Babette Zoumara and Abdul-Rauf Ibrahim
2013-06-06, Issue 633
cc C AAfrica is lacking a clear and unified policy in terms of how it relates to China. In developing further social, economic and political ties with China, African leaders must develop a coherent and structured plan to promote the interests of Africans
Opinions on the impact of the China-Africa relations differ among observers. For instance, Thierry Bangui, a development consultant and a native of the Central African Republic, and Fweley Diangitukua, a Congolese economist, believe that the mutual benefit (win-win situation) is a hoax (InfoSud 2010). These observers argue that China importing its own workforce to work in aid projects granted to Africa is disadvantage for Africa but beneficial to China since it allows China to solve its domestic unemployment problem (Gaye 2006). They claim that China offers astronomical projects to Africa but that fewer jobs were created in recipient countries, especially for locals. In fact, the same observation was made by Beuret and Michel (Beuret and Michel 2008). It is speculated that part of the Chinese government’s policy is to encourage Chinese entrepreneurs to travel abroad and seek greener pastures and that Africa happens to be the destination these entrepreneurs were privileged to be (Li et al. 2012; Cisse 2012). These investors are believed to come with fierce competition (as they are allegedly supported by the Chinese government) especially in the informal economic sector, which is normally a reserved area for local entrepreneurs. It has been pointed out that this situation has the tendency of causing conflict between the disadvantaged locals and Chinese entrepreneurs (Adisu et al. 2010). In Dakar (Senegal) for instance, there were reports that half of the local traders were bankrupt because of cheap made-in China goods imported by Chinese businessmen. Consequently, unemployment was said to be on the rise and that life was increasingly difficult by the day (Beuret and Michel 2008).
ARE CHINA’S RELATIONS WITH AFRICA NEOCOLONIAL?
The emergence of China as a new economic power and the deep relations it has with Africa drew and received global attention. For Africa which was formerly controlled economically by its development partners, now enjoys relations with a new and emerging power on a seemingly equal footing. The economic control of Africa and its natural resources have become the major issues for opposing interests by the big powers (Van Dijk 2009). As expected, China’s advancement into Africa is no exception; its relation with Africa has received condemnations from Africa’s traditional donors. In fact, the term neo-colonialism is usually used to describe the relations between China and Africa (Rotberg 2008). Some argued that the China-Africa relation was not different from the relation Africa had with the West (Gaye and Brautigam 2002). Yet still, others are worried about the fact that Beijing was cooperating with regimes denounced by the international community (Sudan and Zimbabwe) (Van Dijk 2009).
On the issue of colonization, Beuret and Michel estimated the number of Chinese in Africa to be around 750,000 while Zequan Huang, a reporter for the People’s Daily (Renmin Ribao) put the figure to be around 500,000 and stressed that this could not be described as colonizing Africa. Similarly, Martyn Davies, director of the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa argued that Chinese presence in Africa could not be described as colonization in fairness. To buttress his point, he pointed out that ‘there are 2,000 Chinese companies in Singapore and no one speaks of colonization, there are only 900 in Africa, the second continent in the world and everybody speak of colonization’ (Financial Times 2008).
CHINA’S LACK OF RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Meanwhile, Western scholars have also criticized the relations. They cite in particular, the perceived lack of China’s respect for human rights and reluctance to fight corruption (Alessi and Hanson 2012). Alden (Alden 2007) is one of the few to have recorded these negative sentiments. In ‘China in Africa’ at page 104, he discussed the official U.S rhetoric focusing on issues of democracy and natural resources. He emphasized that the U.S perceives China’s presence in Africa an obstacle to (what they consider as) the fragile process of democratization and of course U.S grip on African resources (Alden 2007).
In this modern time, information management is essential and critical especially with respect to the terms and conditions of loans, investment and aid provided by developing partners to developing nations. For example, Brautigam in ‘The Dragon’s Gift: the real story of China in Africa’ at page 2, used the term ‘gifts’ and ‘mysterious donations’ to describe loans, investment and aid projects offered by China to Africa because of the lack (according to her) of transparency in the funds paid to African countries. She indicated that aid provided by China raised very sensitive questions bothering on transparency, corruption and human rights issues (Brautigam 2009). Note that these issues have been raised severally by various people in the Western media. In 2006 for instance, Wieczorek Zeul, the then German development minister, stated in an interview that China perceived development in Europe as an alarm that just sounded. She openly criticized China’s aid policy to Africa and insisted that loans to Africa ‘should be linked with conditions’ (ECDPM 2007).
THE PROBLEM OF LOANS WITHOUT CONDITIONS
Similarly in 2007, Philippe Maystdt, past President of the European Bank, renewed this propaganda. He claimed that loans could drive the debt of Africa to dangerous levels if China continued to lend too easily; in other words, lend to Africa without conditions. He then, asked the European Union (EU) to open dialogue with China to discuss the problems of loans without conditions (ECDPM 2007). In the same year, Hilary James Benn, former British secretary for international development, cautioned the European Community during a visit to Malawi and boldly declared that ‘Chinese aid do more harm than good’ in Africa (ECDPM 2007). According to him, the unconditional aid could lead to setbacks in terms of democracy and human rights developments. Furthermore, Louis Michel, European commissioner for development, during an annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in 2006, advised the European Union to cease attacks on China on the issue of interest-free loans granted to the poorest countries. In fact, he strongly recommended inclusion of China as a partner for promotion of effective development of Africa (ECDPM 2007); in other words, to politically or strategically muzzle China. In a newspaper published by the China Youth Daily and the China Review in February 2007, Solana Javie, a former Representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, supported the proposal of Louis Michel (Solana 2007). Perhaps, with these comments in mind, the then Director General of the European Commission launched a conference on the 28th of June 2007 dubbed ‘Partners in competition, EU, Africa and China’. This brought together 180 think-tanks and experts such as policy makers, academicians and representatives of civil society and business from China, Africa and the EU to deliberate on the way forward (ECDPM 2007).
‘THE SUN HAS SET IN THE WEST AND HAS RISEN FROM THE EAST’
Notwithstanding, some analysts see the relations as positive commitment to the development of Africa (Rotberg 2008; Eisenman and Kurlantzick 2006). Even though some have highlighted the weakness of the relations and concluded that it was pernicious (Alessi and Hanson 2012), thorough and objective analyses show that the engagement is still deepened. Indeed, the partnership is largely appreciated on the African continent as it has boosted its growth (Li 2007). Under-developed several years ago, as majority of African countries were, China succeeded in breaking through the ranks of major economic and industrial powers and made positive impact (Li et al. 2012). It is therefore, not surprising that African leaders continue to seek ways to develop their countries with the assistance of China, especially and rightly so, as conditions imposed by Africa’s traditional donors did not lead to any definitive economic independence. No wonder the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, in striking and metaphorically speaking (right or otherwise) stated that ‘the sun has set in the west and has risen from the East’ to state his frustrations at the West and his confidence in China (Gaye 2008).
Beyond these critics, one thing is clear; the cooperation between Africa and its economic development partners (EU, China and US) are strategically different, and each is driven by economic self-interests. It is of vital importance therefore, that Africa approves on an equal footing, strategic and most consistent partner (business or otherwise) who recognizes, shares and respects it’s difficult but critical needs be it political, economic or social as well as sovereignty. Unfortunately, one of Africa’s key problems that have hindered its development, irrespective of the kind of relationship, is responsive leadership. It appears that some of its leaders are not able to separate their own interests from the collective national interest; for example, the craze for political power at all cost. They also seem not to have been able to critically analyze the consequences of policy directives and recommendations from its development partners as happened with the IMF and World Bank, or are not able to reject programs that do not embrace the continents problems in totality.
An example in this case, in our opinion is the whole-sale adoption of western-styled governance (democracy) without at least setting up the foundations necessary for its sustainability and smooth running. This is not a suggestion for the total rejection of Western democracy or ideas however; we believe that Africa could have developed its own style of governance based on the Western experience, given its unique issues and characteristics without this ‘copy-paste’ that appears to be causing more harm than good in spite of the ‘democracy’ in most parts of the continent. After all, there were some sorts of governance (democracy) in Africa long before the appearance of the ‘everything Western is best’ mentality.
CONTINENTAL UNITY NEEDED IN APPROACHING CHINA
Another problem is the lack of coherent and collective policy. While China has a clear and strategic policy for Africa, Africa as a united force has no unified policy for its relations with China. Indeed, it is a worrying situation for a relation that is supposed to be based on mutual values in terms of cooperation, trust and development to lack this key ingredient. Each African country therefore, pursues the relation based on its unique needs and development agenda resulting in weak bargaining power in certain aspects and attracting less developmental projects from China. A further troubling aspect is the lack of adequate participation of the African private sector, media and academia in this partnership. For instance, during the conference on China-Africa in 2006, the African private sector was not adequately represented. There were nearly 300 Chinese private firms but only a handful of their African counterparts. This seems to suggest that as Chinese private companies show interest in building long term relations with Africa, the continents private firms do not appear to show much interest in sustaining the relationship or are not given the necessary incentive to augment governmental efforts. This will inevitably create gaps between internal policies of African countries and their implementations.
A NEW PLAN FOR DEALING WITH CHINA
Therefore, Africa must necessarily develop a coherent and structured plan in successfully asserting its political, economic and social ties with China. It must avoid repeating some of the mistakes committed in its past relations with its traditional development partners. In the meantime, African leaders must be able to define and formulate strategic and comprehensive policies, individually, for the influx of Chinese investments. For instance, they must exert pressure on China and together, differentiate and separate investments and loans CLEARLY from interest free loans, grants and aid projects. In fact, several writers have already pointed out the fact that there seem not to be difference, at least on the part of China, between investment and aid projects (Shinn 2012; Der Lug et al. 2011). For example, David Shinn, adjunct professor at George Washington University pointed out that China mixes aid with commercial deals, enabling Chinese construction enterprises access to infrastructural projects in Africa (Shinn 2012). Even the Center for Chinese studies (CCS) based in South Africa appears to agree with this. They believe that ‘Chinese government officials rarely distinguish aid and investments’ (Der Lug et al. 2011).
In any case, the distinction of projects will make it easier to handle and formulate appropriate policies to effectively manage respective projects (Investment, grants loans or grants) such that clearly China could be dealt with as a business partner in terms of investments and loan projects (commercial deals) or as a development partner when it comes to grants and aid projects. As it stands now, it is not easy to tell whether Africa sees China as business partner (an investor) or development partner (a friend). Furthermore, clear distinction of these projects will make easier for tracking and at the same time holding the various governments and implementing agencies accountable. This will among other things, ensure sanity, dedication to job, sense of duty, transparency and above all, mitigate corruption. In this regards, the private sector, business community, academia and more importantly, the media must be encouraged and given the opportunity to vet and critic these Chinese contracted developmental projects.
There are successful and intelligent men and women in all fields living in Africa as well as in the Diaspora that can give Africa value for money considering project contracts and negotiations. Until this is done and African leaders began using these best brains so as to obtain better deals from China, the relations will certainly not be totally different from Africa’s past ones.
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*Babette Zoumara is with the Department of International Relations, College of South East Asian Studies, Xiamen University, Xiamen 361005, P. R. China
*Abdul-Rauf Ibrahim is with the Department of Chemical and Biochemical engineering, Xiamen University,Xiamen 361005, P. R. China