Africa must shape up, or be recolonised
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