshal a significant number of votes, especially among the Kalenjin ethnic communities. Moses Wetang’ula’s is battling wrangles in his FORD-Kenya party. Besides, Wetang’ula is barely popular beyond few pockets of the Bukusu people.

There is little to take home about OKA’s prospects. This political formation will struggle to stay afloat financially especially if Gideon Moi abandons it. A weak financial muscle implies that OKA’s member parties will win very few seats at all levels. It will also be a challenge for OKA to convince formidable politicians across the country to jump ship because of a narrow financial base.

OKA’s principals have to contend with the lack of extensive external networks. Furthermore, OKA has a high deficit of strategic minds to guide the thinking of its principals and run a serious presidential campaign.

Whoever wants to win the presidency in 2022 must embrace a broad-based coalition. Temperatures have just started to rise but it is still early to map out the nature of alliances that will be formed. One thing is for sure; the weaker presidential hopefuls will team up with the stronger ones. We can only look forward to interesting coalition names.

Sitati Wasilwa is a political economist, a consultant on geopolitics and governance affairs, writer and moderator. He is a youth leader at Kenya YMCA, a member of the Local Solutions Youth Panel at the Global Youth Mobilization and a contributing writer for The African Executive Magazine. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa LinkedIn: Sitati Wasilwa Blog: The Kavirondo Facebook: Sitati Wasilwa

Explained: B3W versus BRI; what are the prospects for Africa?

By Sitati Wasilwa

One of the hallmarks of the 47th G7 Summit held in the United Kingdom (UK) in June 2021 was the initiation of the Build Back Better World (B3W), a global geopolitical brush aimed at painting out the gains made by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Primarily, the B3W is a geostrategic infrastructural development initiative targeting low and middle-income countries located across the Indo-Pacific, African, Caribbean and Latin American regions.  

The B3W aims at ensuring that infrastructural development is premised on the following guiding principles: values-driven, good governance and strong standards, climate-friendly, strong strategic partnerships, mobilising capital through development finance and enhancing the impact of multilateral public finance.

In narrowing the more than $40 trillion infrastructure deficit in developing countries, the B3W has identified four strategic areas; climate, health and health security, digital technology and gender equity and equality.

The conceptualisation of the B3W reconfigures the post-Cold War landscape that has been dominated by the United States of America (USA) – arguably until 2008 – but has also witnessed the re-emergence of China as a global power.

My postulation regarding 2008 as the breaking point of America’s global unilateral hegemony is based on the solid arguments by Martin Wolf and Michael Mandelbaum.

Wolf notes in his book, When China Rules the World, that the 2008 global financial crisis precipitated the rise of China creating what he terms as the Chinese World Economic Order. Loosely, the Chinese World Economic Order refers to the epoch of globalisation anchored on China’s geopolitical ambitions. Understandably, the Chinese economy, as stated by Wolf, was hardly hit by the global financial meltdown, unlike the American, European and Japanese economies that were battered and almost broken by the crisis.

Mandelbaum writes in his book, Mission Failure, that the global financial crisis brought to an end the period of high growth that characterised the post-Cold War order. With the Chinese economy posting relatively high growth rates post-2008, Beijing would inherently call the shots in the global political economy.

In the post-2008 era, China’s grand, global geostrategic ambitions are exemplified by the institutionalisation of the BRI which currently stretches across 126 countries and 26 international organisations. Africa is one of the key strategic fronts of Beijing’s global geopolitical offensive as illustrated by the formulation of China’s first Africa policy paper in 2006 and China’s second Africa policy paper in 2015. More importantly, in a bid to stay ahead of the geopolitical and geoeconomics curve during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing published a white paper – China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era – in January 2021. The white paper aims at fostering China’s relations with the Global South.

For the USA and her allies in Europe, Japan and Australia, the post-2008 era has been a treacherous path marked by slow and unequal economic recovery and the emergence of populist political movements.

America, in particular, has gone through the motions intensively by enduring the histrionic Trump presidency. President Donald Trump’s administration, seeking to rediscover and reestablish America’s greatness, was abrasive in its foreign policy approach especially towards China resulting in the US-China trade war. Before Trump, the Obama administration assumed office at the height of the Great Recession and although the domestic policy was prioritized in order to revive the battered economy, its foreign policy funnelled instability in a host of regions around the world especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

Additionally, the Obama administration facilitated the creation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that would have given China a run for her money especially in accessing the European and American markets.

The Trump administration did not carry on with the TTIP and instead elected to institutionalise the Better Utilisation of Investment to Development (BUILD), a programme aimed at enhancing infrastructural development and alleviation of extreme poverty in low-income and middle-income countries. The formalisation of BUILD was characterised by the transformation of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation into the US International Development Finance Corporation.

Later in November 2019 during the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Bangkok, Thailand, the Blue Dot Network (BDN) was established by the US, Japan and Australia. The BDN is an initiative that aims to bring together the public, private and civil society sectors to “promote quality infrastructure investment that is open and inclusive, transparent, economically viable, financially, environmentally and socially sustainable, and compliant with international standards, laws and regulations”.

Billed as an anti-thesis of the BRI, the BDN is branded around the debt-trap narrative which is common in the West. The debt-trap narrative paints China’s BRI as an imperial geopolitical tool that interferes with the sovereignty of host countries. What’s more, the BRI projects are mostly criticised by the West on the account of ignoring labour, construction and environmental standards in addition to poor transparency in the financing of these projects. This narrative has barely gained much currency, especially in the African political arena primarily because China hardly intervenes in political affairs.

BDN was barely in the limelight in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Upon his election as America’s president on the ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, Joe Biden embarked on a mission to reposition the country as the leader of the international community and champion of multilateralism.

The B3W initiative is premised on the ‘Build Back Better’ agenda and operationalises the vision of the BDN. Its institutionalisation portrays the global geopolitical ambitions of the Biden administration to compete against China in the low-income and middle-income countries where the latter’s geostrategic footprints are visible.

Formulation of the B3W is one thing and its implementation is a different ballgame. Amid all this, Africa remains a strategic front for the BRI and B3W. So, what lies ahead for Africa?

To begin with, it is not certain that the B3W will take off given the uncertainties created by the Covid-19 pandemic. In as much as the Biden administration seeks to reposition the USA’s leadership in a multilateral world, domestic policy focusing on the recovery of the American economy will be given priority. This is not to suggest that the BRI will be on a smooth path as there are indications of its progress having been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The BRI, however, enjoys the first-comers advantage with African countries having benefited in terms of infrastructural development. As such, African countries have already established strong ties with China which may not be easy for the B3W to break.

Additionally, the B3W aims to capitalise on the latecomers’ advantage by trying to avoid the negative press associated with the BRI thus the former’s intention to promote sustainability and transparency in its dealings. This is, however, far-fetched in the African context because African governments are hardly moved by the colour of a cat provided it can catch mice.

Relatedly, the B3W proponents will relish spinning the anti-BRI narrative along the lines of debt-trap diplomacy. Early indications regarding the continuity of the debt-trap narrative by the Biden administration are visible in the remarks made by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken; “If someone is coming along and saying I’m going to invest a lot of money in your country, but it’s a loan, so, that means you have a debt and you’re going to have to pay it back someday and if that is too great and you can’t pay it back, then I’m going to own the asset in question”.

The debt-trap diplomacy narrative is a myth and largely soothes the ego of the anti-Chinese entities. This does not imply that China, in her quest for global dominance, perfectly conducts its affairs in Africa. There are valid concerns about its commitment to environmental sustainability and upholding high labour standards, especially in Africa.

The debt-trap myth is based on the case of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and convincing arguments about the port and rogue lending by China are presented by Yunnan Chen writing in the Italian Institute for International Political Studies’ blog, and Deborah Brautigam and Meg Rithmire as published by The Atlantic.

Kevin Acker, Deborah Brautigam and Yufan Huang deconstruct the Chinese debt-trap myth noting that China has cancelled about $3.4 billion of debt – mostly for zero-interest loans – for African countries between 2000 and 2019. Furthermore, they state that in the case of interest-bearing loans, “China has restructured or refinanced approximately US$ 15 billion of debt in Africa between 2000 and 2019”. In addition, Acker, Brautigam and Yufan, in demystifying the prospects of Chinese debt-trap in Africa, indicate having “found no “asset seizures” and despite contract clauses requiring arbitration, no evidence of the use of courts to enforce payments or application of penalty interest rates”.

Moreover, Acker, Brautigam and Yufan note that the purported lack of transparency among Chinese lenders especially in debt restructuring is alluded to their preference “to address restructuring quietly, on a bilateral basis, tailoring programs to each situation”. This contravenes the provisions of the Paris Club where arrangements on all debt restructuring are expected to be communicated publicly.

China has also offered debt relief in the Covid-19 era to several African countries under four frameworks, namely the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust, and ad hoc debt relief arrangements.

The China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) notes that “Chinese lenders have provided at least US$12.1 billion in global debt reliefin 2020 and 2021”. Data by CARI indicates that 16 African countries have so far been accorded debt relief by China under the G20 DSSI framework. Furthermore, CARI notes that 15 African countries had their interest-free loan debts cancelled in 2020 under the FOCAC framework. What’s more, China has also “contributed US$8 million to the IMF’s CCRT debt service relief program”.

Fast-forward, attempts by the B3W proponents to advance the debt-trap narrative in Africa may not be successful considering strides made by China in offering debt relief. I also argue in the book The Future of Africa in the Post-COVID-19 World that the debt relief arrangements for African countries by China will strengthen the Sino-African relations during and after the pandemic.

Beijing is expected to craft and spin an anti-B3W narrative based on its tradition of non-interference with the internal affairs of African countries unlike the USA and other Western countries whose lending is mostly pegged on implementation of economic and political reforms.

From experience, African governments would be wary of the lending conditionalities of the B3W initiative and may still prefer Chinese lending. This could force the B3W proponents to scale down on the reforms conditionalities in an attempt to compete with China on equal footing.

Lesser and fair conditionalities for the B3W implies that African countries will be spoilt for choice with regard to infrastructural development. However, in the development world where free lunch thinking is more of a myth, more lending for African countries would mean losing more in terms of natural resources and markets thus furthering deindustrialisation and creation of meaningful jobs. This would put at risk the implementation of noble initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

African countries are used to the habit of playing into the schemes initiated by foreign states and are yet to learn from it. Presently, no African country is bothered by the B3W initiative. It would be wise for them to engage with African think tanks and intellectuals to map out the possible course of action needed to avoid any haemorrhage that may result from the scramble between the BRI and B3W proponents.

The actualisation and longevity of the B3W are doubtful with some describing it as a paper tiger based on the failure of the Trump administration to roll out similar initiatives. Additionally, the complexities created by the Covid-19 pandemic may prompt countries supporting the B3W to be more inward-looking. The targeted private lenders could also be taciturn about financing the B3W projects primarily due to economic difficulties created by the pandemic and having learnt crucial lessons from the BRI regarding the returns on investment and possibilities of debt restructuring.

Equally important, the B3W may not compete favourably with the BRI considering the dynamics of the American and Chinese political spaces. In the case of China, the country’s economic philosophy and geopolitical ambitions are safely guided and supervised by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP has a tradition of institutionalising the visions of its leaders to dictate the direction of the country domestically and internationally. The Mao Zedong Thought, the Deng Xiaoping Theory and the Xi Jinping Thought are perfect examples, and they guarantee continuity of China’s ambitions. On the other hand, America’s domestic and foreign policies tend to change with a change in administration between Democrats and Republicans. In essence, this dims the prospects of the B3W beyond the Biden administration.

African countries cannot afford to watch while sitting on the fence as the B3W is mooted. Its implementation will certainly compete against the BRI and Africa risks remaining a pawn at best in such a geopolitical chess game. Africa needs to be bold enough!

Sitati Wasilwa is a political economist, a consultant on geopolitics and governance affairs, writer and moderator. He is a youth leader at Kenya YMCA, a member of the Local Solutions Youth Panel at the Global Youth Mobilization and a contributing writer for The African Executive Magazine. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa LinkedIn: Sitati Wasilwa Blog: The Kavirondo Facebook: Sitati Wasilwa

Free Lunch Thinking: A Book Review

By Sitati Wasilwa

Tom Bergin’s Free Lunch Thinking: How Economics Ruins the Economy is a remarkable book. Bergin presents convincing arguments about some of the long-held, yet misguiding ideologies in the discipline of economics. His impressive deconstruction of tenets enjoying a fanatical following among mainstream economists would certainly tempt one to read the book more than once, perhaps with the exception of neoliberals and libertarians. In debunking some of the myths at the centre of economics, Bergin constantly chides the notion of masking the discipline as a science, particularly the use of mathematical models founded on assumptions that hardly consider the effects of institutional factors that affect the functioning of an economy.

The branding of economics as the high priest of social sciences has its origins in the use of mathematical models which tend to satisfy more the egos of mainstream economists and work less for the majority whom are ideally meant to be the biggest beneficiaries of economic policies.

Evidently, Bergin’s book is a rich contribution to the decade-long debate on the need for the discipline of economics to be reformed. More importantly, it is a primal text on the policy missteps of neoliberalism, and may not attract favourable readership from neoliberals or individuals incapable of questioning the conventional wisdom propagated by most economics faculties and schools around the world.

Bergin’s thesis is summed up in the introduction section where he confidently expresses his desire “to demonstrate how a dangerous blend of political ideology, professional self-interest and unwavering adherence to long-held intellectual frameworks has led to policies that have not only failed to help society as a whole but have also actively harmed it”. And he means business.

There is no discipline religiously corrupted and heavily influenced by politics such as economics. Bergin effectively demonstrates this in the entire book starting with chapter one which is wholly dedicated to the deconstruction of the economic ideology of Arthur Laffer, a revered supply-side economist.

Before challenging Laffer’s notion on the significance of lower taxes as a policy measure to stimulate economic growth, Bergin first outlines the historical origins and political consequences of the Laffer Curve which he refers to as voodoo economics. Following the stagflation of the 1970s characterised by slow economic growth, high inflation and high unemployment, economic policy wonks largely in the Western world were in search for economic frameworks that would hopefully restore the prosperity witnessed after World War II often referred to as the Golden Age of Capitalism. But one has to be careful when making reference to the Golden Age of Capitalism because it obviously suits the Western world; Africa was choking from colonialism and its wanton legacy during this epoch.

Laffer’s crusade in support for lower taxes as put forth by Bergin was influenced by the Canadian economist and Nobel memorial prize winner for economics Robert Mundell. Mundell’s growing scepticism about the “increasing role of the state in the economy” in the 1960s evidenced by a rise in government spending and tax as a proportion of total output in Western countries mesmerised Laffer. Laffer was a leading voice against high taxes in the 1970s arguing, as stated by Bergin, “that prevailing tax rates were so damaging to the economy as a whole that they were actually producing less revenue than lower tax rates would have done”.

The ideas of Laffer – represented by the Laffer Curve – were embraced by right-wing and right-of-centre politicians in the USA (majorly in the Republican Party), the UK (the Conservative Party) and Australia among other developed economies. As noted by Bergin, Laffer’s ideas are still popular with today’s Western right-wing leaning politicians such as UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former US President Donald Trump “whom Laffer has advised during his candidacy and presidency”.

Do lower taxes lead to higher growth? Or, do higher taxes lead to lower growth? What about the expanding role of the government? Bergin weaves historical evidence from the USA, UK, France and Japan noting that they experienced higher growth when they had high tax- or government-spending-to-GDP ratio and vice versa. To further elaborate his argument, he poses the question: “…why do cross-country comparisons show that having a low tax- or government-spending-to-GDP has been a feature common to poor countries, not rich ones?”

While acknowledging the harmful nature of wasteful government spending, Bergin points out the lack of consistent evidence documenting high taxes and high government spending as causes of slow growth mostly in the developed economies. He sums it up by admonishing the cultish free lunch tendency to cut taxes with the expectation of a long-term increase in revenues. Tax cuts may only boost growth in the short-term.

Bergin proceeds by deflating the mainstream thinking that high taxes make people lazy. At the outset, he notes that this notion neglects the ambitions and hard-working nature of most individuals. By using tons of evidence, Bergin demonstrates that an increase in taxes barely prompts business leaders and wealthy individuals to move out of their countries of origin, but mostly in the developed or fast developing countries. He further notes that there is no empirical evidence indicating that business leaders and the wealthy worked less hard when taxes are increased.

He again pokes holes in the argument fronted by supply-siders regarding the need to cut taxes, affirming the essence of such a policy to only boosting growth in the short-term. Bergin notes that “tax cuts now will lead to tax increases later, and that the effect of such measures will be contractionary, because governments will spend that money servicing debt in the future rather than funding stimulative programmes…”.

According to Bergin, the fear of levying high taxes especially on the wealthy depicts the irrational nature of human beings; it also encapsulates the dogma of trickle-down economics with worries that an economy may experience a downward spiral if high taxes are imposed on the rich.

Contrary to the prevailing economic orthodoxy, Bergin patches up evidence arguing that less labour market protections do not automatically lead to creation of more jobs. In a world where neoliberalism seems to be the blueprint of economic policy, labour unions and the labour market protections are fast becoming irrelevant largely due to the politicisation of the discipline of economics especially in the West, and the successful exportation of such ideas to other parts of the world by missionaries from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In exploring the hiring and firing debate, Bergin empirically argues that liberalised labour markets may not after all be good for business for various reasons. First, such markets are prone to high staff turnover and thus “increased training and recruitment costs”. In essence, labour rules act as a disincentive for employees to switch jobs due to the high hypothetical cost they are likely to experience. Second, fluid labour markets are less likely to enhance skills deepening with Bergin noting that employment protection is highly likely to promote upskilling especially if an employee is bound to work at a given place for a long time. As such, more productivity and thus an increase in growth is highly likely to be achieved with employment protections than under the liberalised regime. Bergin notes that employment protections reduce “unfair dismissals” and lead to better payment and thus an improvement in the welfare of employees. This is contrary to the fluid labour market characterised by faster dismissals with Bergin arguing that “easy firing is associated by some with the growth of low-skill, low-productivity and inevitably low-income jobs”.

Most individuals are guilty of entertaining thoughts that higher pay can make one an effective manager, a claim advanced by American economist Michael Jensen. In his iconoclast fashion, Bergin posits that there is “no evidence that bonuses push executives to work harder or better than their natural inclinations would prompt them to do”. He goes to the extent of referring to the works of a former CEO who became a faculty member at Harvard Business School stating that CEOs cannot be transformed into better decision makers by financial incentives. Bergin questions the share-based compensation popularised by Jensen by making reference to a research paper authored in 2004 by Jensen himself and Kevin Murphy; “that shares could be overvalued, and that in such situations…share-based pay could be value destructive for a company”.

As if to further annoy adherents of neoliberalism, Bergin presents a strong argument against the long-held view that minimum wage leads to the creation of few jobs. Based on empirical evidence, Bergin notes that “The inevitable answer to the question of why minimum wages can lift wages for millions of workers without killing jobs is that labour markets are far more complex and nuanced than the rigid supply-and-demand graph would suggest”.

Bergin furthers his case against orthodox economic thinking and practice questioning the validity of sin taxes meant to predict and control human behaviour. He argues out that increasing taxes on certain commodities to increase their prices in order to reduce their consumption is not as effective as it is perceived. He presents other convincing mechanisms that can be explored to discourage bad behaviour or encourage good behaviour.

In what may sound as an affront on neoliberals and libertarians alike, Bergin challenges the notion that government regulation dampens economic growth. His remarks are largely influenced by the fact that most anti-regulation economists base their policy arguments on ideologies and not on empirical evidence. In his nonconformist manner, he calls out the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report specifically noting “the grumbling tone it adopts when talking about regulation”. Bergin states that it is not obvious that all regulations are constructive and insists on the evaluation of the prevailing situations by looking at the grand scheme of things.

What’s more, Bergin reflects on the craze to slash corporate taxes particularly in Western countries convincingly arguing – neoclassicals/neoliberals may not be convinced – that tax cuts do not boost investment and “Tax cuts today must translate into spending cuts or tax rises later”.

Bergin concludes by making reference to a few economic thinkers who have questioned some of the mainstream ideas and practices dominant in the discipline of economics. For instance, he recounts his meeting with Paul Romer who referred to the leaders of the Chicago School – a notorious economics faculty – as pseudo-scientists and frauds. Additionally, Bergin revisits Romer’s view that most economists mostly hide the flaws of their theories and hence policies in complex mathematical models. In recalling his encounter with Romer, the meeting never ended without a serious lash on the Chicago School noting that it “was a libertarian, anti-government ideological project rather than a scientific endeavour”. Bergin also recalls the thoughts of Alfred Marshall and John Maynard Keynes with regards to an institutionalist approach in understanding the functioning of an economy. Lastly, referring to Ronald Coase who suggested the need for economics “to step away from the econometric models”, Bergin quotes him: “It is suicidal for the field (economics) to slide into a hard science of choice, ignoring the influences of society, history, culture, and politics on the working of the economy”.

Should I say that Bergin presents a compelling case against tenets of neoliberalism? Fashionably, yes. But also, an exemplary account for reformation of the discipline of economics and policymaking. Free Lunch Thinking is a book worth reading!

Sitati Wasilwa is a political economist, consultant, writer and moderator. He is a youth leader at Kenya YMCA and a member of the Local Solutions Youth Panel at the Global Youth Mobilization. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa LinkedIn: Sitati Wasilwa Blog: The Kavirondo Facebook: Sitati Wasilwa

China’s White Paper on International Development Cooperation and its Implication for Africa

By Sitati Wasilwa

The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China released a white paper, China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era, on January 10th, 2021. This white paper is a projection of China’s global geostrategic ambitions at a time when the world is battling the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects, and the dawning reality of a multi-polar world.


China’s New Era started after the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP) in 2012. The dawn of the New Era was significant to China’s global relations in two major ways. First, it represented a shift from Deng Xiaoping’s thought on foreign relations which guided China for several decades as the country experienced one of the world’s greatest economic miracles. Deng’s thought on China’s external engagement was based on the need to “hide our capabilities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership”. Thus, the New Era signified China’s arrival on the global stage as a major power player, aggressive enough to influence the establishment of a new world order.

Second, the commencement of the New Era was marked by the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as the primary foreign policy instrument. The introduction of the BRI was symbolic; drawing inspiration from the ancient Silk Road, a network of trade routes established about 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty and connected China to the Mediterranean region via Eurasia.

More importantly, the timing of the release of the white paper is strategic; it comes at a time when the world is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, a critical juncture set to reconfigure the global economic, political and social infrastructure. The pandemic has elevated China’s vantage position geopolitically: it was the first major economy to recover from the pandemic posting an economic growth rate of 4.9% as of October 2020; it is leading in the supply of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Global South; and it has continually voiced support for multilateralism especially for the World Health Organisation (WHO) after the Trump administration dismissed the essentialism of the institution.

In the book, When China Rules the World, Martin Jacques notes that the 2008 financial crisis marked the beginning of the Chinese World Order. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic is an inflection point of the Chinese World Order considering China’s role in vaccine diplomacy and faster economic recovery as earlier stated.

The establishment of the Chinese World Order is exemplified by China’s phenomenal economic rise and America’s decline. Metrics such as China’s impressive economic growth rates, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) size, the share of global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), share of world exports, the share of global trade, the share of global foreign aid, global cultural infrastructure, and growing military capabilities indicate the reality of the Chinese World Order.

China’s economic growth trajectory is one of the most impressive in history, and has uplifted hundreds of millions of Chinese households from poverty to prosperity and caused China’s reemergence as a formidable global power. In essence, this is a reaffirmation of the centrality of economic growth, first, as an economic indicator, and second, as a political instrument.

Between 2000 and 2018, China’s average economic growth rate was 9.65%, a relatively high growth rate compared to America’s 2.18% over the same period. Although some entities could argue out that the Chinese economy is still playing catch-up to the American one, it is definite that the high growth rates of the Chinese economy have led to massive GDP expansion over time, and convergence of the two is only a matter of time.

The COVID-19 pandemic will potentially accelerate the convergence of the two largest economies in the world considering China’s faster economic recovery than the U.S. from the effects of the virus. In fact, it is expected that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy by 2028 primarily due to faster economic recovery from the pandemic.

China’s impressive economic performance since the institutionalization of economic reforms by Deng through to the anticipated faster economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic confers the centrality of economic growth as a political tool in the world. In essence, Michael Mandelbaum notes in the book, Mission Failure, that since the end of the Cold War, economic growth is the primary goal pursued by governments across the world. Mandelbaum’s view is corroborated by Lorenzo Fioramonti as stated in his book, Gross Domestic Problem: “In 1991, the GNP was superseded by GDP, which is still the most popular acronym by which national income is commonly known. From ‘national’ the gross product became ‘domestic’. Although this may look like an irrelevant shift that only insiders would care about, it indeed signalled an important political change”.

China had the highest share of the world’s exports at 10.77% as of 2018. Also, its military spending has increased over time, though still dwarfed by the USA’s. China’s military spending increased almost 23 times between 1989 and 2019, an indication of Beijing’s growth in terms of military capabilities. Historically, powerful states have powerful militaries, and the ancient Chinese state was a leader in military technology leading in the production and usage of gun powder and marine warfare.

The rise and rise of China and its strategic repositioning as contained in the white paper is premised on the South-South cooperation framework. Accordingly, “international development cooperation”, as detailed in the white paper, refers to China’s bilateral and multilateral efforts within the framework of South-South cooperation.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, South-South cooperation refers to the technical cooperation among developing countries in the Global South. The South-South cooperation is historically and geostrategically significant.

The historical significance of the South-South cooperation is rooted in the Cold War politics whereby countries of the Global South sought to carve out their own economic and political order to avoid being entangled by the ideological differences between the USA and the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the geostrategic significance of the South-South cooperation is based on the post-Cold War contribution of the Global South to global economic growth (more than half of the world’s growth in recent times) and development in terms of trade, FDI, labour among other metrics. As such, the historical and geostrategic significance of the South-South cooperation informs the centrality of Beijing’s white paper.

Development Cooperation

The white paper outlines China’s five approaches to development cooperation, but I consider three of them as the most significant and consequential: South-South cooperation as the focal point of China’s socio-political and economic leap; the BRI as the main instrument of promoting global social, political and economic prosperity; and facilitating the collective achievement of the UN Agenda 2030 goals on Sustainable Development among developing countries.

I have briefly explained the essentialism of the South-South cooperation in view of China’s global geostrategic ambitions, but I revisit some of the events that prompted the heavy focus towards the Global South. First, the Global South is not deeply entangled in the economic system of the West – although China and the USA are each other’s main trading partners – and events such as the Asian financial crisis, which barely affected China, and the 2008 financial crisis as well as the Great Recession which monstrously ravaged Western economies while China escaped with a few dents especially on its exports, inform Beijing’s near-obsession with the South-South cooperation.

Second, the rise of the USA-China trade war and the likelihood of it turning out to be a protracted economic battle between the world’s two largest economies in terms of GDP size firms up China’s focus on the South-South cooperation as an economically strategic front. Third, the Global South is massively endowed with resources – markets, labour, minerals, oil, and arable land – that are critical in China’s economic growth and development.

The BRI is Beijing’s geoeconomic and geopolitical masterstroke and perhaps the instrumentarian tool set to catapult China to global socio-political and economic dominance. Accordingly, the white paper enunciates the BRI as a platform meant to:

  • enhance policy coordination through the promotion of national and regional initiatives such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063, Asia’s Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, the European Union’s Europe-Asia connectivity strategy, Philippine’s Build, Build, Build programme, and Pakistan’s vision of a new Pakistan among others, and facilitate regional economic and trade integration;
  • strengthen infrastructure connectivity across countries by building railways, highways, bridges, seaports, airports and telecommunications cable networks;
  • promote unimpeded trade by improving the competitiveness of developing countries in the global supply chain (modernizing trade systems and improving trade infrastructure) and enhancing the integration of the economies of developing countries in the global multilateral trading system;
  • deepen financial integration by supporting the improvement of financial systems and building multilateral cooperation platforms for financing such as Multilateral Cooperation Center for Development Finance (MCDF); and
  • foster closer people-to-people ties by improving people’s lives (housing, water supply, health care, education, rural roads, and assistance to vulnerable groups) and promoting cultural exchanges and cooperation.

For a long time, the Beijing Consensus largely concentrated on promoting the economic interests of the Chinese state, and it still does. But with the advent of the BRI, the political and social imperatives of China’s external engagement are bound to occupy a central position of its global agenda. Enhancement of policy coordination fundamentally implies that Beijing seeks to influence the political processes and outcomes of countries that have signed up for the BRI.

Championing for closer people-to-people ties is China’s soft power approach aimed at improving the quality of social amenities and promoting cultural cooperation. In particular, the white paper highlights that “China has launched a project known as Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages aimed at providing digital TV connection for rural communities in more than 20 African countries, opening a new window for them to see the world”. But is the project intended to enable the rural communities to see the world or to discover what China is all about?

Moreover, in the white paper, China prides itself in helping other developing countries to achieve the Agenda 2030 goals on Sustainable Development in eight areas which include poverty reduction, food security, health care, quality education, gender equality, infrastructure, sustainable and innovation-driven economic growth, and eco-environmental protection. The devil is in the details; by communicating in the white paper about its assistance to other developing countries to achieve the Agenda 2030 goals, China portrays itself as a champion of global and/or institutional multilateralism aiming to fill the void left by the U.S. especially during the Donald Trump administration.

The white paper highlights three practical measures for development cooperation: China’s fulfilment of its duties as a major country and providing global development with public goods; increasing aid to developing countries within the BRI framework; and proposing cooperation schemes with developing countries through regional cooperation mechanisms. For each practical measure, there are key events that illustrate Beijing’s geostrategic ambitions in the New Era.

For instance, in fulfilment of China’s mandate as a major country providing global development with public goods, the white paper points out the centrality of the UN’s 70th anniversary in September 2015 which ushered in the Agenda 2030 and the virtual 73rd World Health Assembly on May 18, 2020, of which Beijing used the latter to promote its pandemic diplomacy and faith in multilateralism after the USA discredited the event.

Bn increasing aid to other developing countries within the BRI framework, the white paper highlights two events: the First Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2017 and the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2019 which repositioned the BRI not only as an economic instrument but also as a welfare-enhancing platform.

There are a host of events illustrating the cooperation schemes between China and other developing countries, but the three which define the course of the Sino-African relations in China’s New Era are the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Johannesburg Summit in December 2015; the FOCAC Beijing Summit held in September 2018; and the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against Covid-19 in June 2020.

Essentially, the major cross-cutting issues in the white paper include the BRI, multilateralism, foreign aid, and the COVID-19 pandemic diplomacy. The final section of the paper on future prospects for China’s international development cooperation reiterates the primacy of the aforementioned issues. As such, China’s future concerning international development cooperation is hinged on it being part of the global community championing health for all by supporting developing countries in the fight against COVID-19, helping developing countries to improve their public health systems, and supporting the WHO and other international organisations in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second, the future of China’s international development cooperation is premised on promoting the implementation of the UN Agenda 2030 by supporting international organisations and cooperation mechanisms, eliminating poverty, and promoting South-South Cooperation among others. Third, the future of China’s international development cooperation also rests on improving the capacity for cooperation by reinforcing planning and strengthening the institutional framework, improving project management and exploring new approaches to aid, and enhancing supervision and evaluation to improve project efficacy.

So, how does the white paper on international development cooperation synchronize with China’s second Africa policy paper?

The Bottom Line: Development Cooperation and its Implication for Africa

For the sake of understanding the possible course of Sino-African relations in the wake of the white paper on international development cooperation, it is critical to revisit China’s second Africa policy paper that was released in December 2015 during the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit. At the outset, China’s second Africa policy paper is expected to play second fiddle to the white paper on international development cooperation though there are striking similarities in terms of areas of political, social and economic cooperation, perhaps except for the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are five pillars of China’s second Africa policy paper, but the third pillar on promoting the all-round development of China-Africa cooperation is the most significant. The third pillar seeks to:

  • enhance mutual political trust by intensifying high-level exchanges, boosting experience sharing in governance, improving intergovernmental consultation and cooperation mechanisms, and promoting exchanges in various sectors including those between legislative bodies, consultative bodies, political parties, the military and local governments
  • deepen cooperation in international affairs
  • deepen economic and trade cooperation by boosting Africa’s industrialization, boosting Africa’s agricultural modernization, participating in Africa’s infrastructure development across the board, strengthening China-Africa financial cooperation, promoting the facilitation of China-Africa trade and investment, bolstering resource and energy cooperation, and expanding cooperation on the marine economy
  • strengthen development cooperation between China and Africa by increasing development assistance to Africa, supporting Africa in strengthening its public health system and capacity building, expanding cooperation in education and human resources development, eradicating poverty, cooperating and sharing knowledge on science and technology, and cooperating on climate change and environmental protection
  • deepen and expand cultural and people-to-people exchanges by expanding exchanges and cooperation in culture and sports, expanding tourism cooperation, broadening cooperation on press, radio, film and television, encouraging exchanges between academia and think tanks, and enhancing people-to-people exchanges
  • promote peace and security in Africa by supporting Africa in realizing peace and security, deepening military cooperation, and supporting Africa in confronting non-traditional security threats
  • strengthen exchanges and cooperation in consular, immigration, judicial and police areas

China’s white paper on international development cooperation will affect Africa in various ways. First, Africa is expected to play a primary role in China’s COVID-19 pandemic and/or vaccine diplomacy. In due course, Africa may benefit in terms of production and supply of the COVID-19 vaccine, but could also be entangled in vaccine diplomacy if the vaccine has strings attached to it – there is no free lunch. Second, Africa will receive more and more Chinese aid and this may go towards bolstering infrastructural development but may also mean the loss of economic independence for African countries.

Third, the cultural exchanges could be skewed towards promoting the Chinese culture and less of the African culture and this, in the long-run, will establish Africa as a market and consumer of the Chinese culture. Fourth, Africa may join hands with China to support global and regional multilateralism. Fifth, the China-Africa trade is expected to play out in favour of China with Africa set to retain its position as an exporter of raw materials. Sixth, an increase in China’s military presence across Africa is anticipated given the growing interests and influence of the Chinese state.

The COVID-19 is a critical juncture in global geopolitics and geoeconomics, and certainly, China is using it to reposition itself as evidenced by the white paper. But where is Africa? Is it wandering? Is it lost? Is it sleeping? Is it basking? Is it playing to Beijing’s strategy? Is it setting the agenda? Sorry, it is China’s moment.

The writer is a political economist and research consultant on geopolitics/geoeconomics, governance and public policy. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa LinkedIn: Sitati Wasilwa Facebook: Sitati Wasilwa Podcast: Sitati Wasilwa

This article was first published by The African Executive Magazine.

What Trump’s fall, Biden’s Presidency mean for Africa

By Sitati Wasilwa

The November 2020 US presidential election was a unique moment in the global post-Cold War epoch; it came at a time when the world battled the COVID-19 pandemic and also ushered in the post-Trumpism era.

The pandemic and Trumpism threatened globalisation. Shrouded in the foggy sentimental expression of “Make America Great Again”, Trumpism sought to cut back on the gains made through globalisation as evidenced by the US-China trade war, America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and World Health Organisation (WHO) among other policy faux pas.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in late 2019, forecasted a loss of about $700 billion for the global economy by the end of 2020 as a result of the trade war. The situation may have worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accordingly, a report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Trade and Development: Transitioning to a New Normal” – the global economy was bound to contract by 4.3% in 2020 with 130 million people pushed into extreme poverty due to the pandemic.

A few months after the outbreak of Coronavirus, global supply chains were massively disrupted prompting debate about the future of globalisation. For some, such large-scale disruption was bound to trigger relocation of enterprises back to their home countries. For others, globalisation was still the fulcrum for global economic recovery post-COVID-19. In fact, in an article I wrote in April 2020, I noted that globalisation will still be fashioned by state and non-state actors as key in the recovery of the global economy.

Fast forward, the victory of Joe Biden and Trump’s exit have several geopolitical implications for Africa in terms of security, trade, foreign aid, vaccine diplomacy, and others. But the concern is whether African states are formulating the necessary strategies and policies to address the complexities presented by this critical juncture.

Growth of Global Multilateralism: A More Globally Integrated But Less Economically Powerful Africa

So far, there has been a global approach towards addressing the pandemic and its effects especially in terms of vaccine development and financial support for the needy economies. This, coupled with the election of Joe Biden, will accelerate global multilateralism.

More importantly, Biden’s administration is expected to openly support global trade unlike Trump’s which was hell-bent on making America great by fashioning autarky.

In essence, Biden’s administration will renege on Trump’s policies meant to scuttle global multilateralism. This will enhance Africa’s global integration.

The Trump administration’s policy for Africa promoted bilateral engagements between Washington and African states. The US-Kenya free trade agreement (FTA) is an example of the carrot-and-stick method meant to scuttle Africa’s plans to implement the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA). The FTA was to serve as a model for America’s bilateral dealings with other African countries.

Under Joe Biden, it is highly unlikely that Washington will continue with the bilateral policy approach in Africa due to two major reasons. First, Biden’s administration will be obsessed with countering China’s growing influence in Africa with Beijing having expressed support for the AfCFTA. As such, Washington may consider backing up the AfCFTA and other collective initiatives. Second, it will be more convenient for Biden’s administration to holistically support Africa’s recovery post-COVID-19 rather than adopt piecemeal bilateral engagements.

The growth of global multilateralism under Biden’s administration means that Africa will be more integrated globally, but this will not necessarily translate to improved economic fortunes on a grand scale. Fundamentally, global trade is about national interests; more of knavish and less of knightly behaviours and notions.

Historically, trade interests advanced by Washington work more in favour of Americans than Africans. Biden’s administration will be no different in enhancing these ‘Bad Samaritan’ policies – to borrow Ha-Joon Chang’s description of the flawed, biased economic policies that work in favour of developed economies and disadvantage developing ones.

Make Foreign Aid Great Again: More and More Aid for Africa

Trump’s administration slashed foreign aid and this affected various social and economic initiatives in Africa.  Nonetheless, Trump’s “New Africa Strategy” appeared to be an “America First” politically correct document, kind of nebulous in some foreign policy issues, while clear-cut on some.

For instance, while Trump’s administration endeavored to facilitate stability of African economies through foreign aid assistance, its insistence on the efficient and effective use of U.S taxpayer dollars for aid, withdrawing support for “unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable U.N. peacekeeping missions”, and targeting “U.S. funding toward key countries and particular strategic objectives” set the tone for scaling down one of Washington’s age-old foreign policy instruments in Africa.

Of course foreign aid, in a blanket sense, has undermined Africa’s socio-economic and political development. The U.S., for instance, has a tainted history of supporting vicious, inhuman, and fantastically corrupt politicians and governments in Africa for geostrategic reasons. As such, foreign aid is a carrot that Washington has dangled in Africa for decades, and even Trump’s politically correct strategy for Africa is not fundamentally different in any way.

Fast forward, Biden’s administration is highly likely to reverse Trump’s approach to the issuance of foreign aid for African countries. In essence, a strong case for Biden’s administration to increase foreign aid for Africa is premised on the need for strong global economic recovery given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and attempts to rival China’s growing influence on the continent.

Additionally, Biden’s administration may direct more foreign aid towards the growth and development of Africa’s democratic space, but this could be effectively slowed down by America’s recent struggle with democracy, heightened and almost ruptured by Trumpism.

Primarily, the next four years in Africa will be a period of making foreign aid great again. How African national governments, and extensively the AU, are prepared to handle the nefarious effects, or otherwise positive, of an increase in aid is a different discussion, but one that points out to the lack of strategies to address the changing times.

Geopolitics and Geostrategic Interests: The Race for Africa is Still On

Apart from the common foreign policy issues such as military engagement, counter-terrorism activities, and trade, the footprints of Biden’s administration in Africa will also be defined by the COVID-19 diplomacy and geopolitics of 5G technology.

Nothing much is expected to change given Washington’s military engagement with African states except for the Biden administration to cut back on Trump’s plan to withdraw support for the costly U.N. peacekeeping missions.

But a hostile domestic environment in the U.S. characterized by a contracting economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic could be a game-changer concerning Washington’s military priorities in Africa. However, the history of America’s foreign policy is as instructive as ever before with the reality that the military-industrial complex fuels the U.S. economy. As such, the military-industrial complex is expected to be a crucial growth frontier given the recovery of America’s economy, and existing military markets in Africa especially in strategic regions such the Horn of Africa, the Niger Delta and West Africa, the Congo, and North Africa will lay a case for an aggressive strategy by the Biden administration.

The COVID-19 diplomacy will shape Biden’s policy for Africa in terms of foreign aid assistance as earlier explained, and more categorically, the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. In mid-2020, Donald Trump vowed to cut relations and eventually have the U.S. withdraw her membership from the WHO, a move which would have weakened the global health body considering that America is its biggest funder. The repercussions in terms of vaccine accessibility would have been profound especially in Africa.

Biden’s administration is expected to scale back on America’s withdrawal from WHO as a sign of offering leadership in global health, thereby countering China’s support for the Organisation voiced during the China-Africa Extraordinary Summit.

How Biden’s administration will measure up to Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy in Africa will determine its resilience in enhancing cooperation. China declared her support for African countries to access the vaccine during the Extraordinary Summit convened in May 2020 and reiterated the same in October 2020 when fifty-one African diplomats visited Sinopharm – a leading manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Under Biden, Washington may look to enhance its vaccine diplomacy in Africa by shoring up support for WHO; by increasing its funding and budgetary allocation to the COVAX facility.

Geopolitics of 5G technology will be a top priority for Biden’s administration, and Africa will be a key front. As it stands, it is a tall order for the U.S. to convince African governments to shun the China-based Huawei, and it is highly doubtful if Biden’s administration will win this war. The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) notes that hampering China’s 5G ambitions in Africa is limited because the Chinese government provides funding to Huawei’s data operations across Africa, in addition to the company building most of the data networks across the continent. In effect, the U.S. must be ready to bear the financial implications demanded by African governments in exchange for abandoning Beijing’s 5G ambitions.

During the China-Africa Extraordinary Summit, China outlined her areas of cooperation, and as stated by President Xi Jinping: “China will explore broader cooperation with Africa in such new business forms as digital economy, smart city, clean energy, and 5G to boost Africa’s development and revitalization”. Notably, Beijing has a head start in the 5G race in Africa, and the reaction of the Biden administration will be interesting to watch.

All eyes are on the actions of Biden’s administration in Africa, and one thing is for sure; Washington will be more visible in Africa than it was during Trump’s presidency. But, how are African governments preparing to engage Washington especially in an era defined by post-Trumpism, COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy, and 5G geopolitics? 

The writer is a political economist. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa LinkedIn: Sitati Wasilwa Facebook: Sitati Wasilwa Podcast: Sitati Wasilwa

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