Law in Contemporary Society
*China in Africa, a New Colonialism or Opportunities for Development? A comparative involvement with the ‘Old Europe’*Underlined text.

From Miss Uchenna Ubekwe’ thoughts.

A substantial amount of literature about China’ investments in Africa particularly drew my attention. After all, it is surprising that such different parts of the world can be lead to interact wth each other. If the US constitution is color blind for some , international business seems so for everyone. The specificities, drawbacks and advantages have been smartly presented, but I thought it was now time to raise the question as to what extent Africa’s future is being written with the scenario of the past with Chinese hands. *

I. China as a neo-colonial power: is the comparison with the previous European powers relevant?*

1. China, a rising giant walking on the Black Continent….

At first sight, China has taken several strategical steps to strenghten the cooperation with the Black continent. However surprising this assocation may be- who would have thought , twenty years ago, that communist China would be an instrumental economic power willing to extent its commercial influence in the most devastated lands in the world?- the parallel between China’s involvement and the glorious European one can easily be drawn. Substantially reported by the media, the Chinese involvement is seen as a threat, willing to deprive the resources from the Africans or also flooding the African market with low price Chinese products. Their involvement is also sometimes described as a tool to promote the Chinese economic model, a communist colossus with capitalist fingers which, eventually , is about to challenge the legacy of the western model of democracy as well as human rights. Peculiar enough, it seems that China gained African support by not questioning the interior affairs of the Africans countries. While France or GB tried to bring to the Black continent ‘enlightment and knowledge’ in keeping with Kipling’s colonialist theories, the Democratic Republic of China do not interfere whatsoever with the internal affairs of the African countries. However, what can be seen as a pragmatic strategy to exercise their power is merely a defensive tool to try to get the markets China needs.

* 2….which involvement is limited by the substantial remaining presence of the previous imperialist powers*

Economically, The real impact of the Chinese involvement in Africa needs to be contextualized. For instance, in terms of oil exportation, the African continent sends 36% of his resources to Europe, 33% to the USA and only 9% to China. What’s more, the biggest companies dealing with the African resources are almost all Europeans. See Total, Shell, or BP. To that extent, Chinese’ investments in the African continent should first be taken for what they really are: mere economic investments in the last ‘developing’ continental market, which are by far nothing comparable to the European legacy and influence. Second, it seems that an imperialism is always accompanied by cultural, linguistic and religious transposition of values. From the riverbanks of the Nile to the Kilimanjaro, and from the end of South Africa to the beaches of the Mediterranean, you are likely to find the British, French and somewhat German legacies to the African continent. Christian schools, military hospitals, constitutions, and, more important, languages. China’s policy is singling out with the previous ones, to the extent that no interference is pressed, be linguistic, religious, political or cultural. Chinese restaurants are scattered all over the capitals, but you will hardly find Chinese schools, companies or missionaries as well established as European ones. Rather, China, somewhat traumatized by the Opium War, seems morally-or at least pragmatically- less willing to engage in any interference policies. This stand gained a tremendous support from the African leaders as well as the African peoples themselves, but will hardly turn to be as extreme as the colonialist one. Therefore, I would not worry about China as colonizing Africa in a modern way, because it lacks- at least for the moment- the elements of cultural, linguistic, religious and ideological domination. Politically stronger and under the watch of the International community, the African countries seems moreover better armed to fight any kind of colonialism. Dominated for over 500 years, the continent is now lagging in every field, and an attempt to control the resources, undermine the economic development or being the battlefield of giant powers’struggle to show their domination would be vain.

* II. The real threat: locals v. imperialist powers*

The real issue about China’s involment in not China in itself, but rather the consequences of such involvement on the political leaders. African countries have a long history of war, political turmoil and…corruption. Transparency is to be required to know where these investments are going, and an independent watchdog to control the investment flux is to me necessary. Although Chinese involvement in the African continent is not comparable to the European one, the effects might however be similar if the money management derives to corruption.

In sum, there is a substantial difference between the Chinese/African cooperation and the neo-colonialism of the previous imperialist powers. While the true nature of colonialism consisted of controlling and intervene in the internal affairs of the countries, as well as creating monopolies on resources, China is exercising a non-interference policy. I would not be afraid of China’ involvement in Africa. After all, Africa needs investments, and should not rely that much on the IMF or the World Bank. However, similarities might occur in terms of result: corruption of the elites, perverse growth that would benefit to a small class of the population, or more dangerous, to old-established family of leaders involved in arm businesses…

在非洲投资您的时间 ( You too, come invest your time in Africa)

Any solution? Well, I guess that Africans exiled all over the world, worried about the future of their mother continent should at some point go back on the promised lands, and be a part of the reconstruction. Africa needs brains, Africa needs upright souls, Africa needs…. pro bono applicants to avert the risks of an endless scenario. Come, and invest your time. If you wish to apply, please contact me. Chinese language a plus, but not a requirement.

-- KamelB - 22 Apr 2009

  • I think we can agree that this is a response to, rather than an edit of, Uchenna's first draft. Your effort went not to the clarification of her ideas, but to the expression of your own, which sometimes coincided with but more fundamentally differed from hers. The assignment to edit others' work is not the same as an invitation to develop your own ideas; I make explicit that purpose when it is the purpose. But what we are trying to do here is to cultivate other skills: the ones, in particular, that enable us to build upon the contributions that our colleagues make to a common project.

  • Taking your project on its own terms, I think the readiest area of improvement would be to step back from the Euro-centric form of political analysis that is an unspoken assumption here. Indeed, as you say, the form of imperialism that grew from the European scramble for Africa is no longer in full flower. But the older and more durable forms of exploitation have gone nowhere, and Uchenna was writing about one. Your response is to emphasize the importance of the European stake, and to deprecate the Chinese relevance with a rather dismissive "isn't it quaint that the Chinese would have come out of their sphere to be so far away as Africa" sensibility, accompanied by a question about who'd have thought it twenty years ago, as though the Chinese hadn't been in Africa, building non-alignment and Third World solidarity, twenty years ago as well. The Euro-centric perspective would be pretty clear even if the rhetoric didn't wind up in a peroration about "what Africa needs," which turns out to be that the descendants of Africans finally getting some chance at a share of the wealth and power they're entitled to as equal citizens of rich societies should give up that effort, and go back to Africa to help out.

  • If we are really framing an attitude about Chinese investment in Africa, it would make sense, I think, to start from an Afro-centric point of view. Uchenna's draft did, and concluded that two primary interests could be distinguished there: the leaderships of militarized kleptocracies, grateful for Chinese non-interference in their despicable regimes, which constantly experience intrusive demands for reform from the international financial organizations; and the people in those states, who are overly impressed by the sight of Chinese-funded infrastructure monuments that may not actually improve their lives, and are about equally poorly served by the US "international aid" scams that benefit Bechtel and the Chinese resource extraction deals that benefit the kleptocrats. At least, Uchenna hypothesizes, the competition may bring some actual attention to meeting peoples' needs. Those points could have been made more clearly, and some realism could have been injected about what will happen in the new smaller global economy, when Chinese manufacturing is contracting and Chinese social stability is becoming a problem for the CCP. But switching away from the actual present concerns to lofty observations about "what Africa needs" doesn't constitute a very productive response.


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r4 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:26:53 - IanSullivan
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