Sunday, November 05, 2006

Beijing: The China-Africa Summit 2006, Africa bloggers weigh-in

I have to smile while writing this post today as I reflect on the flurry of activity in the international press and TV news media over the China-Africa Summit in Beijing. Fortunately while I was checking for updates last month at Jennifer Brea’s Africabeat, a weblog about the political and economic development of Africa with a special focus on the relationship between Africa and China, I noticed her post about an upcoming major summit in Beijing. This of course helped me prepare for the global news coverage of the summit that was to come, but I never expected such wide-ranging coverage of this important summit by so many different news services, research institutions and think tanks, government press services, and the international blogger community.

Throughout 2006 blog authors and readers covering news about Africa have had sometimes brutal arguments (O.K., tough-talk dialogues) about the massive investments China has been making recently into Africa, especially the rush to buy-up valuable rights and concessions to Africa’s natural resources: oil and gas, minerals and timber. A sampling of some of those blog posts are listed below:

Chippla’s Weblog
China-Africa Summit – 11/04/06
China in Angola – 04/10/06
The Future of Africa is Not China – 04/20/06
From China Town to Oil Deals – 04/27/06
Our Changing World: Emerging Giants – 09/27/06
From Confucianism to Capitalism – 10/03/06

China in Africa; China is not the (only) devil – 08/06/06
China-Africa Business Council Meeting – 10/26/06
Jen’s China in Africa archives

Jewels in the Jungle
China in Africa: The CNOOC Nigerian Deal – 01/10/06
U.S.-China Relations: An Apology of Sorts – 05/03/06

Also see Grandiose Parlor (earlier blog), My Heart’s in Accra, Black Looks, et Al.

It would be uncharacteristic of me to remain silent about my opinions on this latest summit in Beijing as it holds so much promise for helping to improve the plight of millions of African people as well as presents new challenges and opportunities to Africa’s traditional trade partners and donor countries, namely the “Western nations” or the “rich countries” or whatever you prefer to call them.

Although Jennifer has taken the lead in keeping me up-to-date, Chippla has offered the 1st comprehensive summary on his thoughts about the summit and the promises and pledges made by China’s President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. I’m still busy reading reports and articles and organizing my thoughts about this important event and hopefully will be ready with my own summaries (it’s a big subject, one post can’t cover it) in another day or two or three. In the meantime, I would like to share this opening dialogue with you:

Excerpt from Chippla’s Weblog post “China-Africa Summit – 11/04/06

The Beijing Summit on the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) opened today, the 4th of November 2006. It will run till the 5th of November. Probably the largest gathering of African leaders ever, outside United Nations General Assembly meetings, the summit is aimed at strengthening China-Africa relations. According to the state-controlled China Central Television International (CCTV), forty-one African Heads of State and forty-eight Heads of Government were present in Beijing for the summit, with hundreds of trade negotiators and business people. These alone hint at the significance of the summit.

China's interest in Africa is, without a doubt, greatly linked to the latter's huge pool of natural resources, much of which remain untapped. And with rapid development and modernization occurring across China, there is an increasing need for raw materials to continue fueling such development. African leaders in a position of strength (those who govern nations rich in resources of interest to China) must negotiate sensibly. The need to gradually curtail the export of raw materials and focus on the processing or conversion of such materials before export has become all too obvious. Non knowledge-based societies would simply be unable to compete favorably in today's fast-changing world.

According to this report in the People's Daily Online, trade between China and Africa reached almost $40 billion in 2005, four times more than it was in 2000. China has also granted tariff waivers to certain export items from the least developed African countries, as well as offered to train thousands of African professionals. Furthermore, China View reports that the Chinese Premier (Prime Minister), Wen Jiabao, has called on both parties to work together towards increasing bilateral trade volume to $100 billion in four years time.

Chinese involvement on the African continent is not without criticism. Most notable among these is its desire to deal and trade with Sudan, despite the ongoing conflict and killing of innocent civilians in Darfur province. The Chinese government should use its influence on Sudan to press for a speedy resolution of the conflict. The quiet diplomacy, which it claims to be employing, doesn't seem to be working.

For now, China appears to be doing something which neither the United States nor Europe did—engaging Africa. Whether this is solely driven by China's need for raw materials or also to increase its global sphere of influence would be debated for a long time to come. The President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, has described the China-Africa partnership as a partnership of equals (Botswana is one of the most stable democracies on the African continent). When it comes to dealing with Europe and the United States on the other hand, he sees a relationship between masters and subjects.

Like the rest of the world, this blog has watched China's increasing presence on and interest in the African continent for the past couple of years. From outright skepticism the position of this blog became one which cautiously accommodates China's increasing role on Africa's development. However, the fact remains that African nations are largely raw material exporters and until that changes, true partnership would be anything but achieved.

When China rolls out the red carpet for African leaders and decorates Beijing with billboards that read "Beautiful Africa", it unavoidably sends out a message to governments in Europe and the United States. While such marketing may have unconsciously boosted the morale and confidence of the African leaders and business negotiators in Beijing, it leaves the rest of the world guessing what China's exact ambitions might be. (Read more…)

Excerpt from my comment to Chippla’s postChina-Africa Summit”:

Good job Chippla on summarizing your thoughts about the China-Africa Summit in Beijing. I too was impressed with the reception the Beijing government has extended to the African heads of state and key ministers and to important African businesspeople. The announcements by the PRC regime that it will double aid, double trade to $100 bn dollars by 2010, write off an additional $1bn in debt, build hospitals and schools, increase training for African professionals, and so forth and so on sounds just great. Lord knows that most African countries can use all the help they can get.

The problem is these are pledges that have yet to be put into action just as the promises and pledges of the world's leading economies (the G7) made last year at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles. An additional problem is that China continues to prop-up not only repressive regimes in Africa, but murderous regimes in Africa such as Bashir's regime in Khartoum and Mugabe's regime in Harare (did I spell that right?). Then there are the less-than-desirable unfair business practices of continuing to use bribes and other perks to win lucrative contracts for building infrastructure and gaining access to the valuable natural resources that a handful of African nations have to trade with the rest of the world. Let's not forget China's involvement in the illegal trade in small arms and munitions on the continent or the fact that it supplies unstable regimes with high-end military hardware such as the attack helicopters used by Sudan in Darfur or the Chinese MIG's supplied to Zimbabwe. I could go on and on but why bother [as] the list of negatives is sooooo long.

I remain skeptical of the PRC's true intentions for the people of Africa and I am certain that the loathed Western nations will counter China's generous offers with some new initiatives and investments of their own. Let's not forget that trade with the U.S.A. and the E.U. account for more than 50% of the export revenues earned by African countries in 2005 and that figure excludes key African trading partners such as Australia, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Korea, and some Middle Eastern nations. China's trade and investments is still "chump change" in comparison, so let's not get carried away. Lastly, a slow-down in China's booming economy will have a direct impact on China's trade with Africa, especially in the demand for commodities such as minerals and oil and gas.

At the end of the day it is a matter for the people of Africa and their elected leaders (and non-elected dictators and despots) to decide, not the countries of North and South America or Europe or Asia. How best to use your precious and limited, finite natural resources and your unlimited human resources to build a better future for your children, and yourselves.

- End of excerpts -

Stay tuned for Round Two "The Battle for Africa's Hearts and Minds... and Black Gold"

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imnakoya said...

This last sentence in your last paragraph sums it all nice: "... it is a matter for the people of Africa and their elected leaders (and non-elected dictators and despots) to decidehow best to use your precious and limited, finite natural resources and your unlimited human resources to build a better future for your children, and yourselves."

The issue is how to put Africa natural resources to best use, and this is dependent on good governance and visionary leadership. Whether it is trade with China or Australia or Brazil; if the drivers of the vehicles of government in Africa remain blind, stupid, greedy and unethical, the continent will remain doomed!

Now Africa seems doubly-doomed with China's non-discriminatory business model as amoral and brutal regimes, flush with Sino dollars, become empowered and bolder to commit more astrocities.

I really look forwad to seeing how the G8 will counter China trade offensive. I really do...

houstonmacbro said...

i am not really sure about this chino-africa trade initiative. on one hand, it holds great promise for a continent abused by colonialism for centuries. on the other hand, is africa replacing one dictatorship with another.

how will this trade initiative affect the PEOPLE of africa. the wealthy and powerful will always be okay.

Black River Eagle said...

I'm not an economist or an expert on global trade issues but I will attempt to share in follow-on posts to this blog what information I have on this very important subject. I've just thrown the chalice down in a 2nd comment directed at a new Chinese reader at Chippla's blog. If we are lucky, that dialogue will get real interesting real fast. To be honest, I've been waitin' for this showdown on China in Africa for a long time.

Thanks Houston MacBro for stopping by and sharing your views. Please stick with us in the Africa sector of the blogosphere and especially on this issue. A whole bunch of people are not sure about what the Beijing regime is up to in Africa but one thing is for darn sure, their activities are under some very hot spotlights and scathing criticism now.

My guess is it's not what Beijing planned on back in the year 2000 when the PRC's Africa Strategy was totally revised and put into action aggressively. Beijing forgot to factor in the "other Africans", the ones who have settled and prospered in the Americas and in Old Europe and are not going to sit quietly on the sidelines and let some new colonial master come in and take over the continent like the Europeans did back in 1884-85 (see Wikipedia for the Scramble for Africa).

Anonymous said...

Jewels in the Jungle I commend you for both your balanced writing and the vibrant community that you have seeded here. Let me also add that my brain is thoroughly worked out-Ooouch, but in a good way of course!

Let me begin my interpretation on the China-Africa Summit by mentioning that the varying comments illustrated both here and in the wider blogosphere reflect the fact that there are so many variables to this complex equation.

Under ordinary circumstances, when anyone is faced with the prospects of reaping substantial windfalls as the result of the market's hand-there is cause for celebration.

But here-you have the history variable, you have the two developing hemispheres variable, the socialist variable, the post cold-war variable, then there is the West as a variable, the Sudan-China relationship, and many many more.

Indeed there is a lot at stake for the whole world, not just Africa. However, as Jewels in the Jungle pointed out there is reason for hope. On a much smaller scale variations of this very equation have already been solved-in Africa.

My understanding is that what made Botswana an unlikely success, is that somehow her major stakeholders (the ruralists, intellectuals, politicians, business persons, traditionalists, students, religious leaders, and traditional rulers)somehow managed to come together and strengthen the fabric of Botswana's institutions-whilst some of her wealthier counterparts, who at that time shared the same predicament slid backwards.

By no means am I saying that this is easy...but only that it has been done before-to a lessor extent. This could turn out to be the push that gets Africa's resource-rich nations over the proverbial hump of economic reliances and into prosperity, thereby spilling over into the resource stricken neighbors and lifting them as well. this blogs author pointed out on the introduction page..until now, Africa's benefactors have mainly tied their recipients' hands of governance, in return for more aid or more trade. Whereas, China's policy could allow Africa to govern on her own accord. So, China's "don't ask, don't tell" policy could unsuspectingly become Africa's biggest"diamond".

The future of the China-Africa relationship depends not just upon the political leadership in Africa, but upon each of Africa's stakeholders coming together in the interest of the whole to meet this challenge.

Black River Eagle said...

Thank you for your views on this important subject, Mwangi. I still don't trust the Beijing regime's win-win strategies for African peoples and will stay in their face until I can find a reason to back-off.

As far as China being a diamond for African countries, perhaps they are a diamond for some of Africa's despotic leaders who left the Beijing summit smiling like crocodiles. I'm not referring to all of Africa's leaders but only to some of her worst. Any names come to mind?

Tell the people of Zimbabwe or Darfur or Chad or the Central African Republic or the people of southern Sudan and the DR Congo that the Beijing government is providing a "jewel of an opportunity for peace and prosperity" for all Africans. After all, these people see the effects of PR China's non-intervention policies and ex-imports in their countries and neighboring countries on a daily basis. Up close and personal.

What is sad, really sad, is that not a single African leader of government or business in attendance at this summit has chosen to publicly criticize Beijing's policies and actions in the countries that I have listed above. Talk about not biting the hand that feeds your pockets...

Abdurahman Warsame said...

First of all, let me thank you for your continues support, much appreciated.

Here is a story about Brundi/Malaria/Aid:

Black River Eagle said...

A reader today (Anonymous) has provided a link to an IRINnews article about the exploitation of valuable forests in Mozambique by greedy local and national officials and their international partners. Much of this timber is purchased by Chinese businessmen at ridiculously low prices and exported on to the PRC, leaving behind denuded and ruined forests and increased poverty for the people whose lives depend on the sustainable, transparent management of Mozambique's forests.

According to the IRIN news article, at the rate of illegal and unsustainable timber extraction that has taken place in Mozambique over the past few years, these irreplacable forests and interdependent ecosystems will literally disappear within the next 3 to 5 years.

Chinese buyers and exporters are at the center of this illegal trade in Mozambique's timber, while sucka's in Europe and North America support the destruction and increased poverty the illegal trade leaves behind by purchasing goods produced in China made from this valuable natural resource. Of course, nothing will be said about these practices by the official PR China media during President Hu Jintao's whistlestop tour of African nations this month.

Please read "Mozambique: Chainsaws cut down more than just trees" at IRINnews dated Jan 30, 2007.