‘The consolidation of China-Africa co-operation and its contribution to peace and security in Africa’ being a paper presented at an international conference organized by the institute of West Asian and African studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Science. Beijing, China, on 23rd and 24th of October, 2013 – by Charles Onunaiju.
At the turn of this century, China-African co-operation has matured through its earlier trajectories of solidarity and mutual empathy to a key strand of contemporary international relations. Since China first opened the diplomatic mission in Egypt in 1954 and followed up with high profile participation at the famous conference of Afro-Asian solidarity in Bandung Indonesia 1955, where premier Zhou Enlai and foreign minister Chen Yi, met with some African delegation, including the then iconic rising star of African anti-colonial struggle, Kwame Nkrumah, the relation between the two sides has seen steady growth. The watershed in this era of China-Africa co-operation came in 1971 when majority African of countries vigorously campaigned and backed the restoration of China’s legitimate seat at the United Nations. The then youthful Tanzanian foreign minister, Mr. Ahmed Salim, who later went on to become the secretary general of the defunct organization of African Union (OAU), danced enthusiastically at the re-admission for the Peoples Republic of China. The OAU was later replaced by the African Union in 2002 and has since become the key institutional arrow head of the deepening co-operation between Africa and China, especially in the critical sector of the search for peace and security in the continent. China which was by then, a key supporter of the anti-colonial struggle reciprocated by taking the responsibility of the construction of one of Africa`s foremost infrastructure, the more than one thousand kilometre Zambia-Tanzania railway line linking former copper mine hinterland to the only viable port, Dar-Salaam of the later in the region. The project of the railway has earlier been dismissed by some countries in west and even the then former Soviet Union as economically unviable, when they were approached to help in the construction of the rail, which would shield the countries in the region from the strangle-hood of the then racist regime in South Africa, who has the only alternate port in Pretoria. This key and frontline infrastructure, whose import has enormous political ramification for the whole of Africa whose then prevailing sentiment, contained in the founding charter of the OAU, consisted essentially in the total liberation of the continent from colonial rule and the more vicious apartheid regime. Countries in Africa, outside the geo- graphical fold of the Southern African sub-region, where the anti-colonial struggle was at its peak, like Nigeria, were elaborately committed to be designated frontline states, a term that would finely fit the Peoples Republic of China, considering her enormous contribution, especially in the construction of the Tanzam railways. The Tanzam railway has critical security implications for the countries in the sub- region, as it denied the racist regime then, in South Africa of direct sabotage of the economies of the countries, supporting the liberation movements within its enclave. I drew fairly, elaborately from this earlier exchange in the co-operation and relation between China and African to underscore the historical dimension of what has become a key component of international co-operation now.
However, the 19805 and 1990s witnessed the expansion of Sino-African co- operation, featuring more economic exchanges, cultural and political co-operation. The burst of Taiwan dollar diplomacy, in which Taipei tried or attempted to bribe its way to recognition in African was effectively checkmated, as China deepened her co-operation and exchanges in Africa.
Earlier, as observed elsewhere, “during the tense period of the cold war, the focus of China-Africa co-operation was political as the two sides sought political stability in domestic affairs, to secure and consolidate national sovereignty and promote international stability”. To co-ordinate her effort toward material assistance and support for Africa, China-Africa peoples Friendship Association was launched on April 12th, 1960. African countries provided political support to enhance and consolidate China’s national sovereignty. In 1963, the third Asian and African conference held in Tanzania, with the support of many African countries, a resolution was adopted by the conference which strongly condemned the occupation of Taiwan by the U.S puppet regime and urged the United Nations to restore China’s legitimate seat the world body.
However, through all the trajectories of China-African co-operation, from the ideologically driven solidarity and political co-operation to more economic co- operation marked by the win-win framework, the decisive turning point set in, with the founding of the Forum on China-African Co-operation in 2000. The Beijing inaugural summit of the forum focuses on two major areas; how to promote and establish a just and equitable new international economic order, and to further strengthen co-operation between China and Africa on economic and social development.
A major characteristics of the FOCAC process since its inception in 2000 has been to give greater impetus to infrastructure construction in Africa. The first FOCAC document has pointed out that the “Chinese government will continue to encourage well-established Chinese enterprises to participate in economic and infrastructure and development projects in African countries”.
At the 5th ministerial summit of FOCAC in Beijing in 2002, the then Chinese president, Mr. Hu Jintao outlined five priorities to which China would commit 20 billion U.S dollars in’ concessionary financing. Among the critical sectors which would receive the concessionary financing and which are generally considered potential key drivers to any meaningful and sustainable economic development in African would be China’s support to African integration process and enhancement of her capacity for overall development through establishing a partnership with Africa on transnational and trans-regional infrastructural development.
The key area of Africa’s socio-economic challenge has witnessed a critical and enormous intervention by Beijing, as there are widespread politically motivated views especially from the west, that such intervention is driven by resource hunger. A brilliant study of an American academic both highlighted these assumptions and consequently underscored its fallacy.
“The World Bank team that used newspaper and internet sources to study China’s infrastructure projects (they do not actually visit any African countries) said that most of them were aimed ` flows of resources back to China. Yet the list of projects they provided, comprising roads, bridges, sewer systems and power plants with Chinese finance in places such as Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Madagascar, and Mauritius and so on do not map out to some kind for master plan for resource extraction”. 2
A World Bank study has earlier claimed that “most Chinese government funded projects in sub-Saharan ultimately aimed at securing a flow of sub-Saharan Africa’s natural resources for export to China”. 3
Even beyond the world bank cynism, “others even assume that the infrastructure been built by Chinese companies across the continent follows a grand strategy; roads and railroads leading directly from mines and wells to ports, to ships and to China”4, a classical re-enactment of European colonial strategy of economic expropriation where infrastructure were built from the hinterland straight to the coast for transport of produce and even human slaves for onwards shipment to metropolitan Europe. For example, in what is known now as Congo democratic republic, formerly Zaire and a former personal estate of the Belgium king, the Chimindefe de-Bas-Congo au Katanga railway was built to connect the mineral- rich Katanga to the sea. In Congo Brazzaville, there is the Congo-Ocean railway built to facilitate the transportation of manganese ore from Gabon as well as forest products. In Nigeria the Kano-Apapa railway line was built to facilitate the collection of cotton, groundnuts and cocoa for exports to Europe. Among other railway lines built specifically for export commodities by the European colonial administration in African were the marampe-pepel line in Sierra Leone, the fria-Conakry line in Guinea, the entire railway system in Liberia, the Dakar-Niger railway line in Mali and Senegal and the port Elienne fort Govarand in Mauritania. As if to emphasize the fact that the railway was purely functional for the gathering and exporting the commodities of the colonies, the Germans in Togo actually named their railway lines after the particular primary commodities and minerals which they transport. Thus, there were cotton line, Cocoa line, Coconut line, Iron Ore line and the Palm oil line. It is certain that a psychic reflex of European colonial economic model that laid the foundation for the disarticulation of African contemporary economies still pervade in some western commentaries of China- Africa economic co-operation. In fact, the London based magazine, the Economist, claimed that ‘China is building a lot of infrastructure, presumably to help it procure all the natural resources its firms are gobbling up”. 4
It took the scholarly and brilliant study of Deborah Brautigan, a professor of international development of American University in Washington D.C, in her work “The Dragon’s gift: the real story of China in Africa” to dismantle much of the ideologically-driven politically-motivated and un-substantial commentaries that have become the staple of mainstream Western media and academic establishment on contemporary China-Africa co-operation.
A clearer case of deliberate obfuscation of the facts of China/Africa co-operation could be glimpsed from the circumstances of oil rich Angola. As the Angolan civil war, drew to an end, the country was under pressure for its debts of over two billion dollars owed to the Paris club, a consortium of nineteen Wealthy nations. While the Paris club members were putting pressure for the Angolan government to pay, even as some went to a considerable length of attempting to seize the government property outside the country. Buffeted by western creditors and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to agree on several stringent measures which includes reduction of fuel subsidies, raising water rate, privatise many state enterprises and turning over custom management to a British firm (crown agents), China stepped in and offered two billion dollars line of credit through her Eximbank and unlike other oil-backed loans from the west.
And unusually, the credit line from China tied the loan to infrastructure projects. World Bank report earlier have pointed out that nearly forty years of war have left Angola’s road system “in a shocking state of disrepair. Bombs destroyed more than 300 bridges, rural roads and farming fields were planted with land mines. Urban infrastructure dramatically deteriorated and streets were in a state of virtual collapse”.
Within months of the Chinese loans, a group of western banks, including Barclays and Royal bank of Scotland, provided an even larger oil backed loan of 2. 35 and 2.5 billion dollars at 2.5% over the LIBOR (the London Inter-Bank offered rate, the benchmark interest rate for international finance).
At any rate, by the time Angolan war was over, the country has an estimated forty- eighty oil backed loans, “nearly all arranged very profitably, by respectable western banks: BNP Paribas of France, Standard Chartered of the UK, Commerzbank of Germany and so on”.5
Drawing extensively from these deals professor Brautigam arrived at the fact that “it was the western banks that gave loans without requiring transparency and western companies that exported Angolan oil, providing cash flow to the ruling party.
The Chinese deal was not without risk but it was also revolutionary for the country. For the first time there was hope that some of Angolan’s riches might actually be translated directly in development projects”.6 Elucidating China’s View on the question of critical intervention on Africa foremost socio-economic challenges, Beijing former top envoy to Africa, Mr. Liu Guijin was quoted as saying, “we don’t attach political condition. We have realized the political and economic environments are not ideal. But we don’t have to wait for everything to be satisfactory or human rights to be perfect”. Echoing similar view, economist and Columbia university scholar Jeffery Sachs, known for championing increased aid to African countries commented in 2006 that t5he idea that aid should be heavily conditioned with political conditions was a mistake. The best way to end conflict is to end poverty”. On this score, the consolidation of China-Africa co-operation has furnished a decisive instrument in relieving one of
African’s most dire socio-economic deficit: infrastructural reconstruction, enabling the building of peace infrastructure, out of which most of Africa’s conflicts can be resolved.
A Western respectable scholar, who has argued that “China has had little interest in Africa’s internal problems or politics”, also recalled that “though this has been less publicized in the western press, China has actually participated in the UN- sanctioned peace-keeping operations in parts of Africa. Chinese peace-keeping has expanded across the continent, starting with a large contingent in Liberia and smaller attachments to UN missions in the democratic republic of Congo and even in Sudan. All in all, over three thousand Chinese Peace-keeping troops have participated in seven UN mission on the continent. The majority of Chinese peace- keeping, in fact are based in Africa, making permanent member states of the UN Security Council to peace-keeping operations. Concurrently it (China) has also provided financial support to combat drought in the home of Africa, amounting to modest $200, 000 U.S dollars in 1999 and 610,000 U.S dollars in humanitarian assistance in 2004 to address the Darfur crises.
In a dramatic step aimed at countering critics of its role in Sudan, the Chinese government announced in the middle of 2006 that it would be providing 3.5 million U.S dollars in support of Africa Union peace keeping operations in that strife torn region”. 7
On the Darfur conflict in Sudan, in which China was routinely denounced for providing political support and diplomatic cover for the Khartoum regime, a Sudan expert and programme director at the social science research council, Professor Alex de Waal said that “China has been vilified over Sudan on the basis of inflated expectation about what it could do. Russia is in fact more significant in terms of been an aggressive ally”. .
Peace and security in Africa remain an existential challenge. The socio-economic and political terrain in African are in themselves sufficiently fragile that conflicts and even wars have become essential part of its landscape. While many have argued that colonialism is far too long gone, to be held responsible for African conflicts and wars, it is easily forgotten that the foremost legacy of colonialism, that state is central and at the root of conflicts in Africa. In spite of it’s seemingly legality at home and recognition abroad, African States are broadly in a state of contestable legitimacy. Because the State in Africa has its origin as alien and hostile phenomenon to keep society in submission to alien and distant authority, it is still widely viewed in contemporary times as forceful and hostile intrusion in the lives of the people. The travails of governance in Africa are essentially part of the crises of the legitimacy of the state. The emasculation of State in Africa in the wave of the sweeping neo-liberal reforms that stripped the state of its previously bare social functions almost threw it back in popular perception to its original colonial role of merely keeping law and order.
Even viewed as worst than classical colonial State that were less partial in enforcement of law and order, contemporary states in Africa are considered more selective and punitive in the use state organized violence.
A victim ethnic or religious group that views state repression as mere disguise of hegemony practiced by its rival with access to state powers stages violent rebellion not against the impartial state, but ethnic or religious competitor allied to the state. Related to the crises of the state and governance in Africa is the nationality and class questions. African conflicts are even less a crisis of governance than the fundamental question of the crises of the state. Measures to improve governance in Africa as a way to reduce conflicts actually holds only prospects of temporary relief, as the deeper question of the state, its nature, structure and role must be re- assessed in the context of democratic political process. From the violence and desperation to win African elections, it appears elections are part of the manoeuvres of the contested state in Africa. Given the entrenched structural deficits of the African states and given its crises of legitimacy would the China- African co-operation relieve this fundamental lacuna? Somewhere I argued “that the state (in Africa) must find legitimacy in the delivery of basic essentials for decent livelihood of the population and whether its current institutional ambiguities will enable it to take advantage and seize the moment of China’s vigorous entry into Africa stage is difficult to conclude. But taking advantage to China’s massive investment flows and generous assistance, Africa’s post-colonial state can gain, some measure of popular legitimate in the sphere of meaningful economic reconstruction. But an ineffectual and failing state could as well bungle the prospects of economic reconstruction, the opportunity that the rising Sino-Africa’s co-operation has generously offered”.8
However, while I do not suppose that the Chinese have a magic wand, with which to wave away African problems, I noted somewhere that “while Africa’s challenge for development and its many obstacles have never lacked generous words of empathy and concern from several partner governments, international organization and even non-governmental organization (NGOs), what is however unique to China’s co operation with Africa is that words and commitments are always matched with actions and thankfully, this trends has been the defining hallmarks of Sino-Africa relations encapsulated in the FOCAC process, since its founding in 2000”.
Apart from enabling the conditions for peace and security through critical interventions in the socio-economic landscape, China has vigorously pursued institutional capacity building. At the 18th summit of the heads of state and government of the African Union (AU) China presented a golden key of the completed conference centre built by it at the headquarters of the union. The sprawling structure built on a land mass of 50,000 square metres is composed of three parts; the office building, conference and ancillary facilities. While some media in Africa were sceptical of the Chinese gift, I expressed the view that Beijing may have acted in enlightened self-interest by narrowing the nightmare in dealing with a disparate 54 African states and even lessen that existential dilemma of whom to call, when Beijing wishes to place call to Africa, overcoming similar challenges when former U.S secretary of state, Henry Kissinger expressed his frustrations in the 1970s, about whom Washington shall call when wanting to reach Europe.
To conclude, the search for peace and security in Africa is not a package of goods to be delivered within a time-frame, but a process which China-Africa co-operation is making useful contribution. However, suffice it to say that Africa is largely responsible for its fate. Much of Africa is stirring and even though its people weighted down by serial crises, are not simply waiting for global compassion to lift her from the stupor.
From my home country Nigeria, where the popular quest to recast the state, through the instrumentality of ethnic nationality conference is in popular agitation, to other parts of Africa where the states are surrendering to the popular pressure for considerable devolution of its power to local communities, the integrity of the state may be rebuilt in a mould of a state where a popular revolutionary struggle ejected colonialism and imperialism.