China in Africa

UPI Correspondent
BRUSSELS, Feb. 1 (UPI)China’s growth and close economic ties with Africa are affecting the ability of the United States and the European Union to influence politics on the continent, experts say.

Europe became aware of its new secondary role in Africa during the latest round of trade negotiations at the EU-Africa summit last month. The EU, which had grown accustomed to getting what it wants from Africa, was fiercely rebuffed by the majority of African nations that refused the terms proposed by the European Commission.

The reason African countries could now stand up to their former colonizers was an alternative and more attractive Chinese market, which has been offering African countries better prices and more investment.

“China’s own economic growth has allowed it, and forced it, to accelerate engagement with Africa pretty much across the board in a way that the EU and the U.S. just don’t,” said Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy, an economic think tank in Brussels.
. . .
Africa supplies a third of China’s oil, and trade between China and Africa has risen by 6,000 percent since 1990, according to Erixon.
. . .
“The EU most certainly overplayed its hand in trade negotiations,” Erixon said. “They pushed Africa into China’s hands. They just asked for too much. They demanded reforms from African nations that they would never be able to do.”
. . .
China’s dispensing of soft loans to Africa makes it easy to plummet the continent back into the debt crisis that it’s just starting to crawl out of. “A buildup of new debt and a new debt crisis could occur one or two decades down the road,” Erixon said.
. . .
“There’s at the margin some erosion of U.S. economic leverage because China is a new alternative market,” Setser said. “When it comes to bidding on the right to develop Africa’s oil fields Africa will sell it to the highest bidders and it will have no qualms of going to Chinese companies instead of EU or U.S. ones.”

The Chinese oil companies routinely overpay in order to secure oil fields, according to Setser. “Growing exports from Africa to China might interfere with exports from Africa to Europe,” Erixon said.

Some are saying Angola may surpass Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer soon, especially since militant political activists and guerilla entrepreneurs in the Delta have cut Nigerian production by around 25%. This is not good news for the west. The US past involvement in Angola’s civil war, and actions that helped prolong that war an extra 10 years give the US very little leverage when dealing with Angola.

I’ve wondered about the debt issue. The west has used debt as a weapon to keep developing countries weak and dependent. Will the Chinese loans do the same?

The Chinese do not care about good governance and human rights, so long as the projects get done and the goods delivered. Of course the west has mostly paid minimal lip service to good governance and human rights, tolerating and supporting ruthless dictators and extreme horrors if the deal is right and corporate interests advantaged.

The Chinese prefer to bring in Chinese workers, so they are not helping much with creating jobs in the countries where they operate. This causes resentment. And flooding those countries with cheap subsidized goods, particularly textiles, clothing and shoes, are putting local manufacturing out of business, or preventing it from getting established. It was distressing to me that the textiles bought for the Ghana@50 celebrations in 2007 were bought from China, and not from Ghanaian textile and clothing producers. Ghana has beautiful textiles.

Nigeria and the US have generally had fairly good relations. And now Yar’Adua is calling for one of the goals of AFRICOM, partnering with African militaries:

01/02/2008 12:40

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua has called for a joint security force in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea amid an upsurge in violence in the Niger Delta, a presidential statement said Friday.

“The establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Guard Force will address emerging security concerns at the region”, the statement quoted Yar’Adua as saying during talks with Equatorial Guinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Addis Ababa.

Both leaders met on the sidelines of the ongoing African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, the statement said.

Yar’Adua called for a meeting of members of the Gulf of Guinea Commission to approve the modalities for setting up the force.

The commission comprises Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sao Tome and Principe.

Yar’Adua said he discussed the proposed force with US President George W. Bush during his recent visit to the United States and hoped that Washington would assist with training and logistics.

The statement said Mbasogo raised security concerns in the volatile Niger Delta with Yar’Adua, who assured him of his government’s resolve to stem the unrest and criminality in the region.

The Niger Delta has seen an upsurge in violence in the past two years as militant gangs renewed their attacks on oil facilities and personnel, slashing Nigeria’s daily output by a quarter.

Pyramid of Capitalist System, issued by Nedeljkovich, Brashick and Kuharich,
Cleveland: The International Publishing Co., 1911.
The drawing of the cake described below reminded me of this old, but still relevant, graphic.

Sokari describes the role of China in Africa:

China is doing to Africa what Europe and the US have been doing for 100s of years. Instead of joining in Western economic paranoia we should recognise this is merely an extension of colonialism / neo-colonialism and economic exploitation and deal with it as such. The US and the West have their own issues with China and to some extent this is played out on our soil. We should be seizing the time and using this as a weapon to ensure we get the best deal for our resources and citizens.

Recently the BBC reported on the Chinese in Angola.

It is not just the capital Luanda that has become a vast construction site. In the provinces too, blue-jacketed Chinese workers are ubiquitous, building roads, railways, and schools.

. . . all the materials from bags of cement to scaffolding poles have been imported from China.

Apart from the security guard at the gate and two Angolan women employed to wash vegetables and clean the latrines and bathroom, I see no local people here.

Since 2004, Angola has taken out $8-12bn in loans from China. Thanks to its huge oil deposits in the Gulf of Guinea, the former Portuguese colony has become China’s biggest African trading partner.

In exchange for Angola’s oil, energy-hungry China is helping to repair the country’s infrastructure.

Although Beijing insists its credit comes with no strings attached, the deal in Angola is that 70% of tenders for public works must go to Chinese firms.

That means tens of thousands of jobs here for Chinese workers, engineers, planners – and even doctors.
. . .
But the lack of jobs for Angolans in Chinese firms is causing increasing resentment in a country suffering from chronic unemployment after nearly three decades of war.

Because of its oil and diamonds, and a projected economic growth of 24% this year, Angola looks rich on paper. But most people live in abject poverty.
. . .
But why do we need to import unskilled labour from China ” . . .
“It doesn’t make any sense.”

It looks like Angola is not doing much to get the most for either its resources or citizens. But it is hardly alone. And this pattern of aid tied to exclusive contracts is one the west has employed for decades.

Nicholas Shaxson spoke with a local journalist in the Congo Republic (Congo Brazzaville) and relates the conversation:

A local journalist does not see two worlds, but several. On a beer mat he draws a cake, shading each layer. “On the bottom: we, the Congolese. Next up, traders: Nigerians, Senegalese, and Malians. You have rich boutiques: the Mauritanians. Then, Lebanese and Indians; then, higher up, French businesses.” He puts a final layer of icing on top, and shades it black. “The Mafia. Congolese, French, all nationalities. They rule!” He adds little arrows, pointing at each layer. “The Chinese … they are now coming in at all levels. In photocopy shops, construction, and soon oil. They start on one level; in six months they are up at the next. They will be at the top now for sure.” A friend of his expands the point. “The democracies have mafialike things they want to do, but cannot do at home. So they come and do them here, chez nous.”
(Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil, by Nicholas Shaxson, p.117, ISBN 978-1403971944

I would amend the journalist’s statement in only one respect, the democracies he refers to might more accurately be referred to as the capitalists. Where there is some practice of democracy, there are some controls on capitalism, and some accountability. Without at least minimal checks and balances of actual democracy, capitalism is exactly the same thing as gangsterism, exactly the same as the mafia the journalist describes. Capitalists are attracted to Africa both by resources, and lack of accountability. (To state the obvious, a country calling itself a democracy still does not necessarily practice democracy.) As a matter of policy China has embraced capitalism and rejected democracy. So far as I know China does not preach, or claim to practice democracy abroad. China comes to trade, take advantage of resources, and provide the most opportunity for Chinese people. Chinese labour practices and environmental practices are appalling, and have already created angry reactions in African countries. African countries need to look out for themselves, managing their resources to provide the most opportunity for their own people. African governments should be able to take advantage of the rivalries between China and the west to serve African advantage.

As Sokari says:

We should be seizing the time and using this as a weapon to ensure we get the best deal for our resources and citizens.

3 Cs – Crude, Capital, and China

I published an (inadvertently incomplete) comment by b real in an earlier post, AFRICOM offers Africa 3 shiny new Ds. As b real points out, the US via AFRICOM is now offering Africa 3 Ds, defense, diplomacy and development, after the fashion of the 3 Cs of the nineteenth century, commerce, christianity, and civilization. The 3 Cs didn’t exactly work out as promised.

As Dr. Wafula Okumu testified:

To paraphrase Kenyatta’s allegory, “when the Whiteman came to Africa, he was holding a Bible in one hand and asked us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened our eyes after the prayer, his other hand was holding a gun and all our land was gone!” Africa’s colonial history was characterised by military occupations, exploitation of its natural resources and suppression of its people. After testing decades of independence, these countries are now jealously guarding their sovereignty and are highly suspicious of foreigners, even those with good intentions.

I copied the critical piece I omitted when I first published my earlier post, and am reproducing it below here, linked to the entire comment.

b real said…

. . . the USAID official stated
We believe that AFRICOM can significantly advance the “Three D” concept, and facilitate the coordination of defense, diplomacy and development to advance American foreign policy interests on the continent of Africa.

the “3 D’s”? well, that’s hardly a step above the “3 C’s” of the earlier scramble, isn’t it? whereas livingstone’s plea for bringing commerce, christianity and civilization to the indigenes led to a plethora of euro humanitarian colonizers in the late nineteenth century, even bringing up the idea that the u.s. would like to bring “3 D’s” to the continent strikes me as an inside joke on their part.

so they’re gonna tell the peoples of africa that this unified combatant command will have a humanitarian face that really wants to “help africans help themselves” (more like “helping u.s. american elite to help themselves to africa’s resources”) and this will entail bring three shiny new D’s?

are they serious? this project seems to be failing rapidly. they have many weaknesses that need to exploited both domestically & internationally. the negative reactions across the globe are having some real effect. part of their problem is that those who actually know what the real impetus was behind the formation of the command have to find other reasons for public dissemination (or risk an even greater public fury) and those that don’t know are struggling to fit a square peg into a round hole & make sense of their nonsense rational & ignorance of the real africa.

i’ll tell you what though, if they do suceed in establishing a larger military presence (w/ civilian trimmings), it will not be used to bring those 3 D’s to the peoples of africa. it will be used to take another set of 3 C’s out of africa — crude, capital and china!

The Scramble for Africa

As the industrial powers race to extract the continent’s natural resources to feed their own consumption, they are fostering environmental degradation, corruption and human rights abuses.

Africa Oil Week took place in Cape Town, late 2006. One of the conferences was even titled the Scramble for Africa.

As is often the case with oil, military involvement follows closely behind trade, and in February this year the US set up an Africa command (Africom). It has established bases in and signed access agreements with Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Gabon and Namibia. Africa is becoming strategically important to the US because of its oil production and China’s increasing influence in the region.
. . .
The new entrant to the scramble is China. Despite its large land area, it is a resource-poor country and Africa offers the natural resources vital to fuel its rapidly growing economy.
. . .
Beijing has charmed African rulers with a triple whammy of arms sales, cancelled debt and soft loans. Last year, president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao visited 10 African countries, and this increasingly intimate relationship was consummated at the China-Africa summit in October, when Beijing rolled out the red carpet to almost 50 African heads of state and ministers.
. . .
“Unless properly managed, the windfall gains from resource extraction cause more problems. It reduces a state’s incentive to impose a free and just taxation system, and encourages corruption and acquisition of weaponry.”

Resource extraction has already caused severe environmental problems. And the competition for resources and profit fuels violent conflict and human rights abuses.

The clearing of forests for timber exports increases vulnerability to erosion, river silting, landslides, flooding and loss of habitat for plant and animal species. Gas flaring from oil production, where unusable waste gas is burned off, pumps large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

So what can Africa do about this? b real kindly pointed out this article, which suggests a possible response. As someone who watched the blunderings of the Cold War in Africa, and the brutal pointless devastation that created, I strongly endorse the author’s opinion, that African governments must develop a collective response. We all know there is strength in numbers, and we need all the strength we can muster for dealing with the twin Goliaths, the US and China.

Africa: Scramble for a Response

Almost all of the world’s major economic actors have a presence on the continent. Yet it is two of them — the US and China — whose footprints could leave the most-lasting legacy. And this legacy is unlikely to be positive.
. . .

Ultimately, it would be prudent for advocates of African development to recognise that both countries are on the continent to advance their own national interest, and harbouring illusions to the contrary will result only in future disappointment.

Moreover, such advocates should recognise that there is a great danger looming from this new scramble for Africa’s resources. The last time such a scramble took place, during the Cold War, the consequences were devastating. Both foreign powers, the US and Soviet Union, established client regimes, funded rebel armies, and engaged in proxy wars. The result was a continent wracked by civil wars, displacements of citizens, and cross-border refugee flows. How to avoid a repeat should be the overriding concern of Africa’s political elite.

. . .

What then can be done? A collective African response can be the only solution . What form would it take? Some would argue for a pan-African solution in the form of a United States of Africa. But while such a development would be positive, it is not feasible in the short to medium term.

What about the possibility of a continental charter of rights governing investments and engagements on the continent? Such a charter, which would have to be negotiated in the African Union (AU), could supersede bilateral agreements and force all external powers to accord to a specific set of practices. Of course, the administrative weaknesses and the capacity constraints of the AU may hinder compliance.

But if such a charter were to be agreed to by the AU, it could be subsequently ratified in the United Nations, thereby strengthening its institutionalisation and enhancing the reach of its compliance.

. . .

Is this likely? Probably not, given the divisions within the AU. But there is an urgent need to try to develop a continental African response. The failure to develop one would have serious consequences for Africa and undermine all of the significant achievements of the past decade. Given this, should this not be the principal focus of SA in the AU summit starting later this month ? Should we not use this opportunity to focus African minds in a realistic attempt to develop a collective African response to a developing continental threat?

Visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufuor pose for photo with local children during a road completion ceremony near Accra, capital of Ghana, June 19, 2006. Wen and Kufuor co-inaugurated Monday the road between Ofankor and Nsawan, a portion of the trunk road linking Ghana’s capital Accra and the west African country’s second biggest city Kumasi.

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.

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