Africa Must Not Allow The US To Define Her Relations With China

By: Amodani Gariba

From the early 2000s to current times, China has amplified its foothold in Africa more than tenfold. In a time span of ten years, trade between the two regions jumped from about 20 to more than 200 billion US dollars.  An increase in economic relations between China and Africa has strengthened diplomatic relations between the two. At the UN, African leaders nowadays vote in a pattern that favors China rather than the US. During the Forum on China Africa Corporation (FOCAC) summits, we see how African leaders assemble before Chinese leadership, doing their possible best to attract Chinese FDI and loans into their respective nations. The loser in the game seems to be the US. 

Nevertheless, not all losers go down honorably. Since 2018, the US has launched a trade War and global media propaganda against China. In Africa, US policymakers threw words of unsolicited caution at governments taking loans from China. Moreover, with the coronavirus, these attacks have become even more vitriol. The US is aware of its decreasing influence on the continent.  Therefore, its course of action is clear: fib its way to reclaim its old position of influence in Africa. This article tells us why Africa should not allow Washington’s deteriorating relations with Beijing to jeopardize its relations with the latter.

When it comes to Infrastructure, China has been Africa’s best partner

In the wake of neoliberalism, austerity decreased bilateral and multilateral development aid to Africa. Aid took a humanitarian turn instead. No longer would the West fund the construction of that highway or the hydroelectric Dam. Instead, it would vaccinate people against polio and give free malaria drugs. While giving medical aid to people is good, making it sustainable is more important. 

The sustainability of these medical aid programs depends on the ability of African countries to finance the healthcare bills of its people. However, whether or not an African country can put up with this financing is hinged on the level of economic progress in that country. This economic progress though is unachievable without heavy investment in physical infrastructure. The West therefore should not be content with giving humanitarian aid because Africa needs more than that to cut it. China, rather than the West, is giving Africa what it needs – infrastructural development. Africa’s infrastructure deficit is likely to be the highest in the world yet the least serviced. Given the importance of infrastructure to Africa’s economic transformation, the relevance of the Chinese cannot be understated. 

Despite the criticism heaped on resource-infrastructure deals, it remains by far, the best option for Africa. The continent for several centuries has been producing a tremendous amount of natural mineral resources for the world but little to show for it. If today a Chinese company is willing to construct a hydroelectric Dam or that much-needed interchange in the heart of the fast-growing African city in exchange for some bauxite or barrels of oil, nothing should stop the African government from striking a deal with such companies. We have not had anything better. From the governance point of view, that is better than taking loans in the name of putting up infrastructural projects. There are several instances where corrupt African leaders used funds meant infrastructure for an entirely different purpose.

With resource-infrastructure agreements, no matter how corrupt African leaders might be, infrastructure would be laid down and people would benefit in the end. What is needed here is agency on the part of the African government in making sure Chinese contractors offer value-for-money. African governments must strike deals to ensure that extreme volatility in commodity prices does not adversely affect their ability to pay back. 

Amongst other things, infrastructural development is what would propel Africa into the comity of developed nations. Yet, the West is neither prepared nor willing to give Africa the necessary help.

The U.S. is insincere in its criticisms of China-Africa tennis presence in Africa

Now and then, we hear stories about debt-trap diplomacy mostly from Western media commentators. This is how it goes: China is putting African countries in more debt than they could repay. African countries that take the debt bait are most likely to default. China then steps in to take over the very asset they had helped put up. Known more officially as a debt-to-equity swap, proponents of the theory often point to Chinese-built Sri Lankan port at Hambantota to prove their point. 

However, recent findings have shown that the turnout of things at Hambantota was not a case of a debt-to-equity swap. Hence, the only pillar that supported the much-touted argument came crumbling. The idea, however, is stubbornly persistent. Deborah Brautigam, head of China Africa Research Centre at Johns Hopkins University, in one of her interviews with the China-Africa project, said there is little evidence to suggest that China is putting African countries into a debt trap. 

In her book, ‘The Dragon’s Gift; The Real Story of China in Africa’, Deborah Brautigam talks about how China makes African countries prioritize Chinese debt repayment over other debts.  Therefore, when Africa’s China debt is on the rise, debt servicing of other debt suffers. If the West were concerned that China is giving too many loans to African countries, it is probably because they are worried that debt servicing of Eurobonds and other debts would suffer. Western opposition to China’s adventure in Africa must be contextualized: it is part of a global effort to frustrate China and undermine its status as a world power; it is not done for the sake of genuine regard for Africa.

In A Nutshell

Following my argument, a reader may easily conclude I am suggesting there is a perfect relation between Africa and China. Far from that. The existing relation is imperfect but there are several ways to strengthen it. Recent racial discrimination against Africans living in Guangdong province of China has revealed some fault lines that threaten the relations existing between the two.  

I am advocating that Africa should look into its internal material conditions to define the rules that govern its relations with China. What relationship China has with other countries elsewhere should not have much bearing on how we deal with the middle kingdom; conditions are not the same everywhere. Regardless of what others may think, Africa should follow the path that best suits its development goals. With this in mind, China comes in handy. Now more than ever is the time Africa must strengthen its relations with China by repairing all fault lines, which threaten it.

Amodani Gariba is a student at Koforidua Technical University (KTU), class of 2020. He is majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He currently serves as president of KTU Debate Society. In this capacity, he helps students understand local and global issues and the impact they can have through constructive dialogue and debate. He is passionate about community advocacy and development. He is focused on pursuing politics after he graduates.

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