While the rest of the world has been consumed by the high drama surrounding the Olympics Torch relay, another curious and unprecedented drama has been unfolding on the African high waters. A Chinese ship bearing arms destined for Zimbabwe is on its way back home, having been refused docking rights in any regional port. The ship and its ominous cargo alarmed a few regional leaders, concerned that an ‘arms’ variable was being introduced to an already precarious Zimbabwean equation. Is the barking African bull dog finally growing sharp fangs? Is
In the intricate global geopolitics, China has sent strong, unambiguous signals that Africa is a valued, if not preferred, dancing partner. But while certainly excited by the prospects of partnership with China, Africa has learnt to be circumspect, if not outright suspicious, when it comes to the thorny issue of relationships with foreign suitors. This, after all, is not the first time Africa is embroiled in a courtship with prospectors from far-off lands.
Africa has been serenaded and charmed by many suitors before. Almost invariably, the melodious serenading has not resulted in blissful marriage between Africa and the foreign charm-bearers. During the Cold War era marriage with the US and
The economic fundamentals of doing business with China are beyond reproach. Between 2002-2006, Sino-African trade rose from $ 12 billion to $ 40 billion, with Premier Wen Jiabao predicting that it would stand at $ 100 billion in 2010. To help that prediction,
It is hard not to spot the obvious fact that the major African beneficiaries of Chinese largesse are energy and mineral producing countries: Angola,
As China tries to convince a sceptical world audience that it enters Africa as a force for good, the ‘arms to Zimbabwe’ saga threatens to achieve the exact opposite effect. It lends credence to the criticism, prevalent in mainstream Western media, that
It is true that the West does not exactly stand on terra firma when it comes to giving China lessons on dealing with Africa. Europe’s long sejour in Africa was not characterised by gentle hand-holding meditation sessions. It was as macabre and undemocratic. Unless one applies an elastic definition of democracy, the recent French intervention in Chad had little to do with preserving a legitimately elected government.
The above point notwithstanding, the larger criticism against China’s cosy relationship with African autocracts holds. While Africans generally welcome
Africans expect African leadership to respond vigorously and resolutely when it comes to defending African strategic interests. Outsourcing this sacrosanct responsibility to our so-called development partners, the amorphous ‘international community’ or ‘Africa experts’ in the West simply doesn’t cut it. This only serves to reinforce the stereotype that Africans are weak and vulnerable, and need to be spoken for.
Levy Mwanawasa deserves credit for mobilizing and instigating African leadership to refuse the ship entry. Pressure from Zambia and
The next questionable consignment that arrives on African high waters, be it Chinese or otherwise, should be rejected out of hand. At this crucial juncture in its development trajectory, Africa needs less arms (and alms) and more trade.