Which Way for Sino-Africa Ties?

Published on 16th August 2005

In 2004 China emerged as one of the world’s most important economic powers, according to the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom by the Heritage Foundation. China became the world’s biggest producer of steel, cement, aluminum, and copper and its second largest oil consumer after the United States. The European Union’s June 28 decision not to give China market economy status, however, was a blow to China’s desire to end its treatment within the World Trade Organization as a non-market economy in dumping and subsidy cases. In 2003, foreign direct investment grew by $53.5 billion. China’s trade policy score is 1 point better this year, and its fiscal burden of government and government intervention scores are, respectively, 0.3 point and 0.5 point better. As a result, China’s overall score is 0.18 point better this year.

Economic and political links between China and Africa go back a long way, but the ties have deepened over the past five years. China\'s influence in Africa has grown dramatically. Beijing currently invests millions of dollars in projects in more than a dozen countries in Africa. In Timbuktu, Durban, Nairobi and in almost every African market, one can buy something Chinese ranging from stationery, cloth, rice, radios and cooking pots among others. Africa\'s football fans watch their teams play in stadiums built by the Chinese; while Tanzanian and Zambian traders travel between the two countries on a railway laid down by Chinese workers. In Liberia, peace efforts are partly kept by Chinese soldiers.

China is involved in joint ventures in Nigeria to develop oil fields, build a pipeline and refinery. In Rwanda and Kenya she is rebuilding roads. In Zambia, a Chinese company owns one of the country\'s largest copper mines. China is also rebuilding electrical grids and communications networks throughout Africa. She reportedly delivered combat jets and trucks to Zimbabwe in spite of a western arms embargo. Beijing has invested in oil wells and electrical power projects in Sudan, increased trade with Uganda and South Africa and agreed to launch a communications satellite for Nigeria in 2007. As China goes where few others venture -fostering diplomatic and economic ties with nations viewed with disdain by Washington, its economic star is rising while undercutting the US as well as its main Asian rival, Japan. 

There are mixed reactions over China’s advances to Africa. Some say it is difficult to see how China with its record of human rights violations, suppression of religious and political freedoms and involvement in corruption can really help the people of Africa. To them, China is setting up geopolitical alliances to become a global superpower.  
Cross sections of Africans intimate that while China\'s industrialisation blueprint is the envy of the developing world, a cautious embrace would be the right approach to Sino-Afro relationships. Africans don\'t want to be politically dominated by China and should steer clear of certain elements of Chinese governance, sticking strictly on business. Assuming China will not be imperialist because it does not have an imperialist hold in Africa yet is wishful thinking. Africa has a great tendency to embrace new investors without treading carefully. China has a degree of protectionism: it will happily flood the African market, but inhibit any attempt for Africa to reciprocate with African goods. Africa should stop thinking that there are altruistic people out there who will come forward and develop the continent. If virtually all infrastructure projects are awarded to Chinese companies, what opportunities are there to develop and nurture home-grown talent?

The quality of Chinese products is a concern. There are also lots of Chinese goods on the market but the quality is completely different from the goods they export to Africa. In Ethiopia, every shop carries clothes and shoes that are made in China. Yet few of them last any length of time due to poor quality. It is alleged that the Chinese sell good quality commodities in Canada at almost the same prices they charge in Africa hence exploiting Africa. Chinese products especially electrical goods are plenty and cheap in Uganda, but synonymous with poor quality. In the electrical shops, they ask you \"China or England?” England is almost twice the price but always preferred where quality is the overriding consideration.

Africa should learn from the tactics and clever approaches that China uses to further its ambitions. China has cleverly used other people’s innovations, enhanced them and sold them cheaply, remarks a Gambian. Like every smart nation, China knows how to take care of its interests first. This is what Africa has to learn; to take care of its own interests. Do you think China is ready to throw money at Africa without expecting anything in return? China\'s development is one of the best success stories of our time, but let\'s not forget that it\'s an old country and has taken time to get here today. We can learn from China\'s mistakes and grow even faster. The Chinese have pride in their culture and drive for self sufficiency. China has adroitly used its resources and leadership to establish itself in the world. A few years ago China was the subject of ridicule. Today it is a country that is on the brink of self sufficiency to the extent that it now holds several billions of dollars of US government bonds. It recently became the number one consumer of world resources, eclipsing the US. These are lessons that Africans really need to learn

China is a country that has transformed herself from a laughing stock to a world leader. Chinese goods are cheaper and more appealing to the poor African consumer who in turn has better opportunities to reap from the overheated Chinese economy by seeking to export not only raw materials but semi-manufactured and manufactured products as well. The Chinese population of 1.3 billion is a bigger market to Africa than the whole of Europe put together.

“If we cannot find an anchor in history, then we either create one or dissolve.” These were the words of Dr. John Garang during the signing of the Sudan peace deal. As China finds anchor in its 600 year history, Africa should re-examine her position. Europe and the Americas need not fidget for competition, effective service delivery and individual choice is the name of the game.

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