Thursday, February 01, 2007

Scramble for Africa

A conference of African leaders in Beijing late last year confirmed China’s ‘clout’ on the continent, whereas the Chinese president Hu Jintao is once again on a whirlwind trip throughout Africa. A cause for concern, echoing warnings by South African president Mbeki who recently suggested China-Africa relations were increasingly becoming ‘colonial’ in nature. Here follows a commentary by Jonathan Hoslag on China’s recent advances in Africa.

Africa as the mine of the world

“The pact that China sealed with the political elites of Africa [does not bring benefit] to the majority of the African population. Even though various countries enjoy higher prices for natural resources and China does invest more than the European countries as a whole, it confirms Africa in its role as the mine of the world, without receiving the chance to develop in other sectors. Around 90% of Chinese imports consists of natural resources. The excessive industrialization of the Asian giant increasingly led to a social bloodbath in hundreds of African factories. It also does not add to the optimis that Chinese companies implement their projects in Africa largely with Chinese workers: own workforce first!

China undermines the chance of democracy

Due to the fact that Beijing strengthens the political elites in their position as guardians of the continent, the chance of democracy and good governance appears to be further undermined. China hinders the existence of an assertive middle class. It breathes new life into the patronage networks of [cronies]. Because Chinese diplomats continuously stand in the way in the Security Council of the United Nations, dishonest [people] can roam unpunished. Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, can [thank] China that he is still in his seat. Not only did the People’s Republic block international sanctions, it also provided Khartoum with weapons that were employed in the suppression of rebels in the south of the country and in the cleansing operations in the province of Darfur. Even though the Chinese government continuously staunchly denies it, more and more weapons are arriving in all sorts of [conflict zones]: the Congo, Ehtiopia, Zimbabwe, and so on.

Guerrilla fighter in a suit

Chinese diplomacy behaves like a guerrilla fighter in a suit. It realises it is no match against the big players, but it conveniently targets their weak spots. Africa is again at the frontline of an international politics based on bids. The People’s Republic is determined in its plan to strengthen its influence, and is being followed in her ‘scramble’ by countries like India. Europe and the United States do not get out of their way, and hang onto their energy interests and strategic considerations. The result is a downward spiral in which Africa will again end up [as the underdog].

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