3 Nov 2006
Trust the Chinese when it comes to showing off. As more than 40 African heads of state gather in Beijing for the ongoing Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the rulers of China have done everything to impress their visitors and sell the image of Beijing to the hordes of journalists accompanying them.
The authorities have reduced car circulation, hosted flags of African States at Tiananmen Square and placed billboards with Afro-centered messages and images on Beijing streets. All stakeholders in this type of gathering are putting up their best to get a piece of the action. Hotels, Tour companies and other service providers are reportedly putting up a very friendly face.
Meanwhile, the heads of states are holding separate meetings with Chinese businesses and the Chinese government estimates that about 2500 business deals would have been concluded at the end of the summit.
As China emerges as a superpower, she has been actively courting many countries around the globe and particularly in Africa to form a sort of business partnership with her. The very presence of this number of African heads of state in Beijing is proof that the diplomatic offensive has paid off.
A decade ago, Sino-African trade volume amounted to about $5 billion compared to about $40 billion in 2005. African oil now accounts for a third of China’s import and Angola is the largest supplier of oil to China. The Chinese are prospecting for oil and other raw materials all over Africa including such remote African countries like Niger and Mauritania. With a population of about 1.3 billion and an economy that has been growing about 10% per annum for the past decade, China has an insatiable quest for raw materials to feed her expanding economy.
It is not an overstatement to say that there is a second scramble for Africa. The volatility of the Middle East (main source of crude oil for the U.S) has pushed America to turn increasingly to Africa for her oil needs. The Americans are not concealing the fact that they now consider the Gulf of Guinea area in Africa to be of their ‘strategic national security interest’. As the Chinese lurch aggressively into the area in search of raw materials, there are fears that Africa may in future become a theatre of conflict between these energy hungry giants.
The reaction of ordinary Africans to the coming of the Chinese range from praise to condemnation. Some welcome cheap Chinese products that have helped the poor in no small way. Others point to the development projects like road construction executed by Chinese companies. On the other hand, there has been unease among citizens in many countries as many Chinese petty-traders invade the wholesale and retail outlets of some commercial activities. China’s romance with such brutal regimes like Al Bashir’s in Sudan has really tainted Beijing’s image in the eyes of many African intelligentsia. The Americans have faulted Beijing (and rightly so) on this issue but unfortunately they too do not have a good track record.
In the eyes of Africans, it is easy to draw a parallel between Beijing’s economic ties with Sudan and that of the U.S with Apartheid South Africa of yesterday. Could someone tell the Chinese to show more concern for the plight of the victims of some of these despotic African leaders?
Njei Moses Timah