Africa must shape up, or be re­colonised

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Africa should shape up in its talks with China to avoid a re­coloni­sa­tion of the con­ti­nent by this rapidly de­vel­op­ing econ­omy, ex­perts warn.

This week saw the big­gest high-level sum­mit yet be­tween African and Chi­nese lead­ers, with Chi­nese Premier Xi Jin­ping an­nounc­ing a to­tal of $60 bil­lion (R862 bil­lion) in deals with Africa – most of which are loans.

The sum­mit was an ex­ten­sion of the Fo­rum on China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion (Fo­cac), which has been tak­ing place ev­ery three years since 2000.

The Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion of gov­ern­ment lead­ers, of­fi­cials and busi­ness­peo­ple to­talled 1 700 peo­ple and was more than a match for the lo­cals, rep­re­sented by at least 25 heads of state.

African of­fi­cials and aca­demics who have worked with Chi­nese coun­ter­parts said the Chi­nese were busy while African diplo­mats in Bei­jing were lag­ging.

This group of diplo­mats, led by South African am­bas­sador Dolana Msi­mang, had two years to come up with pro­pos­als for co­op­er­a­tion with China ahead of the sum­mit.

Msi­mang was not al­lowed to talk to the me­dia dur­ing the sum­mit be­cause of pro­to­col, In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions spokesper­son Nel­son Kg­wete said.

As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Garth Shel­ton, from the de­part­ment of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, said Africans needed to do their home­work to ben­e­fit from China’s pres­ence.

“China works very hard. I have vis­ited their min­istry of for­eign af­fairs on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions and there are a lot of peo­ple in those de­part­ments. They work very hard, and they gen­er­ate a lot of out­put and writ­ten ma­te­ri­als that they shared with me.

“On the African side, I’m not sure that the African Union is fo­cused on this is­sue, and a lot of African coun­tries don’t pay a lot of at­ten­tion to pre­pare for Fo­cac meet­ings, so I think we must do the hard work.”

One of the in­ten­tions of hav­ing the sum­mit on African soil for the first time was to em­pha­sise Africa’s im­por­tance as a player.

Ru­ral Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Gugile Nk­winti told City Press on the side­lines of the sum­mit on Fri­day: “China is miles ahead. It is the largest of the de­vel­op­ing economies in the world. It is not only bring­ing with it the emerg­ing economies, but it is also trans­form­ing the whole world eco­nomic sys­tem.

“It is a strate­gic re­la­tion­ship that is very im­por­tant for all African coun­tries.”

Chi­nese lead­ers, in­clud­ing Xi, have re­peat­edly em­pha­sised in the past week that they re­gard Africa as an equal part­ner.

“The mu­tu­al­ity has to be worked on, so as we move along with China, we move along as part­ners with the same ob­jec­tive – the ob­jec­tive be­ing that China wants trade bal­ances,” Nk­winti said.

He said China was much more pro­duc­tive than Africa. “Look at the Great Wall of China. It was built in 10 months. It is the work ethic.

“You can’t blame China if you are slug­gish, not mov­ing, be­cause China is mov­ing.”

Thabo Mbeki Foun­da­tion CEO Max Bo­qwana warned of a “re­coloni­sa­tion” of Africa by the Chi­nese.

He said for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki saw South Africa’s role as us­ing its eco­nomic strength and ex­pe­ri­ence to pro­vide lead­er­ship and ca­pac­ity to ne­go­ti­ate with China and de­sign mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial con­tracts for it­self and other African coun­tries too weak to do this on their own.

South African of­fi­cials should there­fore do their prepa­ra­tions prop­erly. “The im­por­tance of this is to firstly pre­vent South Africa from be­ing neg­a­tively la­belled as a gate­way to, and par­tic­i­pant in, the re­coloni­sa­tion of Africa, and fur­ther to pre­vent some kind of fu­ture eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship based on an in­equitable ar­range­ment sim­i­lar to a box­ing mis­match be­tween a fly­weight boxer on the one hand and a heavy­weight boxer on the other,” he said.

“Even as African lead­ers en­gage in this 2015 Fo­cac sum­mit, there seems to be no ap­proach (sim­i­lar to the Chi­nese poli­cies) by the African lead­er­ship to de­fine a clear, pre­dictable and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship with China.”

Chi­nese of­fi­cials dis­trib­uted pol­icy and sta­tis­ti­cal doc­u­ments to jour­nal­ists at this week’s gath­er­ing, but there was very lit­tle of the same by African coun­tries.

Xi told del­e­gates at the open­ing of the sum­mit on Fri­day that China would pro­vide $60 bil­lion of “fund­ing sup­port” to the con­ti­nent, of which $5 bil­lion would be grants and zero-in­ter­est loans; $35 bil­lion would be loans with a pref­er­en­tial in­ter­est rate and con­ces­sions; $5 bil­lion each to the China-Africa Devel­op­ment Fund and the Spe­cial Loan for the Devel­op­ment of African Small and Medium En­ter­prises; and $10 bil­lion to the China-Africa Fund for Pro­duc­tion Ca­pac­ity Co­op­er­a­tion.

He also an­nounced 10 “co­op­er­a­tion plans” with Africa cov­er­ing in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, agri­cul­ture, in­fra­struc­ture, fi­nan­cial plans, green de­vel­op­ment, trade and in­vest­ment fa­cil­i­ta­tion, poverty re­duc­tion, pub­lic health, cul­tural ex­changes, and peace and se­cu­rity.

Ear­lier in the week, he signed $6.5 bil­lion worth of deals with South Africa.

Spokesper­son for the trade and in­dus­try de­part­ment Sid­well Medupe did not an­swer queries about how this amount was con­sti­tuted.


Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma shares a light mo­ment with Chi­nese Premier Xi Jin­ping

at Fo­cac

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