Africa must ignore ‘sour grapes’ of its Western power critics
This is in reference to the notion of “debt-trap” bilateral deals between African countries and China where Africa over-borrows and ends up losing its independence and economic sovereignty from payment commitments.
The irony and bitterness of the beverage served by the West is that for a sizeable period of the early 21stcentury the World Bank and IMF key global development financial institutions ill advised most African countries.
The structural adjustment programmes applied by these institutions brought about economic crisis and insecurity across the continent.
The much talked-about development aid from the developed countries has not brought any visible improvement of physical infrastructure or uplifted the lives of ordinary Africans.
The retrospective guilt of the West’s track record in Africa makes them unable to recognise Africa’s capacity to conduct business that benefits its people without becoming the victims of foreign powers aimed at sapping natural wealth.
At the same time, the corruption practices that keep wealth in the upper echelons of African society’s elites serve as a real hindrance to sustainable change and development.
The 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) Summit was held amid this and the trade war climate Trump’s US is waging against China and some other trading partners.
And as the African saying goes, “when elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers”.
The truth at the centre of the noise is, however, very simple. The historic monopoly over power that the hegemonic nations used to have on global relations is being diluted by the emergence of the East, spearheaded by China. As such, they will do (and say) anything to attempt to keep the status quo.
China, on the other hand, is making a move to increase its influence on global power relations by securing strategic partners the world over, and the easiest and most beneficial are emerging economies.
None of these polar policies are purely altruistic, but both sides have potential benefits and disadvantages to the recipients. It is up to Africa, in particular, to create relationships that will reap the best possible returns for its people, even if it means leveraging these two giants against each other for the best outcome.
For Africa to be able to silence the naysayers, some house-cleaning procedures must be undertaken. First and most imperative is that Africa must speak with one voice.
It is understandable that of the 55 African states involved in the Focac agreement there are a myriad differing developmental needs, but for the multilateral relationship between these states and China to work there needs to be alignment between the countries.
Second is that Africa must invest in the establishment of think tanks, media and universities to be able to hold China and ourselves accountable and tell our own narrative respectively.
Finally, there needs to be a bolstering of regulatory functions on the continent to narrow the margins of corruption, and actionable consequences when instances occur.
China has committed a further $60billion (R905bn) in loans, grants, and development financing to Africa, but without strings attached.
On the contrary, the perception is that the relative freeness of the structure of the aid will facilitate the prosperous mutual relationship with China that should trickle down to ordinary Africans and not merely afford a luxury lifestyle for politicians.
This is coupled with the type of projects that are intended to be undertaken for vital infrastructural and commercial success, for instance in education and health.
As Africa-China relations enter a golden age, the focus by both Africans and Chinese should be on how to measure the impact of these major projects successfully built - such as the Mombasa to Nairobi railway, Ethiopia to Djibouti railway, hydro power and roads - on the lives of communities.
Since China’s opening up of its economy to world in 1978, it has uplifted almost 700million people from poverty. Africa should equally measure the number of people it uplifts from poverty due to the strategic relationships it is having with external powers such as China.
More importantly, African countries, regional economic communities and the African Union should use the AU’s Agenda 2063 as the best measurement of success or failure of any deals signed with China and other strategic partners.
To what extent are deals signed through Focac advancing Agenda 2063? The rest is muffled noise from the West which must be ignored as nothing but “sour grapes”, as correctly mentioned by Stiglitz.
Monyae is a senior political analyst based at the University of Johannesburg