Africa’s growing heavy leaning towards the East has irked some in the West. A lot has been said in the Western media, which often paint China as a monster of some sorts that must be shunned by all and sundry.
President Hage Geingob, while on a state visit to that country last week, had to declare, and rightly so, that China is not colonising Africa. His pronouncement grabbed headlines the world over, with some portraying them in a somewhat negative light.
It goes without saying that the relationship between China and Africa has been steadily getting closer. This has created major discomfort in the international community who raised the question of whether China’s involvement amounts to “neocolonialism” or “the purchasing of friends.”
But the same critics seldom use, if at all, the same phrases to describe France’s hold onto Francophone countries in West and North Africa, Britain’s intimate involvement in Zimbabwean politics during Robert Mugabe’s rule, or the fact that America has military camps dotted across the continent, under the guise of her Africom strategy.
China’s approach has been to remain in the domain of economic diplomacy, and not involve herself in the domestic affairs of sovereign African states.
The infrastructure that China has built in Africa is one of the main factors for her popularity in African nations. Amid the increase in new harbours, roads, airports and railways in particular, has been a massive bonus not only for the governments of the countries on the receiving end of loans, but also for the people of those countries.
The current crop of Africa leaders must simply tread carefully not to overcommit to foreign financial assistance and leave future generations in a fix of bondage.
Also, China’s industrialisation drive has been behind much of Africa’s success in commodity trade. This has helped cement the love between the two sides.
China sucker-punched her global rivals when she started knocking on African doors, which for long have been guarded by Western hawks. For far too long, the continent was a turf for Western exploitation – first by Europe and now by both Europe and North America.
China’s inward push into Africa is tempering the Western hegemony on the continent, to the chagrin of many a global capital.
True, China too is in Africa for its own interest – just like the West. But the difference lies in the approach and a sense of respect that China displays towards Africa.
With the current approach and attitude, it is hard, for instance, to imagine President Geingob being invited for a state visit to the USA, London or Paris. In getting invited to Beijing – which of course has its own ends it seeks to achieve – there’s a sense of not only affection but respect too. In 2007, Hu Jintao, another Chinese president, paid a State visit to Windhoek.
When such courtesy is extended, it is up to African nations to maintain their position during negotiations for bilateral deals.
While we commend China’s approach and involvement in Africa, we should not lose sight of that country’s broader national interests, which drives that involvement. As Yun Sun, a non-resident fellow at Africa Growth Initiative writes, politically, China seeks Africa’s support for her “One China” policy and for its foreign policy agendas in multilateral forums such as the United Nations.
Economically, Africa is seen primarily as a source of natural resources and market opportunities to fuel China’s domestic growth. From a security standpoint, the rising presence of Chinese commercial interests in Africa has led to growing security challenges for China, as the safety of Chinese investments and personnel come under threats due to political instability and criminal activities on the ground.
China also sees an underlying ideological interest in Africa, as the success of the “China model” in non-democratic African countries offers indirect support for China’s own political ideology and offers evidence that Western democratic ideals are not universal.