China In Africa

I read a NYT article once about how China in three decades has passed Japan to become the second largest economy in the world behind the United States.  China’s economy is valued at $1.33 trillion and is anticipated to surpass the United States as the biggest economy as early as 2030.

It comes to no surprise to me since I’ve had my eye on them for years now.  Although the article devotes a mere sentence to China’s international special trade agreements, I believe the bulk of China’s success in recent decades is because of its presence, interest and investment in Africa.

My mother and aunties joke around all the time about how the Chinese stole jollof rice and are now making millions from it in take-out restaurants across the country as ‘shrimp fried rice’.  However, jollof rice is the least of what China, in only 40 years, is taking from the continent and rebranding.  The Chinese have seriously invested in Africa in the past decade, especially to the vulnerable and desperate recovering countries of war.

Chinese interests in Africa are not new. Reportedly, six hundred years ago, Zheng He, a Chinese navigator of the Ming Dynasty, headed a large convoy which sailed across the ocean and reached the east coast of Africa four times. For more than one hundred years in China’s modern history, the Chinese people were subjected to colonial aggression and oppression by foreign powers and went through similar suffering and agony that the majority of African countries endured. The end of the Cold War also heightened China’s interest in the continent. According to Chris Melville of opendemocracy.net, “after the PRC was founded in 1949, the new state based its relations with the developing world on a defined doctrine, the”Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence”; it also used its own legacy of colonial aggression and experience of liberation to forge links with the African nation-states emerging from colonial rule”. More than 60% of African timber exports are now destined for East Asia; 25% of China’s oil supplies are now sourced in the gulf of Guinea region. Rueters reports that China has subsequently been well in advance of the G8 by cancelling $10 billion of the debt it is owed by African states; at the second Sino-Africa business conference in December 2003, China offered further debt relief to thirty-one African countries, as well as opening the prospect of zero-tariff trade.

What is suspect about these “arrangements” is that the terms of repayment are sometimes unspecified, and many of these countries, that are grossly impoverished and desperate, have little choice but to take these loans and enter into shady agreements.

A while ago I contacted a friend of mine who works as an assistant to the president of Liberia about this, and she responded with: “I’ve done a bit of superficial research on China’s involvement in Africa, and realize after working in Liberia and seeing tangible results in China’s infrastructural development in the country…I see it as a glass half full kinda scenario. African countries need to learn from the neo-colonial regime of the present and leverage themselves better when dealing with any second wave developing superpower such as China or India for that matter. With that said, I think China and India offer an alternative model of investment/development that should be seriously considered. Of course, we don’t want a return to Cold War politicking, but it’s important for the West not to continue to have a stronghold on the continent, with its conditions, greedy self-interest, and hypocrisy.”

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