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COMMENT: Africa’s offer to Xi and Trump

It gives an opportunity to both Washington and Beijing to share information to avoid duplication and facilitate effectiveness

By: John J Stremlau

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump will meet for the first time at Trump’s opulent Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida in early April. There’s no indication yet that they will discuss Africa. But both major powers have extensive and often complementary interests that are of benefit to the continent.

A familiar list of more intractable economic and security issues will likely be on the table. It could be a positive counterpoint if both Beijing and Washington affirm a willingness to explore trilateral cooperation with African governments.

Trump has shown little awareness so far of the history of cooperation between China, the U.S. and Africa. He also seems unaware of the extraordinary degree of bi-partisan support for US engagement in Africa and Sino-American cooperation. But if he’s the consummate dealmaker he purports to be then low risk, high returns of greater US-China-Africa cooperation should be irresistible.

Xi would have to take the lead. He has a much deeper knowledge of African affairs than Trump and has travelled extensively on the continent. Last year he co-chaired the Sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation with South African President Jacob Zuma. He’s also able to draw on assessments that have already been done of key areas where practical and mutually beneficial cooperation among China, the US and Africa has occurred or could be beneficial.

It’s been several years since Xi’s then special representative on African affairs Zhong Jinhua and U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Princeton Lyman began informally discussing African issues of mutual concern. They were, at the time, working to resolve the Sudan crises. This work continued later under the auspices of the independent Carter Centre in Atlanta. Zhong and Lyman, who is Special Advisor to the President of the U.S Institute for Peace, also served as their nation’s ambassadors to South Africa.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, a distinguished Ghanaian lawyer, diplomat, academic, and currently special representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, is the other coequal African partner in this exploration.

On March 3 Chambas, Lyman, Zhong and Carter Centre Associate Director John Goodman published the project’s initial report. It concludes that Africans, Americans, and Chinese agree on five broad goals: Economic growth and development, combating disease, mitigating conflict, enhancing political stability, and fighting violent extremism and organised crime.

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