Dennis BeaverAugust 21, 2021 • By Dennis Beaver 

Anne, my paralegal, grew up in British Hong Kong and learned to speak Chinese.

The other day while we were having lunch at the office — and watching a TV documentary about Kenya — it showed two brothers, 9 and 14, preparing an authentic Chinese dish while speaking perfect Mandarin to each other.

From the time they began school, Chinese language classes were part of the curriculum.

Anne commented, “Their fluency is a positive for the two boys, shows a high degree of involvement by China in Africa, but what risk this could be for the United States? As an important source of minerals for things like cell phones and other electronics comes from Africa, what if China forced one of these producing counties to stop selling to us or raised the price they charge dramatically? That would hurt the average American.”

Why the U.S. Needs to Pay Greater Attention to Africa

Retired Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, based in Washington D.C. agrees with my paralegal’s concerns:

“The degree of China’s educational, cultural and financial involvement in Africa is mind-boggling. Among other challenges is a potential threat to the supply of key, rare minerals, and that is why we need to realize that Africa is so important to the United States.”

And if there is anyone in Washington D.C. who knows Africa, it is Cohen. Over the years, he knew every first-generation African leader – from Mandela, to Mobutu, to Moammar Gaddafi.

His just released book, “U.S. Policy Toward Africa – Eight Decades of Realpolitik”, takes readers on an exciting trip through the history of our relationship with its 55 countries.

His 2015, “The Mind of the African Strongman: Conversations with Dictators, Statesmen and Father Figures,” has us meeting some of the most interesting, and cruel men on the planet, answering the question, “Despite access to vast natural resources and decades of international development aid, why have so many African countries failed to keep the promises made to their people?”

In our interview, Cohen pointed out that “The U.S. depends on Africa for certain things that we cannot produce, or not in sufficient quantities to meet our needs, such as coffee, cocoa, palm oil, peanut oil and peanuts. And most people have never heard of the mineral coltan, which mobile phones, personal computers, automotive electronics, and cameras require. One of the few places where this is produced is the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Electric cars, and solar powered buildings need batteries which require cobalt, which comes from Russia and the Congo. This means we must establish ourselves as reliable, honest and trustworthy trading partners with the African nations producing it. We can’t afford to be held hostage by Russia or any country under its influence who might refuse to sell us these needed minerals.”

And, of course, let’s not forget lithium ion batteries. “A significant source of lithium is Africa,” Cohen adds.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub And a Cup of Joe

We take a bar of soap and cup of coffee for granted, but Cohen reminds us that “Palm oil is used to make soap, and Africa is a major producer of palm oil, in addition to coffee and cacao from which chocolate is derived. In fact, 60% of the world’s cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast. Ethiopia and Kenya produce Arabica which is a superior grade of coffee.”

Strategic Issues To Watch Out For

“China has made its intentions clear of wanting to dominate world trade and achieve global dominance. Anyone looking at how it trampled the freedoms it guaranteed Hong Kong residents should hope that the United States will be able to convince African nations that a truly democratic government, with open and free elections, helps all people to prosper. But you can’t do this by being weak.

“Geopolitically, 40% of the world’s shipping passes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Maintaining security and stability in these areas is of great importance to our country.”

And, of course, the sea lanes around South Africa have a direct impact on the United States and the West in general. As Cohen observes, “A great deal of crude oil shipped from the Middle East to the West goes around the South African coast. Maintaining security of those sea lanes is important to us all and the United States has a vital role in that area.”

Looking to the Future

Cohen is optimistic about Africa and the United States:

“The Chinese do not treat Africans well – in fact, they are downright insulting and racist. We do not engage in similar tactics and are much more popular.

“The younger generation coming out of universities are improving their economies. When you see VW assembling cars in Kenya it is proof that things are getting better.”

Cohen’s books should be required reading for all political science majors and CEO’s interested in the vast potential that Africa offers the world.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.