Among the fulcrum points of contemporary international affairs, the relationship between China and the more than fifty countries that make up Africa is among the most closely watched. Critics and defenders alike cannot say enough about Beijing’s ties with the mysterious continent.
Contemporary realities and prospective gains are what drive a state’s foreign policy. Thus, while it may have been a different set of motives that drove Africa and China to one another between the 1960s and 1980s (this interesting history and its impact on the relationship today will be returned to at a later section), to students watching and studying the relationship between China and African countries, there are three main motives to Beijing’s interest in Africa today. Firstly, there is the oft-stated prospect of natural resources on which most critics tend to end their analysis. Secondly, there are the opportunities to be gained in the vast markets in Africa’s growing middle class. Thirdly, there are political considerations that Beijing has as its main aims and tries to hasten at all times; chief among these is its being recognised as the “one China” instead of Taiwan by African states and, some argue, the alienation of the west within Africa in a battle for economic frontiers and political allies.
Likewise, Africa has a set of its own motives in engaging with China. A cursory look at the African Union’s Vision 2063 will reveal these in depth. But very briefly, we can state here that they include funding for its initiatives to do with industrialisation, infrastructure, as well as education and healthcare in face of the structural adjustment programmes which prescribed austerity measures such as cutting government spending beginning in the 1980s under conditional aid and loans from Bretton Woods institutions.
The relationship between Africa and China has so far not been particularly perfect and harmonious. The most salient example of this is perhaps the reality that China has tended to export more to the continent than the other way round. Even though there are more than fifty African countries, the balance of trade is tipped in favour of China. Looking at the characteristics of the trade, an even more oblique picture emerges as it is clear that China mainly imports mineral resources (timber and forestry from Gabon, copper from Zambia, cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and oil from Angola to mention a few) and in turn exports into the continent manufactured textiles and technologies which, because of their affordability, tend to bring about a crowding-out effect on the continent’s domestic producers. In fact, trade unions have been at the forefront of attempting to curb China’s access to African markets. The Congress of South African Trade Unions in South Africa launched a “buy local” campaign that was motivated by a perceived threat posed by China in 2012. Moreover, more jobs have allegedly been threatened in the West African coast by alleged illegal fishing by Chinese nationals. Furthermore, less than optimum conditions in Chinese-owned factories in Zambia led in 2004 to the death of close to 40 employees in an explosion. And throughout the window period in which African countries were given access to US markets by the American Growth Opportunity Act, Chinese companies allegedly took advantage of that and set-up and registered businesses in Africa so as to gain access to the US market for themselves.
Facts and allegations such as these have become ready points to those who claim that China is neo-colonial in its relations with continental Africa. According to the view, the lopsided and imbalanced trade is reminiscent of the “scramble for Africa” which characterised the colonial relations between the Western European states and their African colonies. In what has been termed the “New Scramble for Africa”, China is cast as the new colonial power in the continent taking advantage of the continent’s citizens and taking away valuable commodities in exchange only for trinkets. Yet, this is a view of the relationship that is grossly over-simplistic. The nuances are not completely appreciated. For example, the risks that China has taken in taking over tottering projects in the continent (Nigeria’s oil sector, and Sudan after allegations of terrorism sponsoring, for example) are overlooked. Overlooked too, are the billions of aid that the People’s Republic gave without conditions to the continent while it was itself still a developing entity in the twentieth century, and even today. The high watermark of Africa and China’s relationship has been formed on the back of these contributions. The People’s Republic also has as one of its claimed principal aims the improvement of the relations into a win-win scenario.
Despite claims to do with China’s “neo-colonialism”, China has differentiated itself from the West by being avowedly non-interfering in internal African governance issues. This has been its niche. But some scholars read into this a lack of long-term orientation in Beijing’s interest in Africa. In other words, China seems to be only – and temporarily so – interested in extracting resources to complete its developmental project. Otherwise, the critics claim, she would be much more interested in improving Africa’s polities as a sign of long-term orientation.
On the other hand, some argue that China is fostering good governance in a manner that is both prudent and organic. As one Chinese government-associated scholar, He Wenping, sees it, “the fact is China is striving to develop economic and trade cooperation in Africa, helping African countries in large scale infrastructure development, raising people’s living standard, reducing poverty and vigorously developing African personnel training programs, which are all helping to build an economic and human resources foundation for Africa to realize democracy and good governance.” Under this view, China may be, coincidentally or otherwise, promoting (at least the conditions for) democratization through bringing in social and economic development and therefore – if democratization theorists are to be believed – will create a middle class that is capable of bringing about democratic change. Economic development also means a rooting out of “careerism” in African politics; alternative forms of enrichment apart from politics in the private sectors improves governance and leads to declines in corruption. Furthermore, according to a Brookings Institute report, China has not been a funder of unscrupulous dictators as is nominally argued. The greatest volume of China’s investment, the report states, is concentrated in democratic or semi-democratic states – Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia. And South Africa, largely considered the most democratic state on the continent, is China’s largest trading partner on the continent.
The earliest contact between China and Africa can be traced to the Han dynasty around 200 BC and more sporadic contacts between then and the seventeenth century when the Qing Dynasty famously began an inward turn and the Emperor banned all outside visitation and either burned sea-going vessels or let them rot without maintenance. But no understanding of the current set of relations between the two entities could be proper without appreciating the immense impact of the Cold War era between the late 1940s and 1980s in which so much of the present world order was forged. It was in these years that USSR-aligned China sponsored and even trained communist and other left-leaning movements in Africa. After the outright break with Moscow, China went on its independent, and in many ways more successful tirade to win allies on the continent by sponsoring those independence and revolutionary parties that were not only anti-West but also not yet in cooperation with the Soviets. The most noteworthy among these movements was perhaps Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and its encompassing Zimbabwean African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) which was fighting a bush war against Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia and went on to become the ruling party of independent Zimbabwe. The great result of this being that the relationship between the two countries is extremely positive today. China also has close relations with Angola and Mozambique for almost similar, though perhaps more controversial reasons.
Other outcomes for the present relations between Africa and China were not entirely positive. Due to its zeal for funding and aiding particularly leftist parties in Africa, in the throes of the Cold War, China may have also alienated some African countries who were pro-West – Cameroon, whose President Ahidjo at the time (1963) stated that “China is one of the states supporting terrorism in Cameroon. We have proof, for Cameroonian terrorists are in Communist China,” is a particular example. Perhaps because of this, Cameroon was among the last African countries to recognize mainland China over Taiwan as the One China. Still, China and Africa share a common and painful history of sufferings under colonial invasions. Today in the modern era, they also share the goal of common development for survival and development in a self-consciously Western-dominated international order.
The almost exponential spike in Chinese investment in Africa occurred in the years succeeding 2000. It cannot be coincidence that this is the year in which the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was established. To date, there have been five such meetings between Chinese and African statesmen. A cursory look at each of these fora will reveal the extent to which they have been a launching ground for initiatives that have gone a long way in pushing African development further.
The first conference, which took place on Chinese soil, passed the Beijing Declaration of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation and the Programme for China–Africa Cooperation in Economic and Social Development which has laid the basis of future forums and engagement. The second conference, which took place in Ethiopia, saw an increase in attendance and awareness as more than 70 ministers from China and 44 African countries attended the conference. The Conference passed the Addis Ababa Action Plan (2004-2006) which had among its declarations both entities’ plans for further trade plans as well as debt relief and development commitments. In the third conference, which returned to Beijing in 2006, PRC President Hu Jintao and heads of state from 35 African countries were in attendance. President Hu rolled out $5 billion worth of concessionary loans to Africa during the summit. As one of the “Eight Measures” for Sino-African relations, President Hu announced the creation of the China-Africa Development Fund to further Chinese investment in Africa with US$1 billion of initial funding with its fund expected to grow to US$5 billion in the future. On the fourth conference, held in Egypt, there was a great deal of introspective reviewing of the Forum and in addition to this, A $10 billion low-cost loan was announced on November 9, 2009, double the $5 billion loan announced and implemented at the 2006 Beijing Summit. Furthermore, Wen announced that China will write off the debt of some of the poorest African nations. He said China will construct 100 new clean-energy projects on the continent covering solar power, bio-gas and small hydro-power and gradually lower customs duties on 95 percent of products from African states with which it has diplomatic ties. He also stated that China would undertake 100 joint demonstration projects on scientific and technological research, receive 100 African postdoctoral fellows to conduct scientific research in China and assist them in going back and serving their home countries. The number of agricultural technology demonstration centres built by China in Africa will be increased to 20. Likewise, 50 agricultural technology teams would be sent to Africa and 2,000 agricultural technology personnel would be trained for Africa, in order to help strengthen Africa’s ability to ensure food security. China also would provide medical equipment and antimalarial materials worth 500 million yuan to the 30 hospitals and 30 malaria prevention and treatment centres built by China and train 3,000 doctors and nurses for Africa. It was further stated that China will build 50 China–Africa friendship schools and train 1,500 school principals and teachers for African countries and increase the number of Chinese government scholarships to Africa to 5,500 by 2012. China will also train a total of 20,000 professionals of various fields for Africa over the next three years. Already, Africa, as a result of these initiatives, became the second largest engineering services contract market for China. Statistically, there are nearly a million Chinese in Africa, with 1,600 Chinese enterprises doing business on the continent.
The presence of China in Africa, and particularly the creation of the Forum has proven effective in ways that could not have been predicted. It has made other entities ever more willing to reconsider their relationship with the continent. In what economists term the “crowding-in effect” the United States under President Obama in particular set itself on a new, China-like path in the wake of the Forum. In what Lauren Dickey, writing for The Diplomat in 2014, labelled the US’s “belated beginning” in “its treatment of Africa as a strategic continent,” the country launched in 2014 the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington; historically, marking the first time a sitting American president had invited all the leaders of Africa to a single event to discuss regional issues and the macro US-Africa relationship (a la FOCAC). If indeed emulation is the highest form of flattery, then FOCAC must rightfully exalt at its exemplary stature. In the meeting, promises were made by President Obama of, amongst others, a $14 billion commitment by U.S. companies for investments in Africa’s construction, manufacturing, energy, finance, and technology sector. With President Donald Trump’s unpredictable administration, we cannot yet say for certain whether this reconsideration of the relationship will continue, but so far there has been evidence that it may not, as the budget for international aid, for example, got considerable cuts proposed (at the time of writing, US Congress was opposing the motion, however).
Nevertheless, regarding the prospect of a far-reaching full win-win relationship, usage of the Forum beyond just as an aid-granting and investment platform must involve tackling other implicative and negative issues. The Forum, for example, has spoken very minimally on perhaps one of the most important issues facing Africa today: climate change. This, no doubt, would be a major bone of contention as Beijing is one of the leading polluters in the world today. But the Forum cannot be said to be living up to its mandate if it fails to delve into potentially polarizing issues of the contemporary age. But it may not be, as shown in an article in Modern Diplomacy, China is ready to be the leader of the clean energy revolution; and even a cursory look at China’s current Five-Year Plan for the years between will reveal quite the extent to which Africa is crucial to China’s aims and will thereby paint a clear picture of the Forum and its significance. The list of the aims include economic growth with a “medium-high” GDP target of 6.5 percent; double GDP and per capita income by 2020 from the 2010 base; foreign investment increase; yuan convertibility by the year 2020; and increase in welfare as well a relaxing of the One Child policy to a Two Child policy all show just how crucial it is for China to have as many economic partners as attainable and Africa, as a source of both natural resources and market frontiers, is indispensable to the rising giant. The Forum, while far from perfect, has an important and increasingly central role to play in harmonising the gains between China and Africa.
Fuelling peace through dialogue over natural resources in Sudan’s West Kordofan
Niematian village in Al-Muglad area of West Kordofan State shares many similarities with other neighbouring villages and towns in the province, where crop-farming, grazing and small-scale trade are the mainstays of the local economy.
Pastoralists of West Kordofan were greatly affected by the 2011 secession of South Sudan, which hindered them from crossing the border as they had done previously in search of pasture and water for their herds.
This has led to concentration of livestock in the already fragile grazing areas in the state, overgrazing around permanent water points and potential conflict with farmers, spread of diseases and livestock death.
Niematian has also experienced a considerable population increase, arising mainly from displaced communities from the Hamar tribe, in the state’s North Babanusa area, and Dinka refugees from South Sudan and the disputed region of Abyei.
This rapid population growth, coupled with failing environmental governance structures, has fuelled environmental degradation. It has also spurred tensions and conflict over land, which on many occasions have resulted in violence.
Between June 2015 and August 2018, UN Environment, with funding from the European Union, implemented the Promoting Peace Over Natural Resources in Darfur and Kordofan project. The project aimed to improve the capacity to resolve resource-based conflicts and to manage natural resources more sustainably and equitably.
The 39-month project was implemented across five areas in West Darfur (Kerenik and Mornie), Central Darfur (Azum) and West Kordofan (Muglad and Babanusa). It was delivered in partnership with two national non-governmental organizations: the Darfur Development and Reconstruction Agency (DDRA) in West and Central Darfur, and SOS Sahel Sudan (SOS Sahel) in West Kordofan.
In 2016, there was an unprecedented situation in Niematian village after farmers expanded their agricultural fields and encroached agreed migratory routes, thus denying pastoralists access to water for themselves and their livestock.
However, thanks to a local reconciliation committee, the dispute was managed and the tension diffused in a thoughtful and reliable way.
“To prevent similar conflicts in future, a peace forum was held in Niematian village January 2017 with the support of SOS Sahel. Community and tribal leaders briefed communities on the forum’s objective and invited five members from each of the 18 sub-villages along the central migratory route to participate in the peace forum,” says Atila Uras, UN Environment’s Sudan Country Programme Manager.
The local administration brought together leaders of the tribes in conflict to not only jointly identify violations but to also explore ways to strengthen relations between them.
The Niematian reconciliation committee, which comprised local leaders from the Dinka, Hamar and Misseriya tribes, continues to resolve conflicts over land use in accordance with customary law.
Furthermore, through a seasonal agricultural committee, which is activated during the rainy season, the tribal leaders in Niematian have been implementing the taleg, traditional rules and customs, to allow free access to crop residue by pastoralists after the collection of harvest by farmers.
“As a result of the forum, and the consequent dialogue, we witnessed a 60 per cent reduction in conflict,” says Bashtanah Mohamed Salim, a local leader from the Misseriya tribe who played a key role in establishing the Niematian peace forum in 2017.
Thanks to the project, conflict resolution training was provided to both local government officials and tribal leaders in all the three states.
In West Kordofan State, the training was delivered in collaboration with the Peace and Development Studies Centre in the state capital Al Fula. It provided tailored guidance on conflict analysis, carrying out risk assessments to intervene prior to conflict, and communications and mediations skills.
In 2008, cognizant of the need to make resource scarcity and competition a platform for cooperation rather than conflict, UN Environment established its Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme. The initiative seeks to address critical knowledge gaps on the role of natural resources in identifying conflict risks and peacebuilding opportunities.
Between 2009 and 2015, the programme co-generated 150 original peer-reviewed case studies by 225 experts and practitioners, covering 12 natural resource sectors across 60 conflict-affected countries. It also provided technical analysis and environmental diplomacy support to Western Sahara, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Sahel region, Sudan and Nigeria to address ongoing or potential resource disputes. In February 2015, the United Nations Department of Political Affairs and UN Environment jointly published Natural Resources and Conflict: A guide for mediation practitioners.
UN Environment has also, in collaboration with the Environmental Law Institute, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Duke University and the University of California at Irvine, developed a groundbreaking massive open online course on environmental security and sustaining peace.
Russia wants to bolster economic ties with Lesotho
In southern Russian city Sochi, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Lesego Makgothi, held wide-ranging diplomatic talks mid-February to understand deeply how to continue to build upon relations in numerous areas especially economic cooperation.
Makgothi, who has been Minister since 2017, made his first official trip to Moscow.
According to the official media release, Lavrov and Makgothi exchanged views on important global and regional issues, including Russia’s participation in international efforts to resolve conflicts and crises in Africa and some ways to ensure sustainable socioeconomic development of the continent.
They noted a desire to expand these relations in all areas, beginning with the political dialogue and then cooperation within international organizations, as well as in trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian areas.
During the discussion, both noted geological prospecting, mining and the energy industry as promising areas. The economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing and mining. Water and diamonds are its significant natural resources.
Both ministers also focused on cooperation in education exchanges. Russia has expanded the quota by five times for students from Lesotho. This will make it possible to meet the interests of Lesotho and to train specialists in healthcare, meteorology and mining starting next academic year, 2019/20.
There was also the possibility of sending law enforcement officers to study in advanced training courses at the educational institutions under the Russian Interior Ministry.
Lavrov informed that an inter-parliamentary Russian-African conference has been scheduled to take place later this year, and Russia would host a general meeting of the African Export-Import Bank’s shareholders.
Lavrov and Makgothi believed that this would make it possible to considerably raise the level of cooperation and to chart specific ways of further enriching Russia’s relations with Africa. He invited Makgothi to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum scheduled for June.
In general, Lavrov and Makgothi advocated for greater cooperation between Russia and the African countries in all areas, primarily within the context of a proposal put forward by President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at the BRICS summit in July 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Lesotho’s geographic location, the southernmost landlocked country in the world and is entirely surrounded by South Africa, makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic developments in South Africa.
Relations between the two countries were established soon after Lesotho gained independence in 1966. Lesotho, with about 2.5 million population, is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
‘Endemic’ sexual violence surging in South Sudan
A surge in sexual violence in South Sudan’s Unity state targeting victims as young as eight years old, has prompted a call from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, for urgent Government measures to protect victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.
Despite the signing of a peace deal between belligerents last September, UN investigators found that at least 175 women and girls have been raped or suffered other sexual and physical violence between September and December 2018.
The actual level of violence is likely to be considerably higher, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva on Friday.
“Obviously (it is) not the whole picture, but they found 175, women and girls who had been either raped, gang-raped or sexually assaulted or physically harmed in other ways,” he said. “And 49 of those girls who were raped, were children.”
Nonetheless, it warns that such incidents are “endemic” in northern Unity state, on the border with Sudan, creating a sense among communities that it is normal to be a victim of sexual violence.
Victim’s testimony recalls recurring attacks
Citing the testimony of one victim, Mr. Colville explained that many women are raped while fetching firewood, food or water – often more than once – as they lack any protection.
“She said, ‘If we go by the main road we are raped, if we go by the bush, we are raped. I was raped among others in the same area repeatedly on three separate occasions.”
The surge in conflict-related sexual violence is attributed to many factors including the breakdown in the rule of law, the destruction of livelihoods, forced displacement and food insecurity, after years of civil war.
Large numbers of armed young men, a ‘toxic mix’
But one of the main reasons is the large number of fighters in the area, who have yet to be reintegrated into the national army, according to the peace deal.
Most of the attacks are reported to have been carried out by youth militia groups and elements of the pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition, SPLA-IO (TD), as well as South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF).
In a few cases, attacks were perpetrated by members of the group affiliated with reinstated Vice President and peace deal participant, Riek Machar, Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO (RM), the UN report says.
“Particularly in this area, there are essentially three main groups who…are involved in these rapes, including the National Government force,” said Mr. Colville. “And a lot of these young men who are heavily armed, are just waiting around…This is a very toxic mix, and there are also youth militia which some of these official groups ally with and you don’t know exactly who they are; they’ve been heavily involved as well.”
Rule of law ‘just not applied’
A key challenge is tackling the prevailing impunity throughout Unity state, which is linked to the volatility of the situation across the country, OHCHR maintains.
“There’s been very little accountability in South Sudan for what is chronic, endemic problem of sexual violence against women and girls,” Mr. Colville said. “Virtually complete impunity over the years, as a result, very little disincentive for these men not to do what they’re doing. The rule of law has just not been applied.”
Mobile courts provide glimmer of hope for victims
Among the practical measures taken to a bid to help vulnerable communities in Unity state, UNMISS has cleared roadsides to prevent attackers from hiding from potential victims.
A mobile court system is also operational in towns, including Bentiu, which has had “some success” in bringing perpetrators to trial, OHCHR’s Mr. Colville said, noting nonetheless that “this is just a drop in the ocean”.
“There are thousands and thousands of perpetrators, there are officers involved, there are commanders who’ve got command responsibility who instead of being investigated and brought to book…have been promoted, and are still in charge of groups operating in this area who are still raping women,” he concluded.
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