AT the global roundtable on African affairs and international diplomacy, the debate continues regarding the role China has played and will play in Africa’s development. From the engaged, yet visibly antagonistic Western perspective, one frequently hears the outcry against Chinese neo-colonialism and indiscriminate foreign investment trends.
While the global North and China vie for top trade partner position in Africa, many question whether Africa has become the political pawn in imperial war. However, what are the Chinese and more importantly, the African communities saying about the growing presence from China in Africa?
Mandated to further dialogue and action towards human rights and social justice in African communities, Pambazuka Press recently put forth a contribution to this discussion with its latest publication, Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa. The book is this week’s recommended reader aimed to give macrocosmic perspective to our daily intercultural experience throughout the African continent.
Li Anshan of Peking University traces a shifting focus in contemporary history of African studies in China from politically driven beginnings of translating major world references on Africa to the recent proliferation of university programmes and international academic exchanges.
Specifically noted were the early commitment of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to studying Africa and supporting African national liberation movements in the 1960s and 1970s, the founding of the Chinese Association of African Studies (CAAS) (1979) and the Chinese Society of African Historical Studies (CSAHS) (1980), and the broadened focus in academia and government beyond economics, law, international relations, socialism, and democratization in Africa to an action-oriented Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000.
Similarly, Zeng Qiang traces the history of international relations between China and Africa with the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and China’s subsequent policy toward independent African nations of non-interventionist, peaceful coexistence. He offers concrete examples of China’s contributions to the agriculture, education, health, infrastructure, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors across the African continent and the equally important debt write-offs that have taken place in the last ten years.
Sanusha Naidu offers a valuable analysis of the underlying economic factors to Sino-African relations, and poses the essential question as to whether China’s engagement in Africa ultimately aims at increasing stabilisation. Highlighting the Chinese commodities crunch set against a global backdrop of the American-led global economic implosion, Naidu makes it plain that Chinese interest in Africa is resource-driven with nearly 80 percent of Chinese imports classified as oil or petroleum-based since 2000. Nancy Dubosse offers a similar summary based on the Chinese divergence from national development agendas in aid dependent nations like Angola and Zambia to focus intensively on the extractive sector.
While covering China in relation to Darfur, He Wienping aptly identifies U.S. foreign policy, oil dependency, and diplomatic bullying as principal factors to the elevation of this conflict over others in Africa as well as the concern for Chinese-Sudanese diplomatic relations. However, he does not fail to detail the extensive investment made by China into Sudan since 1959, most notably in oil pipelines and infrastructural development, which enabled Sudan to shift from net oil importer to shipping crude oil at over 80 percent of its total exports.
While it still reads as defensive of Chinese foreign policy, the section brings facts to the table for consideration such as China’s promotion of diplomacy over sabotage through economic sanctions.
The book offers additional country case studies, noting China’s support of Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and its strengthened bi-lateral relations with Ethiopia since 1991, which have led to infrastructural development for Ethiopia and market diversification for China. Relations in Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique and Angola provide diverse examples of the duality of the African experience with China that are essential for those policy makers who wish to contextualise their present negotiations.
Ultimately, what the book demands of us is to call into question not only the motives, capacity, and record of the Chinese to impact on the course of Africa’s development or destabilisation, but prepare us to monitor the moral and political will of our leaders to efficiently utilize the capital that China eagerly infuses into the Continent. To strive to have a broadly balanced outlook is a critical challenge and Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa can take us a step further towards obtaining that outlook.
Order a pre-publication copy electronically via http://fahamubooks.org.The book was released officially on September 30, and will be available in Rwanda and Uganda through Fountain Publishers in Kampala.