Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
On June 18 in Michigan, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed a meeting under the umbrella of the Detroit Economic Club. In a question that seemed to have made him a tad uncomfortable, the secretary of state was informed that Africa appeared to be evolving and transforming rapidly, and further, China was asserting itself in the continent.
He rightly confirmed that Africa is facing two issues. One is extremist groups threatening to tear apart the continent’s fabric of unity. But the second issue is the opportunities that lie in Africa. It is here that Pompeo seems to have stained his otherwise well researched address to the people of Michigan. With obvious jealousy that is always expected from Western countries against China’s foray into Africa, Pompeo downgraded Africa’s growth potential that is underpinned by significant Chinese investments and trade by saying that Africa will see actual growth with a Westernized model of development.
He meant that the foundation for growth in Africa is the rule of law and property rights. In his usual way of disparaging China, Pompeo further claimed that Chinese trade and investments are about exercising political influence in Africa.
African countries and their leaders have grown sick and tired of such stereotyped thoughts coming from Western nations. History has proved that America and European countries are behind Africa’s underdevelopment. They not only colonized Africa but also stripped it of resources and displaced people from their lands.
This is described by Walter Rodney in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa where he argues that the short period of colonialism and its negative consequences for Africa spring mainly from the fact that the continent lost power. Rodney notes that power is the ultimate determinant in human society, and implies that one should have the ability to defend one’s interests and if necessary impose one’s will by any means available.
There is no doubt that when the question of power emanates, it determines one’s bargaining power, the degree to which a people survive as a physical and cultural entity. But as Rodney vividly says, “when one society finds itself forced to relinquish power entirely to another society, that in itself is a form of underdevelopment.”
Instead of Western powers always complaining about China’s presence in Africa, they should transform and improve their strategies for the continent. The old template they applied to Africa is already stale. Africa cannot be developed through conditionalities that only massage the whims of America and Europe.
Through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Europe and America bullied African countries for more than three decades. Those nations seeking access to the General Account of the Fund had to commit themselves to explicit conditions regarding the conduct of their international policies.
Ultimately, African countries in need of financial support to boost their infrastructure, education and health failed to do so as the conditions were too tough. Globally, economists termed the conditions inefficient and mistargeted.
With the urge for greater development, China filled in the void. Its support to Africa has been less bureaucratic and almost without conditions.
As Pompeo and his fellow Western leaders continue complaining about China and its relations with Africa, youths in the continent are grinning having secured jobs in various projects being pursued by China. In Kenya, for instance, thousands of youths continue to earn an income from the construction of the standard gauge railway whose construction is now being extended from Nairobi to Naivasha.
The enormous investments China is pursuing in Addis Ababa have totally transformed the face of Ethiopia, a country once ranked among the poorest in the world. Today, Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that can manufacture its own leather shoes, thanks to support from China. This is the kind of friendship Africa has been yearning for.
Africa’s development can only be shaped by Africans. Europe and the US can therefore involve African leaders in designing the kind of investments and relations that fit them. If they continue condemning China on its relations with Africa, the continent’s ties with Beijing will only get stronger and thrive all the more.
The author is an economist specializing in China-Africa relations. Twitter: @kapchanga firstname.lastname@example.org