Rosemary Ekosso reproduces an angry article by George Ayittey, professor, author and director of the Free Africa Foundation, on the current ‘honeymoon’ between China and Africa, over which I’ve had the opportunity to mull several times now. It’s long and detailed, indulging in historical details of the relationship during the Cold War era, but towards the end it contains in a few sentences the essence of Ayittey’s scepticism:
China’s increasing involvement in Africa should be viewed against this backdrop. Despite the euphonious verbiage about “cooperation”, “equal terms,” and “altruism,” the real intentions of China are threefold. The first is to gain access to Africa’s resources by signing with a bow sweetheart deals with African despots. The second is to canvass for African votes at the United Nations in its quest for global hegemony. In this sense, the Chinese are no different from the French. The third is to seek African land to dump its surplus population. Chinese communes are springing up in Namibia, Zambia, Nigeria and other African countries. The Chinese have succeeded in getting African states to accept large numbers of Chinese experts and workers as part of their investment packages: 28 “Baoding villages” have been established, each housing up to 2,000 Chinese workers, in various parts of Africa. But the Chinese are not the problem.
The real problem was the retinue of clueless African clods, who attended Chopsticks Conference at Beijing in October. “Clueless” because that was no Berlin Conference for sure. No European powers were present; only one Asian power, China. And no Maxim gun was needed. But lying prostrate at China’s feet were 40 African heads of state, offering themselves for voluntary economic enslavement. Disgusting.
Elementary principles of demand and supply suggest that that was a buyer’s market. When 40 desperate suppliers are competing for one buyer’s attention, the buyer calls the shots. With chopsticks dexterity, China can pick platinum from Zimbabwe; oil from Angola, Nigeria and Sudan; cocoa from Ghana; diamonds from Sierra Leone; etc. – all on itsown terms because of its strong bargaining position. Few radical intellectuals and African heads of state see nothing wrong with this huge imbalance because China is perceived to be a “friend of Africa” since it is “anti-West.”
Ayittey’s strong opinions are well-known, and revolve around the idea that Africa is poor because she’s not free, both from its colonial past and from its present corrupt leaders. He’s had several opportunities to express them in his books (such as Africa in Chaos and Africa Unchained) and through the Free Africa Foundation. My personal take is that he’s probably correct, and that China might not really be that white angel it claims to be.
Meantime, things are not going too well for Africa. Rebels in Chad, travelling west across the desert, are apparently heading for the capital, N’Djamena, while fighting is flaring once more in eastern DRC and Ethiopia is picking a fight with Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). No end in sight, it seems, as long as the sun keeps rising…
(photo: Dawn in Segou © 2006 Tim Zielenbach)