Stepping Up PRC-Africa Cooperation (the West Sux)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 9/08/2011 12:00:00 AM
As a scholar of South-South cooperation, I was somewhat dismayed but unsurprised that China's most recent charm offensive in Africa went largely unnoticed. At the end of last month, the China-Africa People's Forum (lot of features over at China Daily) was held. I have been most interested in the activities of China in Africa as a matter of global political economy since its activities do colour how Africa perceives its relations with the West. That is, how appreciative are Africans of conditionality-laden assistance which has been the hallmark of industrialized nation aid since the era of decolonization? Alike the erstwhile European imperialists, the United States has also suffered from the perception that its aid is largely tied to achieving foreign policy goals instead of helping to promote development or alleviate suffering.

I have thus had a very long running thread of these China in Africa stories [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. However, more formal terms of cooperation may be on the cards with the recently completed meeting in Kenya. Aside from setting out objectives in the "Nairobi Declaration," this forum may become an annual event, with another scheduled for Beijing in 2012. As with other proposed measures of South-South cooperation, China present itself as an LDC champion. Call it unburdening the white man as developing nations try and figure out the challenges of development for themselves. And as Chinese official media is fond of repeating, with fewer strings attached:
For the African governments, it never gets as good as this. Many of them are happy about China's increasing economic interest in the continent that is in dire need of pulling millions of its people out of poverty. The assistance provided by China is fast, easy and effective, according to Okello Oryem, Uganda's minister of state for international affairs.

For China, there is little discussion on economic policy and good governance, hallmarks of Western support. The Chinese government has re-echoed its intentions over again, saying its aid to Africa is based on friendship, mutual respect and South-South cooperation.

For Victoria Sekitoleko, a Ugandan and a former representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in China, the Asian country does not thrust its aid down the throat of any African country. "China does not thrust anything down your throat, what they do, they serve a la carte, they put out a table and you choose what you want and they give it to you," she told Xinhua in an interview on Aug. 9.

She argues that Western aid has a lot of strings attached for instance good governance. "Where would Africa be if China said you know until you are governed well, we are not going to give you anything," she said. "Who decides good governance, who is to judge how Africa which is 54 countries is governed and therefore China should not come in because it is not looking at good governance, there is more to life than good governance," she added.

Sekitoleko argues that the development partners need to come together and help pull Africa out of the poverty situation it is facing, instead of focusing on issues that may not have a direct impact. "Let's first talk about finishing poverty and then we talk about good governance," she said.
A theme of de-linking development from governance is a common one. Not being too keen on being lectured on it by the West on this very matter, the Chinese certainly don't impose it on others:
[Ugandan Foreign Minister] Oryem just like Sekitoleko argues that Africans have a direct say in what they get from China unlike some Western aid that is decided in different capitals back in Europe or the United States of America. "The difference here is the aim to meet the purpose, whereas the aid we ask from China directly relates to our wishes an intentions, some of the aid from the West are predetermined at base say in London or Washington," Oryem said.

He said Africa continues to ask the West to align their aid to the national development plans or the wishes of the different governments. While Western aid cannot be dismissed in the development of Africa, it is the strings attached and the master-servant relations that Africans do not like.

Africa's disgust with Western aid in comparison with Chinese aid is that the West continues to remind African countries of how much aid they receive from them and therefore they must listen to them.

With Chinese aid, according to Oryem, when they give it to you they do not constantly remind you of how much aid you get from them. He argued that Africa should not be dictated to on who should be its enemies or friends just as the continent does not choose for anybody their friends or enemies. "Their enemies might be our friends and our friends might be their enemies. So we should be respected to choose our friends and determine who should be our enemies," he said.
With austerity the name of the game in nearly all sane Western countries, it looks like there will increasingly be a new sheriff in Africa.