At 3:00 am in August, I sat in a tent at Jordan Lake with my friend William who had been in and out of the states and The Gambia for the last four years. Much to Jaden Smith’s chagrin, we had spent the last six hours enjoying life. Much to Jaden Smith’s pleasure we were indeed talking about ‘the political and economic state of the world right now.’ He told me about the opportunities he had to visit The World Bank in The Gambia and the everyday immersion into the cultural side of the country. I thought about a recent BBC Evening News clip I had heard about Russia’s foreign minister parading around Africa to proclaim that Ukraine was responsible for any current grain shortages. I asked William: “Based on your experience, do African people actually believe he is telling them the truth?” There is a perception that the United States is fading (or never was) as a good global moral compass. Of course, having won their freedom off of imperialists from NATO countries, I could see why African nations would lean away from a unity with democratic, free-market ideals. William told me, though, that most people he met in The Gambia see the United States as the best older brother to look up to and would see beyond the claims of the Russian foreign minister.
For some reason that I don’t want to think hard enough to explain right now, I have always been captivated by a dichotomy in my personal belief that American values and opportunities are pinnacle and my knowledge that we have spent many years imposing those values with force. Since I was young, I have been particularly intrigued by the often incredibly under-discussed genocide, current treatment, and internal thought process of Native American groups. Recently, I have begun to look into US involvement in Latin America and the Middle East. These are all situations that could and should have infinite blog posts, but with William’s new insight I began to turn my eyes to Africa.
African countries still in development (which is not, in my opinion, the right word, but is the one that makes most sense to read); still asking for favors; still settling their ideologies? Feels like we’ve seen this one before. Feels like the perfect time for the geopolitical giants to swoop in (you know the names). From my American sideline—and even when I push myself to the most objective, centrist perspective—I always end up with a sour taste when I see stories of Chinese-African aid in the news. Humans are good, but I think I am rightfully skeptical of the intentions of both the US and China in these big infrastructure/economic support in exchange for government/cultural influence deals that go down with the latter half unnoted. And, since I believe the US systems are more often in the right, I feel worse about it when it is a deal made with China.
That said, this project cannot expend focus on impossible massive questions of how we should gather societies. Rather, I want to take a personal interest in international relations, economics, military intelligence, and government and consolidate it to focus on something interesting William told me that night. He told me about a bridge in The Gambia that was built with Chinese money and was one of the most critical and well-built pieces of infrastructure he had set foot on in his time in the country. Why and how was this bridge built? Does comparing this to other Chinese or US involvement around Africa reveal any trends in the goals and methods these powers have for ‘developing’ certain regions? On a very local level—so what? On a vast global stage—so what?