New Reports on China’s Role in Africa

A new report from the NGO Saferworld details the effect of China’s expanding African presence on the continent’s security and stability.

  • China’s bilateral relations with African states are largely determined by its principles of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. However China is gradually using diplomatic means to push for the resolution of some conflicts such as that in Darfur.

  • China is becoming a major supplier of conventional arms to African states. Critics argue that some of these weapons have been used in human rights violations and have ended up in the wrong hands, for example in Sudan, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • China has increased its troop contributions to UN peacekeeping missions 20-fold since 2000, with the majority based in Africa. It has also participated in multilateral anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden.

  • China is set to play a greater role in post-conflict reconstruction through its economic engagement. Elsewhere its demand for energy and minerals has meant that it has been drawn into conflicts surrounding natural resources.

Chinese firms are deeply involved, for example, in hydropower projects such as Ethiopia’s Gibe 3 and Sudan’s Kajbar dams, which threaten to spark conflict by displacing populations and intensifying competition over scarce water resources. But Saferworld’s China Programme Manager, Bernardo Mariani, stresses that responsibility for Africa lies ultimately in Africa:

“Given its deepening stake in African stability and development, China can play a critical role in promoting peace and security on the continent. Western states and China must work co-operatively in their approach towards Africa. There are certainly shared goals, but also shared failures to overcome.

“Ultimately, however, it is African leaders and civil society that hold the key to addressing conflicts and guiding the international community, including China, to show how support is best delivered to these ends.”

The Guardian’s report on these findings points to an ongoing series from South Africa’s The Daily Maverick, “comparing and contrasting the remnants of white colonialism with the rise of the Chinese” in Africa. The first instalment, from Namibia, echoes Mariani’s assertion that Africa holds the reins:

We are currently writing a book about the Chinese in Africa – this piece will be one of a series we file for The Daily Maverick from the road – and it is way too early in our research to cast stone-cold judgment on Chinese business practices in southern Africa. Indeed, many of the people we spoke to put the blame squarely at the feet of rotten government officials, who are only too happy to engage in the Chinese cultural practice of gift-taking and receiving. (With emphasis here on the receiving.) But one thing is certain – Namibia is a country in flux, confronted with a flood of foreign money that is Janus-faced in its ambiguity: it represents both unprecedented opportunity, and carries with it the threat of end-times.

There is one other thing, a further frisson that fires up young trade union organisers and the other crusaders we’ve met so far: the agency in this epochal moment belongs to Namibians. The Chinese, as they’ve proved time and again, will behave according to the rules on the ground. It’s up to Namibians to make – and enforce – those rules appropriately.

Perhaps this is what we feel on the streets of Windhoek. This sense of change, of a 20-year-old country being forced to make real, grown-up decisions key to its future and its soul. Every country, every people, every person is confronted with such game-changing choices at some point or other. This is Namibia’s turning point. No one writes the ending for them.


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