New Dawn for China in Africa

China’s in­creased in­volve­ment in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of African states sig­nif­i­cantly re­de­fines its re­la­tions with other dom­i­nant global pow­ers over the con­ti­nent and its vast re­sources, pos­tu­lates NGARI GITUKU

Diplomat East Africa - - Table of Contents - Ngari Gituku is the Cul­ture Edi­tor for Diplo­mat East Africa

Over the last cou­ple of years, a tra­di­tion has emerged in which Bei­jing’s For­eign Min­is­ter pays a num­ber of African na­tions a visit at the be­gin­ning of ev­ery year. This an­nual rit­ual seems to be the ‘fo­rum’ where tweaked Sino-Africa re­la­tions poli­cies are com­mu­ni­cated de­void of elab­o­rate fan­fare yet brim­ming with sig­nif­i­cance nonethe­less.

Ap­pre­ci­ated within the purview of global geopol­i­tics, this rit­ual is as much a state­ment to the rest of the su­per­pow­ers ey­ing Africa’s vast re­sources as it is a ges­ture to Africa it­self.

There­fore, this whirl­wind an­nual New Year tour of se­lect African na­tions by no less than China’s top­most en­voy is one that packs lay­ers of cues and in­sights into China’s pri­or­i­ties in com­merce, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, devel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion and geopo­lit­i­cal map­ping. The lat­est tour of five coun­tries by Min­is­ter Wang cov­ered, Kenya, Su­dan, Cameroon, Equa­to­rial Guinea and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DR Congo) in that or­der.

In Kenya, Wang heaped un­fet­tered praise while ex­press­ing hope in the change of eco­nomic for­tunes pre­saged by the now on­go­ing con­struc­tion of the Stan- dard Gauge Rail­way (SGR), eas­ily the big­gest Chi­nese-funded project in Kenya thus far. Be­sides, Mr Wang out­lined seven ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Kenya and China that in­clude mod­ernising agri­cul­ture, in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment and re­new­able en­ergy.

Ac­cord­ing to Wang, who met Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta and sev­eral of his Min­is­ters, the ar­eas of pri­or­ity iden­ti­fied for co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Kenya and China are aimed at deep­en­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tions and prac­ti­cal co­op­er­a­tion for both na­tions.

Viewed from the point of view of the num­ber of Chi­nese in­ter­ests in Africa head­quar­tered in

Nairobi, there is no doubt that Nairobi is a key African node in Sino-Africa re­la­tions.

Up north, Mr Wang’s en­gage­ment with the In­ter-Gov­ern­men­tal Author­ity for Devel­op­ment (IGAD) to ex­pressly talk about the need for the re­turn of peace in South Su­dan was a rare ges­ture given that China, at least tra­di­tion­ally, is not known to get di­rectly in­volved in in­ter­nal af­fairs of other states. It is not lost to keen ob­servers that the meet­ing be­tween South Su­dan’s two wran­gling par­ties was not held in Nairobi, Ad­dis or Arusha but in Khar­toum.

The in­ter­est in the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties in South Su­dan is an im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor that in com­ing days China is likely to act ar­biter in sit­u­a­tions caught up in civil strife across Africa. This new devel­op­ment could nee­dle other for­eign na­tions with a longer his­tory of in­ter­ven­ing in Africa’s epi­cen­tres of civil un­rest to re­new their en­gage­ment with trou­ble spots that the Dragon has de­cided to lend a hand to.

On the other hand, should this new­fan­gled in­ter­ven­tion­ist ap­proach pros­per into pol­icy, the pre­vail­ing global nar­ra­tive on China could be fur­ther yanked to am­plify the largely West­ern prop­a­gated view of China as bear­ing shad­owy and sus­pi­cious in­tent on Africa.

Ei­ther way, go­ing for­ward, China’s in­creased in­volve­ment in in­ter­nal af­fairs of African states will cer­tainly re­de­fine pol­icy on re­la­tions with Africa by other dom­i­nant global pow­ers. On a sun­nier side of the likely pol­icy ad­just­ments in for­eign re­la­tions to­wards Africa—duly stirred by China’s grow­ing in­ter­est and in­flu­ence in the con­ti­nent—could well be a boon for in­di­vid­ual African na­tions. How­ever, this can only hap­pen if African states chose to be­come more cir­cum­spect and less gullible when deal­ing with the nu­mer­ous suit­ors who come call­ing.

While in Cameroon, Min­is­ter Wang an­nounced that China will con­tin­u­ously en­rich po­lit­i­cal mu­tual trust with that vast cen­tral African na­tion and pave way for win-win co­op­er­a­tion based on ‘Cameroon’s pri­or­i­ties and China’s abil­ity’. Be­yond that, in the wake of the rag­ing and seem­ingly cease­less ter­ror vis­ited upon huge swathes of West Africa by the Boko Haram in­sur­gency, in com­par­i­son to Nige­ria, Cameroon, at least for now, be­comes a safer haven from which China can main­tain strate­gic—al­beit largely proxy—in­flu­ence with the larger west­ern Africa bloc.

The de­tour to Equa­to­rial Guinea by Mr Wang could well be a move to in­crease China’s in­flu­ence in Africa through be­friend­ing coun­tries whose clout has hith­erto been low key notwith­stand­ing their sig­nif­i­cance in sheer but un­ex­ploited po­ten­tial. Em­pha­sis by the vis­it­ing min­is­ter on en­ergy as a key point of co­op­er­a­tion with Equa­to­rial Guinea is par­tic­u­larly note­wor­thy since en­ergy is a vi­tal pre­req­ui­site to re­source ex­ploita­tion.

The as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween China and DR Congo, no doubt, has a long his­tory and for rea­sons that ev­ery lead­ing player in the global eco­nomic scene knows. It is there­fore, not a sur­prise that Mr Wang would, on be­half of his gov­ern­ment pledge sup­port to­wards deeper po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion, eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion and se­cu­rity.

With many eyes trained on Africa for her vast un­ex­ploited re­sources, it is in­creas­ingly clear that China has stud­ied Africa care­fully. The ques­tion is, “has Africa been equally keen on un­der­stand­ing her suit­ors scrupu­lously?”

MADE IN CHINA: Chi­nese work­ers and their lo­cal coun­ter­parts en­joy a laugh.

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