Harold French has an article in the International Herald Tribune about the Chinese footprint growing across Africa. China’s fundamental interest is oil, China really needs to expand supply to meet skyrocketing demand.
French compares an Ethiopian Airlines flight filled with Chinese, to those flights he has taken to Africa from the United States:
Yes, there is a smattering of business people and of tourists. But the Americans who travel to Africa tend to be aid workers of one kind or another: officials of the U.S. government and of the international financial institutions, like the World Bank, and the army of well-paid consultants and contractors that they deploy. They are also relief workers and missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers, and academics doing research.
There is much to be gleaned from the contrast here. Chinese people today look at Africa and see opportunity, promise and a fertile field upon which their energies, mercantile and otherwise, can be given full play. Too often, the West looks at Africa and sees a problematic pupil, a sickly patient, and a zone of pestilence, where failure looms in the air like a curse.
To be sure, China will not forever be the fresh-faced and idealized suitor that many in Africa take it to be today. This is clearly a special, honeymoon-like moment. But the very appeal of China owes a great deal to disillusionment in Africa with the West, whose preachiness and shifting prescriptions, whose unreliability and penchant in the face of frustration for damning cultural explanations for Africa’s failures, free of critical self-examination, have left many Africans exasperated.
This exasperation has been the all but unacknowledged backdrop to a string of recent events, from the Wolfowitz scandal at the World Bank to the recent Group of 8 summit meeting, the common threads being Western posturing about helping Africa, a failure to deliver on promises and the dearth of African voices heard, or even admitted into the debate.
It is particularly this last that truly infuriates Africans: the dearth of African voices heard, or even admitted into the debate, as well as the West’s unreliability and penchant in the face of frustration for damning cultural explanations for Africa’s failures.
In a previous post I quoted Kenyan journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo on the World Bank:
Not too long ago, in many African countries, the second most powerful person after the president was not the army commander or the vice president, but the World Bank country representative.The policy prescriptions of the Bank . . . and loan conditions could neither be reviewed nor questioned by elected parliaments and cabinets.
And following World Bank and IMF prescriptions has left many African countries with these results:
So, at the end of the day, by following the advice of western experts you’ve destroyed your rural economy, gone from a country which could feed itself to a net importer of food, created huge slums around your cities, increased the instability of your country – and haven’t modernized.. . .
When citizens of third world countries talk about how the West in general, and America in specific, is keeping them down, this is much of what they’re talking about.
French notes the same thing in his article, including the following statements:
Thérèse Mekombé, a member of a Chadian commission created to supervise the use of that country’s oil revenues, was categorical in an interview, saying, “The World Bank is not a partner in development, and can never be a partner in our development.”
Another recent exception was an op-ed column by the Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade, which was published in this newspaper, urging G-8 nations to invest in Africa “like India and China.”
And as French ads:
Compare this with China, whose diplomacy has been on a tear across the continent recently, writing off debt, exempting African exports from trade duties, lending increasingly huge amounts of money, and, generally speaking, making things happen quickly and in a big way.
Surely China is pursuing its own interests. Just as surely, much of what it is attempting will not pan out, or will have deleterious effects, particularly since no distinction is made between governments that are relatively clean and representative and those that are odious.
(Between the West and China) . . . it is not hard to see who is gaining ground.
Despite Bush, the United States still has a moderately good reputation in Africa, and still holds a position of some respect. Most African governments continue to deal with the US. This is primarily the result of work by Presidents Carter and Clinton. Carter’s emphasis on human rights made a huge impact around the world. It is a great shame the US turned away from this immediately following Carter under Reagan. And Clinton has enjoyed a fabulous relationship with Africa where he is viewed as a brother.
Southern thinking and traditions are not often held in esteem by the US intelligentsia, aside from the GOP southern strategy to take advantage of white racism. But I often think that leaders with open minds, who come out of the south, have a greatly enhanced ability to achieve some success in resolving intransigent issues. Southerners know how to talk and keep talking. They have had to keep talking to work out the issues of civil rights. And when you have two sides that are completely opposed, the only possible peaceful solution lies in talking and talking and keeping talking, even when there looks like no possibility of compromise.
The present US approach to Africa, military assistance, the Africa Command, with diplomacy and aid subsumed under the Pentagon’s aegis, is exactly the wrong way to go. It continues the western mistakes and arrogance that French describes. The Africom message is control and containment.
Those people who “look at Africa and see opportunity, promise and a fertile field upon which their energies, mercantile and otherwise, can be given full play” are likely to do better both for African countries and for themselves. Although the same caveat applies here as everywhere in the world. It is critical for everyone to think long term about human rights and about the environment.