Saturday, November 04, 2006
"Trade not Aid": Whither the China-Africa Summit?
From the BBC today: "Beijing is plastered with billboards announcing the China-Africa summit taking place this weekend to highlight the huge and growing relationship with the continent. The summit, called the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, began on Friday and is being attended by the heads of state and government officials from nearly 50 African nations.
Beijing has been busy wooing Africa in recent years. Trade between the two sides is expected to exceed £27bn this year but the Chinese presence has also drawn criticism. The US and the European Union say that China is dealing with what it calls the repressive regimes of Angola and Sudan, ignoring the wishes of the international community. China has been criticised for ignoring human rights and failing to meet environmental standards. However, increasingly reliant on Africa's resources, Beijing defends its actions.
Trade between the world's fastest-growing economy and the 49 African countries it has diplomatic relations with, increased tenfold from £2bn to nearly £20bn over the past 10 years."
The Chinese approach to African development is strictly business, avoiding the 'nation building', governance concerns and 'rights-based assistance' that inform the Western strategy, particularly the UN, donor governments, the World Bank and NGOs. The absence of these carrot-stick methods used by the West is welcome news to many African governments, particularly its most infamous rights abusers, such as Sudan, Angola and DRC--which happen to possess its greatest natural resources.
Will trade with China replace the Western aid machine in Africa's most troubled countries? Twenty to thirty years of foreign aid going to Africa from Western governments have had little impact, and most places are far worse off than they were at the time of independence. This is not the direct fault of the foreign aid machine, of course, but its sustained efforts are not having the desired effect.
Liberal economists and libertarians in the West should laud the Chinese invasion, because the constant hand-holding in the form of charity and aid subsidies by Western institutions has arguably generated a welfare state -- precisely the opposite approach to the domestic policies applied in the US, UK and elsewhere to bootstrap the indigent and marginalized up and out of their dispossessed state. If only the Western aid machine actually created jobs for the beneficiaries of its assistance, I could better defend its presumptions about 'good governance', democracy, and human rights.
Africa's poverty is its greatest challenge since colonialism, that much is incontrovertible. It may well be that increased trade with China allows the man in the street to improve his lot, even as Africa's worst governments remain the unaccountable, cronyistic and self-interested institutions they are today. If so, individuals will stand a better chance of prospering, even if their governments continue to be criminal and inept.