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Should Ghana be scared of the Chinese exploration?
Ade Sawyerr, gives an insight to an emerging relationship between African
countries and the Chinese Republic. Should Africa now look East and abandon
the long standing albeit rocky relationship with the West. Ade informs.
David Cameron’s speech in Nigeria included a warning for Africa to be
cautious in their dealing with China and a suggestion that the
authoritarian capitalism model adopted by the Chinese was not sustainable
and will not help in the development of Africa.
But this warning needs to be examined against the backdrop why it has taken
50-60 years for the West to be rekindling their interest in Africa as the
preferred trading partner as it was at the time of independence. We should
ask whether this warning has anything to do with the fact that the Chinese
are filling the space that the West abandoned because they were not
interested in our holistic economic development but only in access to our
Cameron’s speech touched on three issues of importance to the West when
Africa is mentioned: aid, trade, and democracy.
He promised more targeted aid to areas of conflict and improved mechanisms
for delivering aid that would bypass corrupt governments. But he did also
mention that Britain was yet to meet its target of spending 0.7% of Gross
National Income on aid. In 2009 it spent 0.52% - £7,365 million - in total
on aid; £1,559 million of this on the 800million people in Black Africa or
sub-Saharan Africa, equivalent to £2.00 per capita. What he did not say is
that roughly 40% of this is spent on the many consultants that work on
these projects and the British goods and service that are purchased as a
result of aid and that African governments would prefer to have greater
control so that the aid is channelled to better support social development
Cameron was robust on trade. He bemoaned the fact that Africa could do
better than the 12% intra-African trade, that is way below the two-thirds
that takes place amongst European Union member countries. He reiterated the
commitment of Britain as a serious trading partner manifested by the many
businessmen and women that had accompanied him on this trip. But he did not
explain why 50-60 years after independence Britain had lost its position as
Africa’s preferred trading partner and was now rekindling their interest in
the Continent again.
The third plank of his speech on democracy is to be welcomed. Multiparty
democracy does indeed breed good governance; the view that some form of
authoritarianism is necessary for accelerated development and growth, as
manifested by countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and
latterly by China, should be rejected by all.
But the reality is that the pattern of trade favoured by Britain and the
West did not assist in the development of Africa and may have been the
cause of the stunted economic growth on the Continent.
Several examples abound. Nkrumah in Ghana built more schools in 10 years
than the British did in 100 years of the Gold Coast. Our road and railway
systems were all from the hinterland to the coast to carry our primary
goods away. The communication system was such that a simple telephone call
from Ghana to Togo had to be routed through England and France. There was
deforestation at an alarming rate without any effort to replant those trees
that were exported and sold, and of course destruction of the land in
search of minerals. Whilst covertly supporting rogue regimes such as Ian
Smith’s Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, Britain was busy subverting
nations such as Ghana that sought to forge a Continental union that would
provide, military, economic and political strength.
The West’s insistence on democracy and spending money on the development of
institutions has not paid off for Africa, it has not rid the Continent of
corruption in government contracts, many more cases of corruption are now
surfacing western companies desperate to do business in Africa that they
promised bribes when none had been demanded. Indeed the West and
international multilateral agencies have not asked Africa what it really
wants for development but have experimented with orthodoxies based on the
way that they developed some centuries ago. Western governments behave as
if these development methodologies are fixed and sacrosanct and have
general applicability regardless of local context and customs.
Africa needs massive development in infrastructure before it can deploy an
accelerated rate of industrialisation to catch up with the rest of the
world. Without that infrastructure base Africa will remain a supplier of
primary products to both western and eastern countries. It is this, much
needed, infrastructure base that, will engender the tooling capability,
which the West had failed to provide, but that the Chinese are very much
interested in delivering for Africa.
Infrastructure investment will create a virtuous environment that will help
Africa transform its agricultural and extractive commodities from low to
high value products and help Africa in its drive towards capital formation
that will be more beneficial to the Continent than basic trading in low
value goods and services.
Leapfrogging from low value agriculture to high value services is unlikely
to happen without a strong manufacturing base; even in the mobile phone
industry with exponential growth taking place in Africa we do not
manufacture the technical equipment, do not own the networks, do not write
the applications and even though we supply the critical raw materials we do
not manufacture the phones.
Whether the Chinese exploration into Africa will turn into exploitation of
the Continent depends on whether African leaders have learnt the lessons of
past years and are able to negotiate terms of contracts that will benefit
Africa at this critical stage in its development, when it is still viewed
as a frontier rather than an emerging market, needs more state involvement.
Private companies will not build the schools, they will not build the
hospitals, and they will not build the roads, the rail and the
communications networks. Recent privatisation of utilities following World
Bank orthodoxy has not delivered more potable water or more electricity for
the people. Privatisation may work when the base infrastructure is in
place, but it certainly is not working to help create the free and fair
society to which most nations aspire.
The western governments have delivered little and are hung up on democracy
and freedoms, and perhaps rightly so, because in their experience that was
how they developed.
The Chinese come with an open book, turn a blind eye on issues of free
press and human rights, but they leave tangible structures, houses for the
poor, roads and railways. In return they are able to satisfy their need for
energy as well as increase their markets in - what one would term - a
mutually beneficial engagement.
The problem with David Cameron’s warning is that whilst African government
would want to listen, they also see the West being bankrolled by the
Chinese, they see the factories that the Chinese are building in western
countries, they observe that as recently as before Cameron’s trip, the
Chinese Premier had been to Britain where he signed contracts worth £2
billion and to Germany where he signed contracts worth £10 billion.
So African governments are bound to ask, if Britain is so intent on doing
business with China and China holds so much American debt, why Africa
should be wary of the Chinese.
Africa should recognise that its interests are paramount in any
negotiations on trade or investment, but that it should chose its own way
forward to development. It should eschew the doctrine of unbridled free
markets much in the same way as it should steer clear of authoritarian
Africa needs to accelerate its agenda for a Pan-Africanist union because
that is the only way that it can prevent neo-colonialisation whether the
threat is from the Chinese or from the West.
It is ironic that 50 years after Nkrumah was overthrown in Ghana because of
his Pan Africanist agenda, this route may be the only effective model of
stopping the Continent’s exploitation, and indeed may be the only agenda
that can help create our own model for accelerated development. This agenda
incorporates self determination and less reliance on foreigners based on a
principle of social justice for all the poor in Africa with a large dose of
collaborative cooperation amongst all Black nations.
Source: Ghanaweb - by Ade SawyerrShare