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We must strengthen relationship between China and Africa

         Date: 2012-03-23

           Tag: China, Africa, China, Africa relationship

Summary: To expect China to think for Tanzania, Kenya or Uganda in the unfolding relations is to be naïve in the extreme.

When China rolled out its Africa strategy in 2000 by creating the Forum on China Africa Cooperation, the world—and particularly the US—woke up to the reality of a rising power that would challenge its traditionally assured place of honour in the African continent.

The strengthening of relations between China and Africa in the past decade has been the subject of much debate and discussion globally.

Sino-African engagements have virtually become a growth industry in its wake, with an increasing number of academics training their sights on the how and why of the unfolding relations.

The arrival of China on the continent has steadily reshaped the geopolitical architecture of the continent. In his unabashed enthusiasm, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe described the changing global relations wrought by China thus: “We now look to the East where the sun rises, no longer to the West where it sets.”

It would be out of step for more diplomatic leaders such as Jakaya Kikwete or Mwai Kibaki to be this forthright about their intrinsic view of the West. In any case, there is no love lost between Mugabe and the West, a situation that has paved the way for the blossoming of Sino-Zimbabwe as Zimbabwe–US/UK ties plummet. However, it is not far-fetched to say that many African leaders do want to engage with China, if nothing else as a counter-measure to what many see as Western arrogance and patriarchy.

It is now well appreciated that the West took Africa for granted for far too long during all those years when Africa had nowhere to turn in search of solutions to poverty and other challenges.

Incidentally, China’s interest in Africa, particularly over the past dozen years, came at a time when the West was going through a rough economic patch, meaning most resources were directed towards overcoming domestic problems.

Given the circumstances, the West made a huge mistake in attempting to admonish Africa for openly embracing the “dragon”. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for instance, accused China last year of advancing a neo-colonial project in Africa.

A quick review of the African response to Clinton’s comments suggests that most Africans felt the US was proselytising and basically abusing the intelligence of Africans and their right to choose their partners. Some have pointed out that the West is largely responsible for the mess Africa finds itself in today and should not pass the buck.

Those who take the Clinton position miss the point. China and Africa have historically been allies in more than one respect. China was very much part of the establishment of the Non Aligned Movement in the 1960s, the Third World solidarity movement that sought equity on the world stage in the context of the cold war era.

It is fair, therefore, to say that Sino-African relations are not starting from scratch. China is simply making a comeback to Africa after a lull in the 1980s. What should be of concern for African leaders is that while China has a well thought plan for engagement, African countries seem intent only on being on the receiving end of Chinese largesse.

Much as China’s declared non-hegemonic approach to engagement with Africa is praiseworthy, it is important for African countries to carefully consider their people’s interests as a means of achieving mutually beneficial partnerships.

To expect China to think for Tanzania, Kenya or Uganda in the unfolding relations is to be naïve in the extreme.

The one lesson African countries can learn from China is to rigorously think through foreign policy as the launching pad for meaningful engagement. Quite apart from China’s Africa Policy of 2006, the country now involves think tanks in charting the way forward for Sino-African cooperation.

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