Chinese President Xi Jinping has been hosting multiple African heads of state, government and foreign ministers as part of the 2018 Beijing Summit on China-Africa Cooperation. As part of the summit, Beijing has promised an additional $60 billion worth of investment, aid, loans and credit lines into economies throughout Africa in addition to the billions that China pledged during the recent BRICS summit in Johannesburg.
China’s official Xinhua news outlet describes the main goals for Sino-Africa cooperation as outlined by President Xi in the following way:
“On industrial promotion, Xi said a China-Africa economic and trade expo will be set up in China and Chinese companies are encouraged to increase investment in Africa. China will carry out 50 agricultural assistance programs, provide emergency humanitarian food aid amounting to 1 billion yuan (147 million U.S. dollars) to African countries affected by natural disasters, and send 500 senior agricultural experts to Africa.
On infrastructure connectivity, Xi said China will work with the African Union to formulate a China-Africa infrastructure cooperation plan and support Chinese companies in taking part in Africa’s infrastructure development by way of investment-construction-operation or through other models.
On trade facilitation, Xi said China will increase imports, especially non-resource products, from Africa and support African countries in participating in China International Import Expo. The least developed African countries will be exempted from paying exhibition stand fees, he said.
On green development, Xi said China will undertake 50 aid projects on green development, and ecological and environmental protection, with a focus on climate change, ocean, desertification prevention and control, and wildlife protection.
On capacity building, Xi said China will set up 10 Luban Workshops in Africa to offer vocational training for young Africans. China will also train 1,000 high-caliber Africans, provide Africa with 50,000 government scholarships, sponsor seminar and workshop opportunities for 50,000 Africans, and invite 2,000 African youths to visit China for exchanges.
On health care, Xi said China will upgrade 50 medical and health aid programs for Africa, with a focus on flagship projects such as the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention and China-Africa Friendship Hospitals.
On people-to-people exchanges, Xi said China will set up an institute of African studies and enhance exchanges with Africa on civilization. China welcomes Africa’s participation in the Silk Road International League of Theaters, the Silk Road International Museum Alliance and the Network of Silk Road Art Festivals.
On peace and security, Xi said China will set up a China-Africa peace and security fund and continue providing free military aid to the African Union. A total of 50 security assistance programs will be carried out in the fields including UN peacekeeping missions, fighting piracy, and combating terrorism”.
While urging China’s African partners to avoid wasteful vanity projects and instead focus on sustainable infrastructural and human development projects, China’s long term goal is to transform the manifold economies of Africa into harmonious entities cooperating with one another within the frame work of the One Belt–One Road initiative. In this sense, while the African Union was officially formed under its present guise in 1999 upon the signing of the Sirte Declaration and while the overarching concept of Pan-Africanism long predates the Sirte Declaration, One Belt–One Road realistically gives African peoples and nations the most realistic opportunity to pursue cross-border cooperation while investment from the Chinese superpower helps to transform Africa’s economies by modernising production capacity and export productivity, all the while raising living standards and thus helping African economies transform from net recipients of aid to what is potentially one of the world’s largest consumer bases.
During his meetings with African leaders, Xi once again held a private session with South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa who recently hosted the BRICS summit where the China’s President affirmed Beijing’s commitment to a long term Sino-African partnership. While China’s commitments to Africa are objectively positive moves for the world’s most economically neglected and underdeveloped economy, beyond specific initiatives and cash injections, China’s African partnership initiatives represent a clear break from a colonial past that continues to stifle African development.
In 1986, US President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, although Congressional support for the Act was strong enough so that American Congressmen opted to override the Presidential veto. Even so, Reagan’s Treasury Department remained accused of minimally enforcing the sanctions on Apartheid South Africa. Reagan’s sympathies with the Apartheid government in South Africa were well known as were those of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who also stood against the anti-Apartheid sanctions pursued by both the (British) Commonwealth and the European Economic Community (the predecessor to the European Union).
Ultimately, by the early 1990s, the successors to Reagan and Thatcher, George H. W. Bush and John Major had all but given up the clear sympathies to Apartheid of their predecessors. That being said, Bush and Major were anything but ANC Revolutionaries let alone egalitarians. They instead sensed that a wind of change was blowing through South Africa and as two economies with historic links to Pretoria, they did not want to be cut out of future economic deals with a post-Apartheid South Africa.
Nelson Mandela’s capacity to forgive both his domestic and international opponents upon his election as the country’s first president under a majority rule system in 1994, led to the corporations in both the US and UK to breathe a collective sight of relief. The fact that the USSR, a staunch supporter of the Mandela’s ANC party throughout the Cold War had ceased to exist, further meant that a weakened Russia was no longer in any place to compete with the west in terms of economic deals in the rainbow nation.
Since 1994, South Africa has grown into a very different nation. At the same time, the watershed end of Apartheid, the last vestige of overt imperialism in Africa did not help poorer African countries that have been trapped in a cycle of debt to western governments and banks. Crucially, the debt that has been accrued has not led to the poor African nations in question having much to show for it.
When Africa’s petro-economic powerhouse Libya was violently “regime changed” in 2011, the violent NATO orchestrated murder of Muammar Gaddafi, the best ally of developing African nations, sent shockwaves throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Many in the west still cannot fathom the fact that the assassination of Gaddafi was in many ways the most universally shocking movement in pan-African history since Mandela’s election. But while Mandela’s election was a source of pan-African celebration, Gaddafi’s assassination was a deeply grim moment for much of sub-Saharan Africa. While the Arab world largely turned on Gaddafi even prior to 2011 as a tide of religious extremism overrode Gaddafi’s secular revolutionary pan-African government with Islamic characteristics, both the Christian and Muslim nations of sub-Saharan or “black Africa” lost an ally on both an economic and psychological basis.
Since then, South Africa in particular has taken what is often perceived as a radical turn as proposals from the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters to redistribute white owned farmland to black farmers is now an official policy of the ruling ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa.
But the biggest change to take place in Africa in the 21st century is the emergence of China as a major infrastructural, financial and trading partner to a plethora of African nations. While China, like the USSR before it does not have the baggage of colonialism that many European nation have, there are far more compelling reasons as to why China and nations throughout Africa are looking to expand their partnerships.
What Africa needs more than anything is sustainable development. Put simply, this means that Africa needs to be given the modern tools to help African nations and peoples to generate their own wealth for decades and centuries to come without being reliant on a corrupt cash cycle whereby western loans and “aid” are simply a method of making the rich African elites richer while the condition of the poor remains largely the same. Africa also needs to cultivate new avenues to trade its existing goods while at the same time, African consumers need access to foreign finished goods to elevate their standard of living. Overall, African nations need to reduce their poverty rate and as a country that has great experience in reducing poverty among millions of people in a short period of time, China is able and willing to impart its own knowledge based on experience to its African partners.
Apartheid South Africa was in many ways the last vestige of an imperialist western civilisation that promoted the superiority of western culture and western people above those from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Within the hierarchy of Apartheid society, those of European background were on top while those of an indigenous African background were at the bottom. Today, while racism still exists throughout the west, society has moved on from the formal Apartheid that pre-1994 South Africa both explicitly defined and enforced to its logical extreme.
However, when it comes to western foreign policy, Apartheid is still very much alive. In the western foreign policy narrative, western nations are held up as paragons of virtue, Asian nations are either seen as vicious rivals or backward and in need of enlightenment, Latin America is seen as a place where those who Europeanise are superior in terms of development to those with indigenous characteristics, while Africa is seen as a place to exploit, deride and then ignore.
China has broken this cycle of foreign policy Apartheid by embracing the win-win format which stresses equality, respect, pragmatism in the purist of egalitarianism and material wealth create for the benefit of all. This is the reason why China is now the most important foreign partner of most African nations. China has broken the cycle of foreign policy Apartheid and millions of Africans are fully aware of this.
In this sense, not only is China’s contemporary interactivity in Africa symptomatic of a new global economic order based on the Chinese characteristics of non-interventionism, non-ideological respectful bilateral relations and results based bespoke economic packages which suit the needs of any given partner nation, but beyond this, the new ‘ChinAfrican’ century represents a clear break from the corrosive colonial mentality of the past. Today, China and African nations that never had a colonial relationship with one another, work as partners embracing the co-equal principles of win-win relations without the baggage of the European colonial past which has continually hindered African progress throughout much of the post-colonial period.