Response Piece; Gyude Moore: “China in Africa: An African Pespective.”
The arrival of China in Africa may often be dismissed as a routine occurrence under the banner of “beggars can’t be choosers.” However the implications and opportunities resulting from such a foreign partnership, or any for that matter, is worth dissecting. The case of China and Africa’s relationship is particularly curious.
As Gyude Moore recalls, China did not enter Africa in a vacuum. Throughout the 90s the continent was plagued with the menaces of civil war, the colossal disease burden and the resurfacing of their debt crisis. In this context, while investment from the west was facing a decline, the Chinese saw an opportunity amidst the chaos and initiated the China/Africa cooperation under FOCAC. It is no surprise, however that in the thick of these difficult times, China was able to pinpoint an opportunity. This is because all along, Africa was still home to the largest endowment of resources.
Currently, according to various sources, China is Africa’s leading trade partner. This is because the percentage of African exports to China has shot up, compared to the European Union’s share. This new development in China/Africa relationship, contrary to most western opinions, is yielding positivity for Africa too. The Chinese built infrastructure that was not planned in accordance with existing colonial infrastructure. The periphery to center dynamic of travel was shifted to focusing more on connecting one African country to another.
This insinuates that the China/Africa relationship was far more equitable than that of China and European Union or Western investors. The trend for EU investors largely had been to extort resources from Africa, and all the while shun their responsibility of paying taxes and royalties to the African government. While the relationship with China wasn’t completely balanced in terms of what the two countries were getting out of the deal, Africa was still not losing.
While Africa fulfills its need for infrastructure, China gains proprietorship of resources in Africa. The greater benefit in my opinion, does lie with China. But perhaps in practical terms, the sacrifice with China sounds like Africa’s best bet. That being stated, the involvement of China has exacerbated the debt problem in Africa to a certain extent. China’s share of the entirety of African debt is 17%. But it is perhaps comforting to note that out of around 54 countries in the continent, only around 7–9 account for 90% of China’s debt.
This may add to the African problem of recurring or cyclical debt, which some countries had overcome before the Chinese partnership. But this is a bitter pill Africa would have to swallow in order to continue to have markets in China for their exports and building of infrastructure in a continent that only has 40% of paved roads.
Furthermore, Africa seems to have witnessed a significant rise in the sale of Chinese arms. In fact Gyude Moore informs that the Chinese variant of the Ak47 is linked to most of the crisis unfolding within the continent. A prominent buyer is Zimbabwe, a country which spends at least 5% of its GDP on military. But perhaps China’s military sales haven’t proven to be as lethal as the sale of regular cheap Chinese products. The domestic African industry is unable to compete with the low prices of Chinese products and so lose out on important profits.
Along with these issues, there is also a general speculation by western commentators who monitor the Chinese and African cooperation as a relationship susceptible to Chinese imperialist presence. This stems from China’s need to take control of the exploitation of natural resources present in China, the phenomenon of “resource nationalism.” The root of this opinion stems from the fact that China exploits resources from Africa (which it now owns) and then sells manufactured goods to China. This is a statement that Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, wrote in the Financial Times.
However, I disagree with the blatant equation of China to an imperialist state. This is due to the act that China historically has never acted as a colonizer, rather it has had tributary states. Even with Africa, where China has taken proprietorship of resources, it has also provided Africa with access to Chinese markets for exports. African citizens and employees are sent to China for graduate degrees. China has also laid out infrastructure for the continent which connects African countries with each other as opposed to a host country. If the BRI works out, African goods would be able to reach Chins within a week, and African countries would enjoy just a 3 day travel time for goods.
As I stated earlier, this relationship sounds like the best bet for Africa. Even with the rising debt, no viable alternative is available to Africa in terms of a new financer, as of now. It is a battle between choosing the lesser evil. The more expensive and unfair EU or Western companies, or the cost effective, relatively fair Chinese investment.
The hypocrisy of western commentators lies in their attempts to equate the exploitation of China with that of the western and EU companies, when in actuality, the exploitation is not and never was the cause of debate. Granting proprietorship of African land resources will always be a cost for Africa. What can be debatable however, is what the African government and people get in return. And it just so happens to be that the relationship with China tends to yields the best opportunity cost ratio for Africa. As Gyude Moore jokingly puts it with China it’s a win-win, but China always wins more. That being said, the partnering country doesn’t lose either.