The US, China and Africa
As usual, the largely symbolic and valedictory 11-day tour of 10 African states, by the US Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton grabbed headlines and prime airtime on major media outlets across the continent. Mrs Clinton, ostensibly on her last tour of Africa as Secretary of State, delivered pulsating messages.
Apart from cajoling her hosts to remain loyal to Washington’s prescriptions of democratic practice, she urged them to take ‘tough decisions’ on economic measures, an allusion to neo-liberal economic policy which has been ruthlessly enforced by several regimes in Africa in collusion with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Thirty years into the neo-liberal economic reforms, whose major components includes privatisation whose obvious result has been massive asset stripping of public utilities, deregulation and its consequence of free fall of the local currency, wage freeze, massive lay-off of workers and the sustainable trend of de-industrialization across the continent.
As usual with such high level visit, as Mrs Clinton made her way to the various presidential palaces, roads are cleared of destitutes, child labourers who hawk assorted wares to sustain their families, former workers-turned-beggars and other “social miscreants” who hardly make it to official statistics of the unemployed.
Then, secluded in the opulence of presidential palaces, the Washington August visitor delivered her homilies, paying tribute to the brilliant success of the years of painstaking neo-liberal economic reforms, evident in the bulging tummies and robust cheeks of her official hosts.
With nothing to offer, since there is really nothing to give, the American Secretary issued rebuttals about some certain international partnership with the continent that might aim to “extract resources” and even urged the Nigeria President, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, beleaguered and almost over-run by local insurgency, to stay focused on taking the tough decision on economic reforms.
With the continent reeking from infrastructural decay, depletion of human capital and down on all human development indexes as contained in the recent report of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, the former US first lady who has only words for all her hosts across the continent and the words, which ranged from rebuttals, homilies and subtle threats, made headlines across the continent.
American leaders have ways of ventilating outside when the domestic political situation becomes cagey. Before Mrs Clinton’s foray into Africa, the Republican challenger of his principal, Mr Mitt Romney has taken time off the domestic brouhaha of his sleazy tax profile to venture abroad.
From London to Tel-Aviv in Israel and Poland, Mr Romney did his best to provoke a world outrage, ostensibly to sell to his American audience an image of a tough guy. Not to be outdone in the international dimension of the US looming presidential election, Mr Barack Obama sent her erudite and glamorous Secretary of State to Africa, where she could re-echo the American political ideals and Washington’s determination to ensure its triumph on a universal scale, without challenge.
As the media lauded and laundered Mrs Clinton 11-day forage to the continent was in full bloom, a far more significant and life-changing event in Africa, which held earlier in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China got a very modest media attention. Between the 19th and 20th of July, the Forum for China-Africa Co-operation, FOCAC, held its fifth ministerial conference in Beijing.
At the conference of China and Africa, a review of the past three years since the fourth ministerial conference was held in the Egyptian holiday resort of Sharma-el Sheikh, concluded that Beijing has remained faithful to all its commitments to Africa, including the disbursement of the $10 billion in concessionary grants to African countries and has in addition built over 100 schools, 30 hospitals and agricultural demonstration centres as was contained in the eight point practical measures read out by Premier Wen Jiabao to boost China-African co-operation.
More significantly and even symbolically, China finished and handed over the new African Union Secretariat and office complexes in practical demonstration of Beijing’s effort to enhance African institutional capacity and forging of Pan-Africa institution to effectively tackle the challenges in the continent.
In fact, the Beijing conference concluded that in spite of the political turbulence in some countries in the continent, China swiftly and on schedule met all its commitments to strengthening and boosting of co-operation between the two sides.
A key component of the commitment of zero or very low tariff of African products to Chinese market was fulfilled. In comparison to the America much hyped Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA, the preferential non-tariff entry of African products into China’s market has been hugely successful.
At the Beijing conference last month, China‘s President, Mr Hu Jintao outlined a practical road map to further strengthen and boost China-Africa new type of partnership. He announced five-point priority areas where he said China and Africa would work together.
Among the priority areas, the Chinese leader promised that Beijing would provide $20 billion in concessionary grants to enhance infrastructure, boost small and medium scale business among others. More significantly, he promised that China would participate in transnational and trans-regional infrastructure development in Africa that would provide functional linkages to practical integration efforts in Africa.
Since the notorious Berlin Conference in the 1880s, where Africa was arbitrarily partitioned and carved up among European powers, the legacy of the ruthless and savage exploitation of the continent has endured to keep the continent not only physically apart but the later vicious America imperialism ensured that Africa’s need and desire to act in unison is shorn of any enabling capacity and capability.
Such state of affairs in Africa could embolden the US and its militarist allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, to ride roughshod on the continent and take out regimes that are not in their good books as in Libya or put pressure on others through damaging sanctions as in Zimbabwe and the little Eritrea.
With China’s robust engagement in Africa affecting the critical areas that would boost the continent’s capacity and capabilities, the West’s standard response has been to instigate scare-mongering and hype the ‘resource extraction’ mantra.
Mrs Clinton at the start of her African tour in Dakar, Senegal hinted darkly of the partnership for the extraction of natural resource, a deliberate misrepresentation of China-Africa partnership. China and the United States are key players in the contemporary global arena and have clearly remarkable impact in Africa. U.S has been traditional player in the continent along with her European allies and nearly six decades after the West’s involvement in post-colonial Africa, the legacy are mostly the scares of proxy wars, fragile states characterized by weak and dysfunctional institutions and a social landscape dotted with excruciating poverty, disease and hunger.
China, a fairly new entrant to the continent is redefining the socio-economic landscape with critical interventions in such strategic sectors as infrastructure, health, agriculture and education facilities, in addition to giving real value to Africa’s resources through robust trade that stood at over 163 billion US dollars in 2011, making China, Africa’s largest trading partner.
Mr Charles Onunaiju , a journalist, wrote from Abuja