This question shows us the increasing economic interest of China in the African continent. Indeed this document confirms that China's trade in goods with African countries is half of the EU's:

Africa potential of economical integration and trade

However, the same graph shows that US trade with African countries is significantly lower than any of China's or the EU's and this seems strange because, as James K explained, there are many reasons to be an early adopter when it comes to Africa development.

Question: Why does the US seem to have a rather low economic interest in Africa compared to the other major political/economic blocks (EU, China)?

  • It would be helpful to know what is exactly being traded to and from Africa by each group.
    – zeroone
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 13:19
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    Note that China is actively colonizing Africa, which changes the underlying meaning of many of the numbers. (See in particular Chinese practices regarding African sovereign debt.) Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 16:50
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    @chrylis: You are so right! I hear that if you borrow money from European banks, you don't need to pay them back. Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 21:41

4 Answers 4


The US lack of economic interest in Africa is probably a consequence of its lack of military interest, combined with lingering effects of the Monroe doctrine.

For much of the 20th century after WW2 and the end of colonialism, the US #1 military interest was anti-communist, both against the Soviet Union and China. This led to the Vietnam and Korean wars, the US security guarantee for Taiwan, interest in Europe (NATO), and central Asia (supporting the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets). For diaspora reasons, the US also became strongly involved in Israel. It also took a strategic interest in the Suez Canal against the Anglo-French side in the Suez incident. The "petrodollar" process and oil supplies from Saudi Arabia formed an alliance there and interest in the area surrounding the Persian Gulf. The US has always taken an interest in South America due to proximity and having a land border, which in the 20th century included anticommunist (and occasionally anti-democratic) intervention.

Africa simply is below the priorities on that list. It's not on the way to invade anywhere and (apart from Nigeria and some of north east Africa) doesn't have any oil. And for many west African countries France is actually the "legacy" colonial country with an ongoing economic interest. They even maintain a currency, the Central African Franc.

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    Do you mean "Latin America" rather than "South America"? Most US covert/military activities in Latin America were in North America and we do not have a border with South America?
    – gormadoc
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 17:45
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    Interestingly, support for Israel also historically has much to do with the cold war.
    – user19831
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 5:41
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    "diaspora reasons"? That's not a diaspora.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 9:27
  • +1 but this answer could be improved by exploring the situation's history. Maghreb in the early 18th century was basically a pirate stronghold that the US went to war with and defeated. It subsequently became French a colonial holding. Sub-Saharan Africa is populated by blacks, which historically (see Haiti) the US didn't want to have anything to do with. Liberia - also not recognized until just before the Civil War - was basically populated by former US slaves. Basically, looking beyond European interests (France, the UK), one there's a degree of institutionalized racism in US African policy. Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 20:31
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    @Jasper I'm fairly certain pjc50 intended Latin America, since he mentioned "having a land border". In any case, Panamanian independence (if you consider it) and the CIA-backed anticommunist coups in SA are still less in number than the wars and overt actions in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
    – gormadoc
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 2:57

I think this has more to do with economics than politics.

Trade occurs because one country has something another country needs. The classic apples/oranges example of comparative advantage comes to mind. Thus, the likely answer is, Africa simply doesn't offer very much that the U.S. needs.

As to why (and this is mere supposition), it makes sense that Afro-European trade, which was jumpstarted by European colonization, would continue into the post-colonial period. I would wager that the data would reflect the bulk of trade is between African countries and their former colonial metropoles.

(One could argue that what the U.S. needs from Africa is influence, and that may be the case. However, I think it's highly debatable that influence is something that can be bought permanently rather than leased until a higher bidder comes along.)

  • Completely personal and widely biased opinion. Please state the sources of your information.
    – Ver
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 14:17
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    A subjective question cannot have but a subjective answer. Provide an alternative.
    – zeroone
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 15:02
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    We outlawed the African resource that we desired the most 150 years ago.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 21:06
  • -1. Subjective answers are fine, but they need to be backed up. Common ways of backing up subjective answers include citing your own experience or expertise (if you have experience or expertise in the subject). In this case, can you tell us what experience or expertise you are drawing on? Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 21:56
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    For some stats, see e.g. ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/… for the EU - African trade. Nearly halve of the value imported by the EU from Africa is "Energy" (read: oil etc). Of course, Europe is more than just the EU, but it's still a good indication.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 22:10

Given the history of European colonialism and also that of US colonialism it’s perhaps not surprising that African leaders are a little suspicious of the motivation of the West when it comes to investing in the African continent.

China is free of such suspicions which perhaps help explain its success in investing in Africa.

It’s also worth remembering that the ANC leadership realised they had been ‘swindled’ of their economic rights during the negotiations at the end of Aparthied because they had been solely focused, at that time, and rightly in my opinion, on political freedoms. Modern international economic infra-structure is complex, sophisticated and massively opaque and so it’s not surprising that they got it wrong on that.


Since being the MVP of the winning team in WWII, America has been playing the WHOLE map of the world.

US interests reach every corner of the world. And to protect our vast interest we have created an immense infrastructure.

If you look at the map in the link, the US does not lack interest in Africa.

In fact the US is very interested in Africa. The only problem is, we are also very interested in the Middle East, Central America, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Mediterranean, Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Rim, the Korean Peninsula, etc.

And because we have so many interests, it is very hard even for a great power like the USA to focus its attention on any particular region for an extended period of time. Notice the Middle East requires our constant attention. And after the Middle East, we really only have the energy and power to focus on at most two more regions at a time.

Western Europe on the other hand has lost most of its global influence and power projection as a result of WWI and hit absolute rock bottom after WWII. It has lost its colonies in the Americas, Australia, Africa, and Asia. Africa is the only place where the EU (notably France) still has substantial influence. Consequently, the EU is now playing a very small corner of the map, and can focus much of its attention on where it actually plays.

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