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Why America Is Losing In Africa

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2018 (Source)
After my talk in Rome tonight, I went to dinner with some friends — Italian journalist and public intellectual types. Pro-Americans. I asked them about how the Afghanistan departure was affecting the United States’ standing in Europe. Grim faces all around the table. They said that America’s image has been taking a beating in Europe for a long time, and is really accelerating downward. It’s not just among the political class, but ordinary people too — even people who have typically been pro-American. You can really feel it in public now, they said. It was widely noticed in Italy, the men agreed, that in his recent addresses about Afghanistan, President Biden did not thank America’s Italian allies for their sacrifices (dead and wounded soldiers) in the long Afghanistan war.
We got to talking about how bizarre and counterproductive is America’s insistence on prioritizing LGBT rights in a ham-fisted way that often hurts US diplomacy when it offends local sensibilities. One of the men at the table said, “Diplomats are supposed to be diplomatic, aren’t they?”
One of the journalists at the table said he just returned from vacation in the south of France. In the town of St-Raphael, he had been present for the annual ceremony on August 15 to commemorate the Allies landing there to begin the liberation of Provence. “Let me read to you what the woman from the US consulate said,” he remarked, pulling out his phone.
“No, you’re not going where I think you’re going,” I said nervously.
“I think you know what’s coming,” he said, snickering.
Sure enough, he read from what I suppose were his notes on the speech. According to this journalist, the consulate representative said that just as American troops fought Nazis there in 1944, today we all must fight for the liberation of LGBT people. The Italian was amazed that the US diplomat even shoehorned LGBT into a speech commemorating a World War II invasion. I haven’t been able to find a transcript or video of that speech, but this messaging is consistent with the recent “Emma” recruiting video from the US Army, in which a young female soldier likens her military service today to going to Pride marches with her two moms as a girl. It’s all about fighting for freedom.
Back in my hotel room, I received the following letter tonight from a reader in Nigeria. He gave me permission to post it as long as I changed a few details to obscure his identity:
I wanted to share some things in response your 29 August article, The West and Rest.
I am a full-time (American) missionary.  I have lived here for some years, currently in Lagos. Prior to living here, I did “long short-term” visits for some 15 years. Your article spoke to me because it exactly describes the situation here in Nigeria. That was not always the case.  When I first started to work here, my students described America as “Jerusalem” or “Heaven” — the place everybody wanted to go to.  Post-2001, in the early days of our foreign wars, America was lauded as taking the right approach towards Islam and Islamism, something of great import to the persecuted Christians in this land.  George W. Bush was revered.
Over the years, however, things have changed.  I have particularly noticed it in the last four years most intensely.  Some of that can be ascribed to how President Trump treated Nigeria in terms of immigration.  While I support this to some degree personally, I can also understand why the government and people here did not look on it favorably.
The larger issue, however, has clearly been the issue of sexuality.  Over the years, my students have gone from asking me first and foremost about how to get a visa for study in America, to asking me why we accept the gay agenda — particularly Christians and the churches.  Add to that our withdrawal from the world — particularly in the fights against ISIS in Syria and in Afghanistan — and the mood here has soured toward America greatly.  (Again, I support our withdrawals per se, but appreciate how it makes us seem “unserious” — as Nigerians would say — when it comes up to standing up against radical Islam.) You add the messages about sexuality coming from the West, and the perception that Americans no longer welcome Nigerian immigrants, and our standing here in the mind of the people has dropped perceptibly in the last few years.  Even my own church here has begun to regard the conservative American churches as too soft on the concept of “gay Christians.”
In some instances, I have gone from being thanked for my service here to having students say “Why did you come?  We didn’t invite you, and no one asked for your help!”  I feel it on the street as well.  Whereas my American identity once made me a minor celebrity, more often that not I am not regarded warily, and have been told on more than one occasion to go home, as no one wants me here.
As to China — there is no doubt that they are in the ascendency here.  The number of Chinese projects and nationals one can see everywhere is growing exponentially.  The repressive government likes the lack of interference for one reason: there is no challenge on graft or human rights practices.  The people like the money, projects, and two philosophical positions:  first, as you wrote, there is no pressure to adopt LGBTQ positions that are foreign and repugnant to this culture.  Secondly, whereas many of (rightly) us decry the Uighur situation in China, if you are a persecuted Christian who has lost loved ones here [to Islamist violence], it is easy to view China as “serious” about Islamism in a way that America is not.  I can’t stress how important that is to many who are engaged in real low-intensity conflicts with Jihadists in the central and northern parts of this country.
So, immigration to a degree.  Add in LGBTQ culture in the decadent West, a Chinese commitment to not interfere in the internal matters or culture of a nation, plus the sense that we in West no longer wish to help Christian minorities abroad fight militant Islam, and the Chinese fortune is definitely on the rise here in Nigeria.  As the most populous country in Africa, as Nigeria goes, so goes the continent.  I often tell my students that the day of Western influence in Nigeria seems to be over, and that the question is now who will win here:  China or Islamism.  I certainly didn’t think it would turn out this way some twenty years ago, but now it seems inevitable.  I feel it on the street.  In the medium to long-term, my wife and are are planning to leave.  But looking at the USA, my home has changed so much in the years I’ve been away, so the question is: where will we go?
Where indeed?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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