Africa is this century’s most visible economic battle ground for China and the West. But in recent years, this battle has been intensified so much so that it is being waged out in the open. Last year, Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, visited 6 African countries in an effort, among others issue, to curb China’s influence in this rising continent. Recently, China’s new President, Xi jinping, was in Africa visiting Tanzania and then South Africa where he  joined his counterparts from the BRICS economic bloc. Mr. Jinping’s African trip was out to solidify China’s economic interest in the continent, while reassuring the wary African population that China is here is to stay. So the question is: Which economic powerhouse is more beneficial to Africa’s economic growth?

A China  America_2To address this question requires extensive research, which seasoned analysts on Africa agreed is not yet conclusive. But probably the short answer is both.

First, let us glance at what the competing parties are alluding against each other. The West, for example, is accusing China of taking advantage of Africa’s rich natural resources without regards to Africa’s long-term development. Furthermore, the West charges that China’s activities in Africa undermine the realization of good governance, which is a much needed element in the continent. As part of her 11-day tour of Africa in August of 2012, Hillary Clinton, then U.S. Secretary of State, told a university audience in Senegal that the US was committed to “a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it from Africa.” In a statement which was widely interpreted as aimed at China’s “disregard” of promotion of good governance, Clinton said, “America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep resources flowing.”

China, in the meantime, claims that the West is mischaracterizing China’s involvement in Africa. Contrary to the West’s accusations, China says it looks at Africa as a partner, not a poor continent in need of aid with unnecessary strings attached as the West looks at it. China also counters the West’s criticism with its own. “It was the West which was only interested in African resources, not China,” Lu Shaye, head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s African affairs department, recently told a Hong Kong TV station, in remarks carried on the ministry’s website. Mr. Lu Shaye went further by asking, “What have Western countries done for Africa in the 50 years since independence? Nothing. All they have done is criticize China and that is unfair.”

During his first trip in Africa since he assumed China’s president, Xi Jinping told his Tanzanian counterpart and host Jakaya Kikwete that China’s involvement in the continent will help Africa’s economic growth. “China sincerely hopes to see faster development in African countries and a better life for African people,” Xi said in a speech laying out China’s policy on Africa, delivered at a Chinese-funded Conference Center in Dar es Salaam. Renewing an offer of $20 billion of loans to Africa between 2013 and 2015, Xi pledged to “help African countries turn resource endowment into development strength and achieve independent and sustainable development.”

Meanwhile, at the end of the same week that the Chinese President Xi Jinping began his trip in Africa as president, President Barack Obama hosted a meeting with four African leaders at the White House on Thursday March 28, 2013. These leaders, as the White House sees, are models for the region in terms of good governance, and solid democratic institutions. In his meeting with Ernest Bai Koroma, president of Sierra Leone; Macky Sall, president of Senegal; Joyce Banda, president of Malawi; and Jose Maria Pereira Neves, prime minister of Cape Verde. Obama said, “my main message to each of these leaders is that the United States is going to be a strong partner.”

He said, in a rare admission that America’s dealing with Africa was donor-recipient basis, “not based on the old model in which we are a donor and they are simply a recipient, but a new model that is based on partnership and recognizing that no continent has greater potential or greater upside than the continent of Africa.” Obama, in contrast to China’s accusation that the U.S. gives Africa handouts rather than real investments, says that America means business.

How Africans Should Milk the Sino-America Competition

Due to its rich natural resources, Africa is attracting the attention of the two largest economies the world ever saw—United States and China. The fact is that both countries are acting on good faith; they want their people to prosper. The question is: What have the African leaders in mind; their interest, or their people’s economic welfare? Yes, there are more democratic African countries now than ever. But the level of corruption is still staggering. For start, the governed African class should demand good governance and respect for individual rights from their governments. And in this front, they, the African people, should lean on United States of America since it is the leader of the free-world.

Africans should also loudly ask their leaders to build twenty-first century infrastructure, including roads, bridges, which will allow them to connect their neighboring countries and beyond. In this global economy, it is competitive advantage to have a better infrastructure, which is a prerequisite to having a dynamic economy. And for this end, the Chinese’s work on Africa’s infrastructure is visible in many countries in the continent; and therefore, African should seek China’s assistance.

And finally, the most important aspect the Africans should seek is a transfer of knowledge. While Africa is in a position to choose—that is before their natural resource is dried-up—its leaders should educate tomorrow’s workforce. This is also beneficial to interested foreign countries, including China and the U.S.; and therefore, should invest in Africa’s education system because it is widely agreed upon that the only way to have a solid, dynamic economy is to have an educated workforce as its foundation.

In conclusion, it is safe to say, if the above measures are met, Africa will have a more dynamic, educated, and know-how workforce, because there is no limit to what a free citizen can do and create. Thus, African leaders must take sides: the side of their people—that is in great need of education, healthcare, employment and sustainable development. Or, they can fatten their pockets by siding with whichever country that bribes them to simply extract their countries’ natural resources, in which case if and when any leader chooses the latter, then the responsibility falls upon the people who must demand a change and not give-up until one is realized. Africans must learn to trust themselves, in order for Africa to move forward. And only then will real, long-term economic growth be realized in Africa.

By Abdirahman Takhal.
Source:The African Executive 
Source Date: 4/3/2013
Photo Credit: Liberian children in Monrovia hold Chinese flags to welcome President Hu Jintao on a visit to the country in 2007. Photo: Reuters