A new scramble for Africa?

Abraham McLaughlin in the Christian Science Monitor has been writing for some time about the growing role of China in Africa. 

China is increasingly making its presence felt on the continent – from building roads in Kenya and Rwanda to increasing trade with Uganda and South Africa. … Under the auspices of the UN, the China-Africa
Business Council opened this month, headquartered in China, to boost
trade and development. It has peacekeepers in Liberia and has
contributed to construction projects in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia,
though critics say it is using these projects to garner goodwill that
it can tap into during prickly issues like Taiwan’s independence or UN
face-offs with the US.

It seems to me that this is an example of China’s capacity to take the long view; seeing Africa not as a problem but as an opportunity and recognising the value for China’s own prosperity (and the security of its energy supplies) of building economic and political partnerships there.

The industrialised countries of Europe and North America have largely abandoned Africa, providing sticking plaster aid while refusing to allow Africa to trade fairly in agricultural and textile products. We have patronized, lectured and bullied; propped up some of the most vile regimes of the 20th century; and allowed (indeed, encouraged) our companies to bribe their way into sweetheart deals for oil, minerals and other natural resources, resources which are happily returned by the corrupt beneficiaries to bank accounts in Europe.

China’s engagement in Africa is in some ways problematic.  China is less troubled by the human rights record of some of the countries with which it is building new partnerships, such as Zimbabwe; and in some countries such as Sudan its actions have broken the well-intended donor cartel which has sought to bring pressure to bear.   But having neglected Africa for thirty years – despite repeated warnings that it was not in our economic, security or political interests to do so – we in the West can hardly complain now that China is stepping in to fill the vacuum.    We should not forget the damage we did to Africa during the cold war, when the Soviet Union sponsored monsters like Mengistu while Europe and America propped up equally repugnant regimes like those of Mobutu and Eyadema. 

On the positive side, perhaps this might at last herald a new, more positive scramble for Africa: this time, a scramble for investment and trade.  This suggests we need a way to constrain the behaviour of all the economic powers, through transparency and codes of investment, to ensure that Africa benefits from renewed interest in the continent and does not again suffer as board-full of geopolitical pawns.

Ethan Zuckerman asks:

If the Chinese become a dominant investor on the continent, will we see
a shift in African alignment, from the US to China? And will anyone in
the US notice before the oil and other natural resources in Africa are
spoken for?

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