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
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.