Second, with the construction of the African Union headquarters, Beijing is explicitly sending a clearsignal of their intention to engage the whole of Africa – all countries irrespective of politics, history, and geographical size and location. Again, at the Bandung Conference in 1955, China warmed up to six African countries – Egypt, Ethiopia, Gold Coast (now Ghana), Liberia, Libya, and Sudan. Today, China has some ties with almost all countries in Africa except for Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Swaziland, and Sao Tome and Principe, all of which recognize Taiwan.
One of the critiques of Sino-Africa relations has been the reference to China’s association with rogue states, enabled by its principle of non-conditionality. But this is an oversimplification of the issue. In a bid to effectively advance its causes in Africa, Beijing has drawn a fine balance between hushing its minimum pre-conditions, which include the acceptance of the one-China policy, and engaging African states perceived as rogue states like Zimbabwe and Sudan. Also, without the colonial baggage of some Western states, the Chinese have been fortunate in fostering their economic partnerships with African countries with no need for compunction. Beijing’s interests thus extend from the almost “unknown” platinum deposits in Zimbabwe to the known quantities of oil in Angola and Nigeria. Accessing these resources across Africa may for instance require technology in the arid region of Sudan or transportation from landlocked Zambia to the coast of Mozambique. This links us to China’s other well-known effort – helping to construct and reconstruct the infrastructure of many African countries. This effort is in essence a win-win for both parties in the Sino-African sphere. So whether it’s different politics or geography, it’s obvious that Beijing’s attempt to access resources, build markets, and enliven south-south solidarity in Africa is clearly uninhibited by factors that others might see as insurmountable.
Finally, China’s major trump card in competition with other emerging economic stalwarts from Asia and Latin America as well as the traditional European and American powers in Africa is its seemingly untiring capacity to change Africa’s infrastructural landscape. In a recent interview, an Angolan state minister compared the responses of China and the West to helping repair the country’s post-war infrastructure. Whereas the West came with a conditional offer, China offered immediate help with the needed infrastructure. This seems to be a recurring storyline around the African continent. There might be a whole debate about the ratio of African to Chinese workers at these construction sites as well as the “real or hidden costs” of these infrastructures, but there is at least one undeniable fact about Africa’s need for infrastructure, and that is its immediacy.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
If there’s any plan for meaningful and sustainable economic development in African countries, infrastructure development must be a crucial part of it, and in this regard, Beijing is alreadyat work. From post-conflict countries like Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia to transitional economies like Ghana and Uganda, China is assiduously laying kilometers of roads, fixing rail lines, and constructing hydroelectric dams. These may well come at some cost, but at least ones that will hopefully bring some marginal returns to the African people.
In effect, as we attempt to understand the recent surge of China in Africa, a look between the statistics and the anecdotes provides us with some basic glimpses of the path that Beijing is taking to embrace an Africa that is searching for new directions to economic development. For Western nations, China’s grand contributions like the recent African Union headquarters should be perceived as emblematic of a more nuanced and dynamic relationship between China and African countries that needs credible consideration rather than alarmism.
Richard Aidoo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and Geography, Coastal Carolina University.