Namibia Looks Forward to Chinese Premier’s Visit

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Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro For two days next week, Namibia will be hosting the President of the Peoples Republic of China, His Excellency Hu Jintao. Like in the rest of the countries on the continent he has already visited, and is due to visit, we will gladly be rolling out the red carpet for him. For him in person, as well as guardian and current supreme promoter of the long-running relationship between Namibia and China formalized just after independence when the two countries entered into diplomatic relations. But this was only a culmination of a friendship with the continent now spanning about 50 years. The essence of the visit of China’s foremost citizen is not only in the 50-year or so friendship. Fifty years is a far cry since the days of the relationship rooted on the one hand in the continent’s quest for freedom and independence, and China’s support embedded in her socialist ideology. As China well admits in her African Policy outlook, “the current world situation has created both opportunities and challenges.” Equally, there are also opportunities as well as challenges in our continued relationship with China devoid of any dogmatic ideological posturing. We may see in China an ally devoid of any colonial baggage seeking to build South-South relationships. Yes, but the flip-side reality is that China is also at the same time a global power and a leader in the developing world. Thus, the friendship between the two sister countries may be underpinned by these realities and how China views and approaches it, given its vantage point. Likewise, it also hinges on how Namibia and the African continent are tuned to these realities. However, there is no denying that African-Sino friendship represents a partnership that is a departure from the neo-colonial relationship that may still define the continent’s relationship between the continent, the former colonial masters and modern-day Big Brother, the United States of America. Yes, by far the European Union has been the continent’s most important trade partner with the USA and China lagging behind respectively. But the former two have been a partnership rooted in neo-colonialism and to all intents and purposes it still is. One of the objectives, if not the main objective of the LomÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚© Convention, the trade arrangement between Europe and its former African, Caribbean and Pacific colonies, was the industrialization of these countries. Three decades after industrialization in these countries and Africa in general remains but a sing-song notwithstanding that lately there is a movement away from heavy industries towards knowledge-based economies. Nevertheless, Europe and the developed world’s usurping of Africa, as a source of raw materials, has not undergone any major change save for assuming a sublime character epitomized by such sweet-sounding catchwords like globalization. Of course, China is not without interest in raw materials. Uranium, especially, comes to mind in the case of Namibia. As its economy booms, there is an increasing need to buy African oil and other commodities. As much as this has led to a big increase in a two-way trade worth about N$400 billion, there has also been criticism of China stifling African manufacturing. There has also been concern over the treatment of African workers by Chinese-owned companies. However, these are symptoms of the challenges within the varied national interests of the friendship that the partners must address. There must be no illusion that the friendship is underlined by different interests of the respective partners, mutually beneficial at times and incongruent at other times. Therein also lie opportunities and challenges. Namibia and Africa also have their interests as much as China does. It is in this context that Namibia must focus on the opportunities presented by this friendship and, at the same time, be alert to any unforeseen and unintended negative influences that may lay hidden in the friendship. The opportunities are abundant. To mention a few, China has announced a N$37-billion investment in the Least Developed Countries (LCDs). Though development economists dispute Namibia’s status as an LCD, I am sure that, given the special relationship she has with the Peoples Republic of China, she can prevail upon her sister country to consider her as a special case together with other LCDs. Another area needing an urgent boost is human resources, and China is prepared to train 10ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 African personnel within three years. China also promises the continent N$3 billion in preferential credit over three years. These and others are pointers that somehow China seems, on the face of it, more genuinely inclined towards Namibian and African interests. Visiting Africa in 1996, the-then Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, presented a five-point proposal on establishing a long-term, stable African-Sino relationship of stability and cooperation geared towards the 21st Century. The five points are: sincere friendship, treating each other equally, unity and cooperation, common development and looking into the future. Can one, given the already ideological affinity between China and the continent stretching over 50 years, blame the continent for feeling close to China? Personally I have a single item on my own shopping list. The benign benefactor that she is to Namibia, China could enhance this status by not only striving to buy uranium from her but also help Namibia in her energy needs even if by helping her construct her own nuclear reactor here. Mr President, welcome! Feel at home and may your stay strengthen the partnership between our two sister countries.