CTA Briefing: Chinese Development Activities in Africa

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is an ACP-EU institution working in the field of information for development and tasked to improve the flow of information among stakeholders in agricultural and rural development in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)countries.

The CTA held a briefing on July 2, 2008 in Brussels on “New Drivers, New Players in ACP Rural Development”.  The discussion focused mainly on agriculture in Africa, with subtopics ranging from the role of private foundations and other private initiatives, to South-South partnerships, particularly focusing on China.

China’s commercial approach is certainly changing development paradigms, and has conflated traditional aid with an investment mentality.  By investing in African infrastructure, agriculture and energy, China is not only helping Africa to develop its resources but also supporting China’s own development.  China’s investments in Africa create additional markets for Chinese goods as well as provide energy and food security for the expanding Chinese economy.  One Chinese representative present called it a “win-win” situation.  Certainly, China’s policy of not attaching any political strings to their aid is refreshing for a region that has experienced little autonomy in that department, and the investment is badly needed.  Yet China’s activities lack transparency and coordination, and if Africa is not sufficiently engaged with China to dictate their terms of their own development, the win-win situation may be one-sided.

Europe is visibly nervous about China’s presence in Africa.  Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development, was quoted earlier in the week as saying that Europe is missing out on the “Great Game” in Africa, in which world powers are vying for a strategic position that would assure access to Africa’s markets and resources.  In response to a question on this comment from Eurodad staff member Lucy Hayes, Commissioner Uwe Wissenbach, Coordinator for Africa-China relations, frankly noted that Europe is burdened by having to be politically correct and cannot pursue its economic interests as openly as China.  In his presentation, Wissenbach noted that the European Union is well-placed to act as coordinator between China and Africa.  Francois Traore, President of the Association of African Cotton Producers, responded to this suggestion by questioning how Europe, with its history of mistakes in Africa, can consider itself well-placed for this role.