China May Be Right in Africa

In an opinion piece in the July issue of the New African, Dr. Kwaku Atuahene-Gima, a professor at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, writes:

[…] In many ways, China-Africa relations are marketed to the local Chinese population and those in Africa as being underpinned by brotherhood–involving friendliness, respect and mutual understanding and development. This is in stark contrast to the “masterhood” that many see as implicitly or explicitly underpinning the approach of many Western countries in their relations with Africa. 

What is missing from the Chinese approach is the public lecturing about the “right way” to do things–the “we know better” attitude. Instead, the Chinese would like us to think like a brother would; they respect the will and right of Africa to make its own decisions regarding its economic, political and social progress. 


The Chinese have a remarkable ability and agility in embracing paradoxes. Unlike the West, which tends to emphasise either/or, analysis of parts, and the linearity of time, the Chinese think in terms of both/and, whole and harmony, and to consider time as circular. All this means that, to the Chinese, nothing is static and everything is dynamic. This mindset requires constant adaptation and readjustment. 

Likewise, the China-Africa strategy looks at Africa as a whole. China does not subscribe to the good-and-bad dichotomy that characterises much of the Western perception of Africa. China embraces the ‘good’ within its brother Africa, but at the same time does not spurn the ‘bad’. The Chinese ability to balance seeming opposites, coupled with their circular view of time, explains the willingness, and indeed necessity, to deal with nations such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and others which the West sees as “rogue” states. The Chinese mindset also explains their ability to structure fluid development and investment deals which, in many ways, seem incomprehensible in contrast with the rigid, IMF-inspired approach of the West. The ambidexterity of China’s strategy in Africa, and indeed in many other nations, appears to baffle many in the West. 


The lesson from China is that the West is now worried that Africa may learn that if we embrace rather than discard national, social and political paradoxes, we may build governance and other systems that may not be deemed “democratic”, as defined in the West, but may nevertheless be useful to the needs of Africa.

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