How should Africa’s political elite respond to China’s escalation of its ‘soft power charm offensive’, which is widely thought to be intended to secure future clout on the continent?
The narrative that emerged at this year’s edition of The Times CEO Summit in London, UK, was that it is inevitable that China will be the preferred port of call for a while. The continent is open for business but Western finance is tied down by questions about democracy, and human rights, much to the distress of Africa’s leaders several of whom have a proclivity for dictatorial tendencies. And so, China where non-interference in local affairs is the norm, remains the darling.
Such a policy may, however, come back to haunt China in future because today’s suppressed classes across Africa could be in power tomorrow.
China shouldn’t risk the goodwill earned through its massive investments by sitting on the fence. It should not allow its unique domestic situation where human rights and democracy are not paramount to cloud approaches to relations with nations abroad.
The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday published a report which showed that in the last decade, China has committed $75 billion on aid and development projects in Africa, according to research findings by the US group, AidData, at the College of William and Mary. This is the first ever attempted quantification of China’s involvement, which is a state secret, in Africa.
The researchers’ database detailed nearly 1,700 projects in 50 countries between 2000 and 2011 to arrive at this conclusion, which still tells only part of the story.
The data, The Guardian reported, challenges the long-held view that Beijing is only driven by a quest for natural resources. It shows that there are few mining projects and, while transport, storage and energy initiatives account for some of the largest sums, the data also reveals how China has pumped millions of dollars into health, education and cultural projects.
China has the opportunity not to get buttonholed like the West whose charity to Africa is today ridiculed as a public relations rite to cover up for the lopsided and exploitative relationship it has perpetuated. It should use its considerable soft power as a civilising influence to tame the primitive instincts of Africa’s leaders.