China’s pragmatism wins over US idealism
Botswana’s dramatic shift in attitude toward Beijing a latest example
In the summer of 2014, former US president Barack Obama, facing criticism that the first African-american president was ignoring Africa and US’ influence in the continent was squeezed by other countries, particularly China, convened the first Us-africa Leaders’ Summit.
He had a clear message for 50 African heads of state: The US has a better model for African development and African nations should ensure that Chinese-built “roads don’t just lead from the mine, to the port, to Shanghai.”
Since that meeting, much has changed. Obama has been replaced by a completely different president, Donald Trump, who has stirred controversy over comments that some argue border on racism, telling US lawmakers of color “to go back to their countries” and describing African and other countries as “shitholes.”
Still, much has remained the same. The US continues to fail to understand the real needs of African nations in their pursuit of economic development and continues to smear Chinese investments in the continent with dramatic yet unsubstantiated claims such as “debt trap diplomacy” and “neo-colonialism.”
But one undeniable truth emerges that China’s pragmatic approach toward Africa – marked by winwin cooperation with no political strings attached – is gaining popularity. The US model – less realistic cooperation but full of political pre-conditions and idealism – has been cast aside.
This reality is on vivid display in Botswana, a small southern African nation known for its massive reserves of diamonds and magnificent natural attractions. Since taking office in April 2018, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has overturned the hostile approach toward China adopted by his predecessor and moved to repair diplomatic woes and strengthen ties with China.
Speaking at the opening of the Global Expo Botswana (GEB) last week, Masisi argued that emerging markets like China are “disrupting global poles of power and commercial activity” and that Botswana needs to adapt to this global “reorientation of power, culture and ways of doing business.”
At the GEB, some local businesses in areas such as online game development and marketing approached me, apparently mistaking me for a Chinese business representative, to discuss their companies.
At the Cresta Lodge Hotel in Kasane, where most guests are from Europe, Japan and Singapore, one employee asked me “Why don’t they come here?” referring to Chinese tourists.
While some Western officials and media outlets try to tell the world that there is too much Chinese presence in Africa, officials and people from all walks of life who I encountered said they want more Chinese business.
China should heed these calls to further step up cooperation with Africa and not let noise derail a mutually beneficial path forward.