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Global Africa

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  Global Africa


By all accounts, globalization is now sweeping Africa, as it is on other continents. Farmers in Ghana are in a precarious position because of the inflow of cheap rice from the United States. South Africans are buying coats made in China and Viet Nam; Beijingers drink South African beer while checking newspapers for the latest stock values of South Africa’s Naspers; American drivers refuel their cars with oil imported from Africa; and Africans are known to have regular business dealings in China’s Yiwu City.

Thus globalization has become a much-needed link between Africa and the rest of the world, and a major contributor to the continent’s burgeoning economy.

Africa still needs aid
However, history has determined that Africa still needs external assistance, despite African countries' winning independence since the late 1950s. Western countries are supplying a large amount of aid, but still making slow progress, a fact admitted by Western academicians and officials. This viewpoint is also included in New York University Professor William Easterly’s new works White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good,and ex-World Bank employee Robert Calderisi’s book The Trouble With Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working. 
In contrast, China’s aid to Africa, though not large as those of Western countries, can effectively help Africa’s development. The reason, in my opinion, can be attributed to China’s foreign aid concept, which regards the target countries as equal partners and believes aid should be mutually beneficial. China and Africa have both been colonized or semi-colonized, experiences that have lent them similar norms by which they conduct international relations: mutual respect and equal footing.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has been to Africa five times and has often reiterated China’s strong desire to develop equal and friendly relations with African countries on a mutual support and win-win basis. In a speech at the University of Pretoria during his visit to South Africa in February, Hu asserted that China was ready to make efforts in the following four key areas: forging a friendship, maintaining close political dialogue and coordination and increasing mutual understanding and trust; deepeningcooperation and expanding economic and technological exchanges to achieve mutual benefit and win-win progress; strengthening dialogue and exchange between Chinese and African civilizations and making common progress through mutual learning and enrichment; and treating each other as equals and strengthening cooperation in international affairs to uphold the legitimate right and interests of developing countries.

More importantly, China’s aid to Africa is based on a mutually beneficial system. On January 18, 1964, when the late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai met the press in Ghana, he formally enumerated the eight principles that guide China’s policies of supplying economic and technological assistance to foreign countries. Notably, all the eight principles revolve around restraints on China, the assistance supplier, and no restraints on the recipients.

First, the Chinese Government has clearly indicated that it does not regard assistance as one-way bestowal, but more like a two-way cooperation, which can not only accelerate the economic development of both sides, but also intensify their mutual friendship. This concept has gradually been expanded to political and diplomatic fields, which can be evidenced by the typical case of China’s resuming its legal position in the United Nations. Of the 76 countries that voted to support China, 26 were from Africa. In some multilateral international organizations like the United Nations, Africa renders firm and constant support to China in hot topics related to the Taiwan issue and human rights. Meanwhile, China has supported African countries equally on the international stage.

Secondly, the Chinese Government has vowed to assist Africa with no political conditions involved. This principle, which guides China’s foreign aid programs, is also frequently criticized by the West, which accuses China of supplying unpolitical assistance to Africa just to get energy resources. Starting in the late 1990s, China began to increase imports of energy resources from Africa, a move that annoyed the West. The latter believed that China’s practice went against their traditional interests and cited Zimbabwe, Angola and the Sudan as examples to criticize China. Actually, it has been China’s persistent policy since the 1950s to supply unconditional foreign aid to developing countries and to not interfere in their internal affairs. Given that there is the African Union that represents all 53 African nations, why should China, or any other world power, interfere in African affairs?

Why Western aid to Africa isn’t working

Calderisi attributes the reason to African state leaders. But I think the main reason lies in Western countries’ concept of foreign aid to Africa: They always think they are superior to African countries and adopt a patronizing attitude.

First, foreign aid from the West always includes strict indexes, devised by the think tanks of Western governments and international organizations according to the standards of some developed countries. The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), set up by the U.S. Government to aid Africa, is a good example. In early 2004, the Bush administration established the MCA to intensify its cooperation with Africa, with a startup capital of $1 billion earmarked by the Congress. However, the Millennium Challenge Corp., which is responsible for the program, worked out 16 strict indexes according to statistics from some international organizations like the World Bank and World Health Organization, to determine who would receive aid. Among these indexes are: the governments must rule justly, invest in their people and possess economic freedom. Obviously, it is not easy for underdeveloped African countries to fit these criteria. Ironically, if an African country does meet the requirements of the 16 indexes, it does not need any foreign aid.

Secondly, while supplying foreign aid, Western countries usually attach conditions in favor of the aid suppliers, instead of the aid receivers. For instance, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund forced Ghana to open up its domestic rice market before granting loans to the country, which, together with the unfair trade rules of agricultural produce in the World Trade Organization, led to the fact that large quantities of cheap U.S. rice has flown into Ghana. Although the unpolished rice produced by Ghanaian farmers is more nutritional, local people prefer to buy cheap U.S. rice, grown in the United States with governmental subsidies.

In Africa, a total of 20 million cotton growers in 33 countries depend on cotton production for their livelihood. However, owing to the U.S. Government’s subsidies to American cotton farmers, the prices of cotton in West Africa kept dropping after 2003. In the United States, cotton farmers can get $230 from the government for growing an acre of cotton. Between 2004-05, the U.S. Government totally subsidized $4.2 billion to domestic cotton farmers. But in the same period of time, cotton farmers in Burkina Faso suffered losses of more than $81 million, even though they’d had a good harvest.

Cooperation, rather than aid

Thanks to the rapid development of countries such as China, India and Brazil, south-south cooperation has entered a new stage. In cooperating with African countries, China not only supplies affordable economic aid, but also introduces to African countries its experiences and lessons in development, with a reminder that they develop according to their own conditions. China’s foreign aid plays a significant role in Africa’s economic progress. In recent years, while signing project contracts, China has always made foreign aid a preferential condition. After the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in November 2006, China landed a contract worth $40 billion to tap oil in Nigeria. In return, China offered to construct a railway system and a power plant for Nigeria.

Africa is abundant in energy resources, and Western countries have been the first batch of energy consumers, followed by developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Malaysia. The three sides should cooperate closely in order to avoid conflict and suffer losses. China and other developing countries’ demand for raw materials and energy resources has greatly stimulated the development of Africa’s abundant resources, benefiting both buyer and seller. Meanwhile, these demands also help lift the prices of raw materials in African markets, enhancing African revenues and accelerating African countries' economic development. Through oil export, Nigeria has even managed to pay off all its debts.

Currently, the number of Chinese enterprises in Africa totals 813. These enterprises and other companies from other developing countries offer more investment to Africa and promote its industrial development. Meanwhile, the African people have more opportunities in choosing market options, investment partners and product prices. This can help break the monopolization by the West and increase Africa’s independence in production, marketing and investment.

Finally, China’s infrastructure construction in Africa can improve Africa’s investment environment, paving the way to a rosy future.

(The author is Deputy Director of the Center for African Studies of Peking University)

(published in CHINAFRICA, July 2007)