Clearer view of Africa called for

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By ZHANG YUCHEN in Beijing zhangyuchen@chi­nadaily.

China and the US must step up their cul­tural aware­ness of Africa and see the con­ti­nent as what it is – a col­lec­tion of di­verse na­tions, not a sin­gle coun­try – to foster and bol­ster co­op­er­a­tion, say ex­perts.

Be­tween China and the US, there are co­op­er­a­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties through­out Africa, but first the world’s two largest economies must deepen their un­der­stand­ing of the world’s sec­ond largest con­ti­nent, in both ge­o­graphic size and pop­u­la­tion, and the in­di­vid­ual coun­tries it con­tains.

Where the US tends to view and treat Africa as a sin­gle coun­try, China lacks the nec­es­sary un­der­stand­ing of cul­tures and val­ues of African coun­tries by show­ing its check­book first, said Ja­cob Olupona, pro­fes­sor of African Re­li­gious Tra­di­tions and chair of the Com­mit­tee on African Stud­ies at the Har­vard Di­vin­ity School.

“Shal­low ap­pre­ci­a­tion and knowl­edge of the African his­tory and cur­rent po­lit­i­cal strug­gles is the chal­lenge for Chi­nese com­pa­nies do­ing business in Africa,” Olupona said.

The Ebola cri­sis thrust Africa rudely back into the spot­light and is one more ex­am­ple of skewed views of the con­ti­nent, ac­cord­ing to the ob­servers.

“It would be a mis­take to think the Ebola cri­sis de­fines the con­ti­nent,” said Wit­ney Sch­nei­d­man, AGI non­res­i­dent fel­low and se­nior ad­vi­sor for Africa at Cov­ing­ton and Burl­ing, LLP. “Both the US and China have to re­new their views on the con­ti­nent.”

Africa has more than 1 bil­lion peo­ple spread across more than 50 coun­tries. Three of the coun­tries af­fected by Ebola – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – have a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 20 mil­lion peo­ple.

Olupona and Sch­nei­d­man agreed that the key to fu­ture re­la­tions with Africa and deeper co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the US lies in more ed­u­ca­tion and in­creased cul­tural un­der­stand­ing.

As a new­comer to the con­ti­nent, China’s pres­ence in Africa has been seen as a threat to US in­ter­ests. But China still has much to learn about the con­ti­nent and in­di­vid­ual coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the ob­servers.

“I think we need to learn to co­op­er­ate bet­ter through tri­lat­eral diplo­macy. The US and China can sit down with the African gov­ern­ments to iden­tify ways in which var­i­ous pro­grams can be re­in­forced, each one of them,” Sch­nei­d­man said.

In 2012, China’s trade with Africa reached $198.5 bil­lion, sur­pass­ing US-African trade of $99.8 bil­lion the same year, Olupona said dur­ing a lec­ture on Nov 24, on China’s in­vest­ment in Africa.

In Au­gust, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama hosted the first sum­mit of African lead­ers. Dur­ing the sum­mit, the US and African coun­tries signed a trade agree­ment worth $33 bil­lion.

“If we get more con­tacts of lead­ers from coun­tries, that would en­able Amer­ica to get to know them, and to un­der­stand how Uganda is dif­fer­ent from An­gola, how An­gola is dif­fer­ent from Sene­gal, and Sene­gal is dif­fer­ent from Nige­ria (each coun­try is dif­fer­ent from another),” Sch­nei­d­man said. “The Americans are wak­ing up to re­al­ize there is a big mar­ket on the con­ti­nent and they need to be a part of it. They are late to the mar­ket and they see China is mov­ing for­ward very quickly. They don’t want to be left out.’’

De­spite sup­ply­ing much­needed in­fra­struc­ture projects and 22 per­cent of in­vest­ment of over $1.7 bil­lion in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor, how­ever, China re­mains a smaller player in Africa than the United States. US for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment in Africa to­tals nearly two to three times more than Chi­nese stock in­vest­ment.

“In the US most of Americans have a view that Africa is be­com­ing a con­ti­nent of great op­por­tu­ni­ties and it’s demon­strated by the fact that Africa has six of the ten fastest grow­ing economies in the world, with South Africa and sub-Sa­hara area hav­ing the mid­dle class of 300 mil­lion peo­ple, and the gov­er­nance im­proved,” said Sch­nei­d­man, the for­mer US deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for African af­fairs.

For China and US to deepen their co­op­er­a­tion, there are ar­eas for po­ten­tial co­op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing cli­mate change, agri­cul­ture and en­ergy. In the agri­cul­tural area, the US can work with small farm­ers to im­prove the ca­pa­bil­ity to pro­duce crops and China can help build the road to get the crops from the field to the mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to Sch­nei­d­man.

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