Opinion: China at the political conquest of Africa

Am I a Magician? 7 years ago in 2004, I wrote and published this Article. I was then invited in April 2005 at European parliament in Brussels to explain and suggest to the European Union to change its attitude dealing with Africa if they wanted to save themselves. But instead of following my advices to consider Africa with more respect and harmonize a common development, they started from 2006  to try to convince China (without success) to stop his investments in Africa. And as I had prophesied, they could only enter into an unstoppable crisis as soon as Africa would have started its real take-off, thanks to the new generation of Africans and thanks also to China. Please read :


Jean-Paul Pougala

N.B: This article was published in the Magazine Federalist Debates Year XVII, Number 3, November 2004. The original copy can be found at this link : http://www.wfm-igp.org/site/files/FD%202004-11.pdf


The historical relations and the geographical proximity between Africa and Europe could have led as a natural effect to a virtuous development of the two continents, to an integrated development of the two economies, to the formation of a common bloc on the international scene. But Europe has not looked at Africa other than as a source of low-cost raw materials. With this sole objective in mind, Europe has made sure to have in power here and there in Africa Presidents without any political or economic, and even less juridical, background, small dictators who have kept and increased the fragmentation of the continent made by Europe, trying to protect their power by spreading a false nationalism and going so far as to play with the powder-keg of ethnic divisions.

In all official speeches Europe seems to be willing to help Africa to develop, but in fact all has been done for preventing Africa from rising to its feet and for it to remain forever a source of the raw materials Europe needs for its industries. It is political short-sightedness, because a rich and prosperous Africa under Europe’s control would have been a powerful ally for strengthening the European economy and stabilizing the wellbeing of its people.

B- How Europe contributed to bring Africa’s economy to its knees

Although the Agreements of Yaoundé and Lomé have been considered by Panafricanists as a positive step towards a multilateral approach in addressing all together the problems of an integrated development between the two continents, all that has been turned in fact in a mere hypocrisy by Europe. On the one hand, Europe, by its policy of financing its agriculture, and most of all its export of agricultural products to Africa, has brought to its knees the biggest African economic sector, which provides a living to 70% of the population, and on the other hand the EU has granted Africa the freedom of access to its market; however, not to the products which could help Africa’s development, but to the agricultural non-processed products, that have no value. And even in this case, we can find contradictions that show that Europe has never been interested in Africa’s development.

C- One example will illustrate this fact.

After the great African drought of the beginning of the 1970s, Europe financed with long-term loans several agricultural projects of rural development. But in parallel the same Europe caused the failure of these projects, with a huge bill to be paid back by generations of Africans. For example: Cameroon run heavily into debt for creating SODEBLE (Society for Wheat Development); they set up a first wheat plantation of 10.000 hectares, bought in Europe fertilizers, seeds, insecticides, herbicides, bulldozers, tractors, trucks and other vehicles. A few years later, when the harvest was entering its optimal phase, Europe, in order to avoid that its grain-production surplus upset market

prices, raised the rebates to its farmers on the wheat exported to Africa, with the consequences it knew could be expected: Sodeblé’s plans to cover the entire Central African wheat market turned into a nightmare of debit balances; the state of Cameroon had to come in, asking each year Europe for loans in order to keep Sodeblé alive, until its closure with all its hundreds of workers put out of work, some of them perhaps meeting again aboard an old boat to cross the Mediterranean.

D- Europe’s different handling of its relations with Africa and China

In its relations with Africa, Europe has behaved like an irresponsible partner, who only goes after his short-term interests. To the contrary, towards China we see a magnanimous disposition by Europe we have difficulty to find in its past relations with Africa. Delocalization, which is an obvious and appreciable means of revenue distribution at the international level, could have been used by Europe to make Africa develop, by moving to this continent the transformation of the products that Europe imports at a primary stage, like the treatment of hides, the roasting of coffee and the manufacturing of semi-finished products for European industries. That would have been a good aid to Africa’s development, an atypical delocalization whereby Africa’s natural resources were shipped to Europe no longer as raw materials but as semi-finished products. No, it’s impossible. No European entrepreneur could embark on such a concrete aid-to-development process, because he would immediately find himself stopped by the excessive customs duties for importing in Europe his semi-finished products. A finished product like a radio or television set comes from China and enters the EU market with a ridiculous custom duty of 1%. If the same entrepreneur delocalizes to a place one-hour-flying-time from Rome and goes to Tunis to produce the same television set, he will have to pay a custom duty of 40% to have his product enter Europe.

Looking at such a difference in treatment, one could think this is justified by Europe’s protection of its own farmers or breeders, but this conclusion does not hold, because after 2003 the Chinese agricultural products can enter Europe with no custom duty, even minimal. That’s why entire regions, like the Trento-region in Italy, are in despair for the entrance on the European market of Chinese apples, which have a price 10 times lower than Trento’s apples. Why then Europe closes its doors to delocalization to Africa and encourages that to China? Europe fears that Africa could wake up, and not because it could become a competitor like China, but simply because that would deprive Europe of the raw materials it needs.

D- The humanitarian colonialism

At the very moment the Africans are calling for more delocalization to Africa in order to give a concrete help for Africa to raise to its feet, to develop by exporting its resources as semi-finished products and no longer as raw materials, one observes that Europe has unleashed over Africa an armada of NGOs, all of them pretending to work for helping out Africa. All people in economics or otherwise are playing experts on Africa. All of them are organizations that are not informed at all about the real African expectations. They shift the attention from the real African expectations, and orient them towards simplistic and populistic themes, like the cancellation of debt. Africans never put at the top of their claims the cancellation of their debts. Africans want to be in the condition to generate enough resources to pay back their debts, because it would be an illusion to believe that cancelling their debts represents a solution, as the mechanism that led to this situation of indebtedness remains and it is on that that Africa wants to work, on the causes of its underdevelopment and not on the consequences of them. The French President Jacques Chirac may well call for a tax over some world trade activities, but that remains a deceptive manoeuvre of pure political propaganda, whose sole aim is to attribute to himself at a minimum cost the patent of friend of the poor. If he really believed in such a proposal, he would have presented it first of all in the framework of the European Union, where he has concrete means to act. There should be a world government which is granted the necessary authority for applying a tax at the world level… Only a world government will be able to cope seriously and globally with world problems. But until France itself is not ready to renounce its privileged seat in the Security Council, one of the main obstacles to UN reform, it cannot enchant us with its compassion for the world poor.

Without taking into consideration what Africans want for solving the problem of poverty in Africa, clearly explained through the “New Partnership for Africa’s Development” (NEPAD,  www.nepad.org), the European NGOs are making unreal claims in the name of Africa and in their wake every European country announces ostentatiously that it is cancelling the debt for this or that African country. Five years after the first announcements, including those made by the G7, less than 10% of the debts have actually been cancelled as promised; but who cares, everybody has regained his virginity, everybody has again a good conscience. And be prepared for the next claims by the same European NGOs in the name of Africa. Ah, maybe the Darfur.

The Darfur is the new fashionable theme among the NGOs, a problem created after Sudan made a strategic choice centered on China as the major exploiter of its oil. A guerrilla warfare was born (with the financial and military aid of whom?) to claim what does not exist yet, because Sudan is still in the surveying stage of its oil production.

They have overstated the violence between the government and the rebels, between the White Arabs and the Black Christians. They forgot that there are on the ground some African Union’s troops since more than one year, after an agreement between the guerrilla and the central government in Khartoum. Kofi Annan sent a mission to investigate on the alleged genocide, and later its report, stating that “the level of violence… has changed from large scale assaults to individual attacks on a massive scale”, but that no genocide is under way, although measures should be taken to “prevent genocide from happening in the future”, made the American representative in the Security Council slam the door, something never seen before in the history of the UN. Then, who does not want to see the truth in Sudan? What are the interests concealed behind the outcry for a more resolute intervention or possible sanctions? Is Sudan going to be the next Iraq?

Let us hope that the last UN resolution, ordering the Sudanese government to cooperate with the African Union (what it has been doing already for more than one year), will bring about an end to the violence and the humanitarian crisis, and that the African Union is supported in its five year-long effort to bring peace in Africa, from Somalia to Sierra Leone, passing through the Democratic Congo and Liberia and Sudan. It is a long time since Africa has not had such a long period of peace.

E- And one day China came

China wants to replace Europe in the hearts of Africans, and it is going to attain its objective with an amazing ease. It has created an annual China-Africa Forum, gathering in Beijing once a year all of the African countries. In this Forum the African countries make a list of the potential projects to be developed together in 1 or 5 or 10 years. Where in the past Europe was sending its first-job-seekers to be apprenticed in medicine, China has built a huge children hospital and a cancer center. Today almost all African universities are twinned with Chinese universities and the exchanges are very intense.

Where Europe had left community development to its NGOs in search of a generosity patent for Africa, China has instituted the practice of twinning cities and villages, and today almost every African town is twinned with a Chinese town, and most of the community-development projects are carried out within the framework of such twinnings. Africans seem to be quite eager for this new form of cooperation. Sport facilities are being built here and there in Africa, and at the next Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 there should be Africans excelling in disciplines in which usually they are not expected to.

In exchange, what does China want? All this generosity is certainly not guided by philanthropy only. China is, like Europe, attracted by the natural resources Africa abounds in, but it operates trying to present itself to Africans in a guise totally different from Europe’s. China seems to be saying to Africans that it will not be like Europe, which limits itself to take African resources and creates the paradox that in the end it is Africa that has to pay debts to Europe, still remaining poor. Apparently China moves avoiding some recurring mistakes in Europe’s attitude. In several countries China buys raw materials at prices that have nothing to do with those in London’s exchange of the products called, ironically, colonial. The priority in its relations with Africa is given to oil-producing countries. In Sudan, the new Eldorado for oil in Africa, China acts in a quasi-monopoly position.

Angola, which spent months asking Europe for a loan, without getting it, for re-launching its economy after years of civil war, has had a 3 billion dollars loan granted by China, without interests and without any condition interfering in Angola’s internal affairs. This charm dispensing operation is going to have a great success for Chinese diplomacy, which sees in Beijing a parade of political leaders from the African continent.

The Chinese and African businessmen conference is held in Africa (Addis Ababa) in parallel with the ministerial conference of the Cooperation Forum held in Beijing on the same days. In just two meetings, judging from the enthusiasm that can be found in several African capitals, China has gained the lead over Europe in the hearts of Africans, due to the remarkable content of the agreements reached:

1. Since December 2003, all of the African countries can export their products to China without any customs duty, whatever product with no distinction, whereas the ACP-EU Agreements have shown their limits.

2. The 2004-2006 action plan has been adopted, in which the two parties commit themselves in many cooperation areas, covering in practice the whole economic, political and cultural life of a nation: transport, telecommunications, energy and the supply of water and electricity.

And, in addition, there is the cancellation by China of the debts of 31 African countries, the appointment of 8 more of them as countries of touristic destination, allowing them to profit from the godsend of new Chinese tourists, eager to spend so much more as their standard of living goes up.

3. Africa, which was lagging in the area of telecommunications, is today experiencing an exponential growth of new telephone lines, thanks to Chinese technology.

4. Whilst the African countries have been invited to several G8 Summits after Genoa, with never kept promises on the realization of Nepad projects, China is going to provide a financial and material assistance, and also to strengthen its cooperation with Africa in the priority areas identified by Nepad, like infrastructures, the prevention and cure of transmissible and infectious diseases like Aids, paludism and tuberculosis, and the development of human and agricultural resources.

5. While Europe is taking care of Africa’s development through the NGOs dealing with this or that socially-urgent matter, China is committed to create together with Africans the ideal conditions for allowing Chinese enterprises of all sectors to settle in Africa. And on December 17, 2003 in Addis Ababa 17 Chinese enterprises signed 460 million dollars worth of agreements for building factories (producing cement, sugar, textiles), hydroelectric power plants and pharmaceutical companies with Ethiopia, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan and Tanzania. At the signing ceremony the Cape Verde Economy Minister Dr. Avelino Bonifacio stated that these concrete projects are the ones that “mark the difference between Africa-China cooperation and that between Africa and the other world countries (ACP-EU)”.

6. China has launched a quite strange initiative: helping the African countries which are not members of the WTO to join the organization, in order to struggle together for making the rich countries stick to the rules that are more and more sidestepped by these same countries, which should be the guarantors of liberalism in the exchanges among countries. That is how the problem of African cotton may find a possibility to be solved.

In Africa the wind has shifted, the era of institutionalized beggary is going to end.

F- Conclusion

Africa is a continent of 800 million people, and also consumers, at the gates of Europe. In the next 10 years there will come to power in Africa a new ruling class, people born after the European colonization, after the independence of the 1960s, people who do not have the same psychological conditioning of their parents and grandparents, people who, supported by the new information technologies, are very well-informed on whatever is going on in the world, and can properly frame their national interests, no longer basing them on the sentimental feelings with Europe their ancestors had. They are people with a very good education in all cultural, scientific and technical matters, which they have studied or are presently studying in the best universities in the world. With this generation Europe shall learn how to play fairly if it wants to remedy the mistakes of its former leaders and its public opinion. Africa has today an average economic growth rate of 5%. With such a rate, in the next 20 years Africans will start to consume as much as the Chinese today, with a population that will have gone up to about 1,2 billion people. It will have by necessity to consume most of Africa’s natural resources.

How does Europe prepare itself for this phase of scarcity of raw materials? Europe shall learn to consider Africa as a real partner with whom to create initiatives of mutual interest for the two continents, not a mere and perpetual aid beneficiary one would only address for reasons of philanthropic ethics. Will it still have the time to do it? Will it still have the means?

Jean-Paul Pougala

Cameroonian Geostrategy Analyst

Turin, Italy  4 September 2004