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National security adviser John Bolton speaks about the administration's Africa policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Last week, the Trump administration unveiled its new Africa strategy, prioritizing deeper economic ties, counterterrorism and the efficient use of U.S. aid. The strategy aims to counter Chinese and Russian interests on the continent, especially the former’s strategic use of debt to control African countries.

Why it matters: The strategy oversimplifies Africa’s debt situation. It fails to distinguish between good and bad debt and doesn’t address Africa’s debt levels on a country-by-country basis. This polarizing approach could alienate key potential African allies, leading them to further align with China.

Reality check:

  • Chinese debt is not driving the vast majority of African countries’ indebtedness. Only 8 out of 68 countries in the world are potentially facing unsustainable debt levels because of Belt and Road Initiative projects. In Africa, only Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya fall into this category.
  • Not all debt is created equal. Good debt fosters economic growth, thereby increasing the ability of African governments to repay their creditors. Spending to improve Africa’s poor infrastructure, for example, can be a good use of Chinese debt, as it drives future economic growth. Sub-Saharan Africa’s road and rail networks are some of the least developed in the world, and the region’s GDP per capita could increase by 1.7% if the quantity and quality of its infrastructure reached those of the world's median.

The bottom line: An effective development-oriented policy from the U.S. will require a more nuanced discussion of Africa’s debt and a recognition of the growth returns on infrastructure investment.

Paulo Gomes is the founder of Constelor Investment and a co-founder of New African Capital Partners.

Go deeper

Senate Republicans unveil $568 billion infrastructure counterproposal

Sens. John Barasso and Shelley Moore Capito. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Republicans formally rolled out the framework for their $568 billion counterproposal to President Biden's $2.5 trillion infrastructure plan on Thursday.

Why it matters: The package is far narrower than anything congressional Democrats or the White House would agree to, but it serves as a marker for what Republicans want out of a potential bipartisan deal.

House passes bill that would make D.C. the 51st state

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House of Representatives voted 216-208 on Thursday to pass a bill that would grant statehood to Washington, D.C.

The big picture: It's the second year in a row that the Democratic-controlled House has voted to recognize D.C. as the 51st state. The bill now heads to a divided Senate, where it faces little chance of reaching the 60 votes necessary to send to President Biden's desk.

Greta Thunberg criticizes "loopholes" in climate commitments at Biden summit

Climate activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Climate activist Greta Thunberg released a video Thursday denouncing world leaders for the "hypothetical targets" announced at President Biden's virtual climate summit this week.

Why it matters: The virtual summit came hours before Thunberg urged U.S. lawmakers "to listen to and act on the science" in testimony before a House Oversight Committee panel.

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