‘Africa must be smart about China’
On becoming the new Chinese Leader, Xi Xinping’s first foreign trip was to Moscow, Russia and if this was a shocker, more was to follow.
Fresh from the visit to the Kremlin, the Communist Party chief was on the plane to Dar es Salaam on the first leg of his triangular trip to Africa that would also take him to the Congo Republic and the Republic of South Africa.
On the surface, Xi’s choices for his maiden Presidential foreign trips may pass unnoticed and would hardly make the biggest news of the year.
Speaking to an African diplomat in Beijing recently, the Chinese leader had this to say, “China values close co-operation with all friendly African countries, whether strong or weak, rich or poor.”
This fundamentally is a summation of Chinese foreign policy towards Africa at the political, economic and cultural levels.
Western powers have been perturbed by China’s interest in Africa. They have stepped up their criticism of China’s Africa policies while reviewing their own strategies in order to neutralise the Chinese influence on the continent.
It is likely that they will continue to pressure China to comply with their doctrine “to promote good governance, democracy and transparency in Africa”.
As the Chinese leader was touching down in Africa, Barack Obama was winding up his maiden trip to the Middle East since assuming the US Presidency in 2008. The Western media celebrated and glorified Obama‘s journey as a diplomatic victory but vilified, condemned and branded Xi’s decisions to go to Russia and Africa, saying the Chinese leader was promoting “a new form of imperialism that overlooks human rights”.
Naturally, this attitude by Europe and America is taking as an insult to the intelligence of Africans by many people. It is tantamount to saying the African is so dull that he needs help and guidance on who to relate to and has to seek Western approval and blessings when choosing friends.
It is common knowledge that the Chinese have had one of the fastest growing economies in the world for the past few years now. And we all know that they owe this to their investment and penetration of new markets in developing countries. So Africa has simply chosen an ally that it can depend on.
That is not to say all Chinese investment in Africa has been good. There is evidence of unchecked exploitation and exportation of raw materials. In this regard, resource extraction by the Chinese largely mirrors that by Europeans and Americans: there is no value addition.<br /> Further, there have been many report of unfair labour practices, and the ongoing problems in Zambia – especially at mines – are an example of this serious problem.
But on the whole, the partnership with the Chinese government and companies from that country has been fairer than Africa’s dealings with the West.
Analysts believe that by devoting so much time so early in his Presidency to Africa, Xi Xinping is underscoring a continuing theme and legacy in Chinese foreign policy. China is saying it is Africa to stay (which is why it has embassies in 50 of Africa’s 54 countries).
African countries are increasingly aware that there are many benefits to be derived from having strong ties with China and other Asian success stories.
Richard Aidoo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and Geography at Coastal Carolina University in the US, has written that: “Africa was once dismissed by some as the hopeless continent, but healthy economic growth has had some nations’ leaders looking East for inspiration.
“Despite the ongoing global economic turmoil, a number of African nations have been making impressive strides in their development, a point underscored by The Economist’s decision recently to run a lead story describing Africa as ‘A Hopeful Continent’, drawing a clear contrast to its cover story ‘The Hopeless Continent’ a decade ago.
“The continent’s leaders are now looking East for inspiration. Rwandan President Paul Kagame for example has vowed to eventually transform his country’s economy into the ‘Singapore of Central Africa’.
“Such sentiments tap into the vast and growing repository of Afro-optimism that sees sustained economic growth as the future even as the continent’s north is embroiled in domestic political turmoil and uprisings…
“To underline China’s growing dominance and influence in Africa, last year the Chinese delivered a symbolic structure in the form of a US$200 million headquarters to house the African Union.
“Indeed, this superstructure has transformed the skyline of Addis Ababa, but more importantly it has added the crucial layer to the Sino-African discourse – helping connect Africa’s present to its past.”
But given the sheer size of China’s economy, Africa should indeed be wary that it does not sell itself short and thus fail to unlock the potential value in partnering China.
Africa has suffered for decades at the hands of colonialists, imperialists and neo-colonialists. Bread and butter issues are at stake here.
Most European and Western economies are bleeding and have been in the intensive care unit for the past five years at the very least.
China has been able to surge ahead while the West looks for stability. Further, China has capitalised on Western arrogance in dealing with Africa by instead viewing the continent as an equal.
While the Chinese seek new markets and improved relations with developing countries across the world, the West I still obsessed with wars, interfering in other nations’ internal politics and exerting their influence in just about any way imaginable.
Where China seeks co-operation based on equality, the West continues to lecture on “human rights”, “good governance” and “the rule of law”.
Like it or not, China is a major economic and political power in the world.
What Africa needs to do is plan properly how best to engage this new power on the block.
• Harry Taruva can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or herrycope email@example.com