Gimba Kakanda @gimbakakanda RIP, Pius Adesanmi 💔 | Head of Media & Comms, @LSEAfricaSummit| University of Iowa IWP ‘17 fellow | IR Student, @LSENews | Foreign Policy| Political Economy. Mar. 12, 2019 4 min read

This fits into my research area, and I’ll share a few tweets, based on my readings so far. First, we can’t reduce China - Africa relations to a stereotype. It’s a complex relationship that varies across countries of Africa, for each place has its own unique experience. A THREAD.

We can study why African states respond to China using Chris Alden’s categorization of African regimes: Pariah States (Zimbabwe, Sudan). Illiberal regimes and weak democracies (from post-conflict regime like S/Leone to Nigeria; and democracy with diversified economy (S/Africa).

The first category responded to China, having been policed and sanctioned by the West, to stabilize their economy. While Oil-rich Sudan is a goldmine for China and even the location of Chinese-owned arms manufacturing plants, Zimbabwe is desperate and needs China to survive.

In the second category, we’ve countries with weak institutions and driven by elites who’ve personalized governance structures. There’s less accountability there, and their commodity-based economies are not a competition for China, serving as markets for China’s low-cost products.

The third category is the toughest battleground for China’s engagement with Africa. South Africa happens to fit into this category, and the reasons are its strong institutions and local businesses which Chinese enterprises have to compete it. China doesn’t find it easily there.

So, based on this regime theory, the question to ask is: do African states really need China? The answer is YES. Why? Because the western lenders have imposed strict conditions that most African countries have variously violated, from human rights to large-scale corruption.

China’s “return” to Africa is a carefully designed strategy to offer African states what they had expected from the West: loans with no strings attached. China is a generous lender, and it has severally and serially reminded Africa of its non-interference in its domestic affairs.

Western lending, based on Washington Consensus, was a terrible idea in Africa. Their economic prescriptions like the Structural Adjustment Programmes got many African states submerged in economic downturn, inflation, escalated debt crisis, and with many states losing legitimacy.

That’s why China came to us with a partnership model called Beijing Consensus, offering to never interfere and never impose conditions on us. What China wants depend on the countries they are dealing with. They are not morons. They study their markets and our people diligently.

Nigeria and Ethiopia are Africa’s most populous countries, and this demographic advantage tells you they’re big markets for China’s low-cost products, and this should make you understand why China “invests” heavily in these countries to sustain that relationship.

Angola and Sudan are oil-producing countries with rent-seeking elites, which explains why China has its ways there easily. And one of China’s biggest fears is its energy needs as a fast-rising power. China National Petroleum Corporation holds 40% stake in Sudan’s Oil industry.

Does China deal with African countries differently? Mugabe-led Zimbabwe was profiled as desperate ally of China because it’s a beggar with no chooser, having been sanctioned by the West and China, of course, isn’t a charity organization. It weighs its investments carefully.

Why does China invest in “poor” African countries? China has what’s known as “One China” policy, which is a diplomatic ploy to eliminate Taiwan, because China regards Taiwan as China. So it’s “bribed” its ways into Africa and got all but one country to still recognize Taiwan.

Today, because of China’s largesse, the only African country that recognizes Taiwan is Swaziland (now eSwatini). And the reason has been attributed to Taiwan’s generosity, which is why it rejects China’s overtures. Oh, China also needs Africa for its numerical strength at the UN.

As shared in my first tweet, you can’t reduce China’s presence in Africa to a stereotype. China is good and bad, good because the partnership has boosted our infrastructure, especially in transportation. Bad because our local industries are paying the price of China’s “takeover.”

China is an alternative for African countries that have failed to meet the expectations of the almighty West. When the US and the UK stopped selling arms to Zimbabwe around 2002, China intervened and sold arms to the sanctioned country. It didn’t matter that Mugabe was a bad guy.

Today, the West is alarmed and the alarmists in Washington are accusing China of enabling illiberal regimes in Africa, as seen from its dealings with Omar Al-Bashir in Egypt, which China embraced despite his atrocious human rights record. But Washington has its own bad history.

The benefit and downside of China’s loans to Africa depends on where you’re standing. If Africa has existed with such deplorable infrastructure these decades, and we are seeing progress through China, I think China’s return to Africa is commendable. The problem is our elites.

The question of falling into “debt trap” diplomacy from China’s loans is exaggerated. Latest data on global FDIs in Africa also dispels this fear of China’s economic domination of the continent. As at 2018, China lagged behind the US, the UK and France in investing in Africa.

Another implication of China’s presence in Africa is the renewed interests of the West in the affairs of the continent. Africa has again become a new bride for which they must compete, and this is why we should be wary and conscious of the papers being signed on our behalf.

Even if you’re a pan-African firebrand displeased by this “mortgaging” of the continent, I think you need to pause for a before-and-after analysis of China in Africa. China is a development partner, BUT when is Africa going to take charge of its development goals? It’s 2019!


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