Zuma warns ‘colonial’ corporates
Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s President, has warned Western companies they must change their old “colonial” approach to Africa or risk losing out even more to the accelerating competition from China and other developing powers.
Western businesses and governments have a “psychological problem” and are still prone to lecturing Africa, Mr Zuma said in an interview with the Financial Times.
He advised them to resist warning against the embrace of China and rethink their own investment strategies.
“I’ve said it to the private sector from the Western countries: ‘Look. You have got to change the way you do business with Africa if you want to regain Africa. If you want to treat Africa as a former colony … then people will go to new partners who are going to treat them differently’,” he said.
In particular he cited mining companies that he accused of still being interested only in extracting ore and not in fostering support industries, such as diamond-polishing, in the host nations.
Mr Zuma’s warm message to China and other developing nations comes ahead of South Africa hosting its first BRICS summit this month.
The country was incorporated into the bloc of Brazil, Russia, India and China last year even though its economy is a fraction of the size of the other four.
Mr Zuma tempered his argument by highlighting that Europe was still the “big one” including Africa’s “biggest partners in business and trade”. He also echoed his cautionary comments of last year about Beijing, stressing that Africa was aware of the risks of being bossed around by China.
“Africa does not want to be dominated again.”
In the past decade China has wrong-footed the West as it has expanded diplomatic and commercial ties across Sub-Saharan Africa. Driven by its hunger for commodities, it has offered cheap infrastructure loans in exchange in particular for access to oil.
Between 2000 and 2011 bilateral trade rose from around US$11 billion to US$160b, but mainly in oil exports to China, a deficit economists say needs addressing.
Human rights groups and Western officials have criticised China’s readiness to strike deals with oppressive governments. But South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, which admires China’s state-led capitalism, has promoted the relationship arguing South Africa has the laws and diplomatic clout to defend its interests.
“China is doing business in a particular way and we think we can see the benefits, but we are very, very careful,” he said, citing Africa’s experience of colonialism. Such a relationship must “benefit both. And this is what we and China have been agreeing.”
He said financial institutions had “squeezed Africa”. “Instead of saying: ‘Let us help you’, they come and they say: ‘Change your economic structure. Don’t do this. Do that.’
“Now we are dealing with a new partner who is not putting all these strings attached.” – Financial Times