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China-Africa Relations

Tag Archives | China-Africa Relations

In Sudan, Remnants of Colonialism’s Dead Hand

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UN peacekeepers at a camp for internally displaced persons in Juba. Isaac Billy/UN

“The negotiations have to be serious. They cannot be a delay gimmick in order to continue the fighting and try to find advantage on the ground at the expense of the people of South Sudan.” – John Kerry

UN peacekeepers at a camp for internally displaced persons in Juba. Isaac Billy/UN

Hopefully the recent ceasefire agreement between the warring parties in South Sudan will halt that country’s downward spiral into civil war. But if it does it will have to buck the convergence of two powerful historical streams: a legacy of colonial manipulation dating back more than a hundred years, and the current policies of the U.S. vis-à-vis the African continent. South Sudan became a country in 2011 when its residents voted overwhelmingly to separate from the Sudan, at the time the largest country in Africa.

But a falling out late last year between South Sudan President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, and Vice President Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer tribe, has plunged the country into war. Cities have been sacked, thousands killed, and almost 200,000 people turned into refugees. The birth of continent’s newest nation was largely an American endeavor, brought about by a polyglot coalition of Christian evangelicals, U.S. corporations, the Bush and Obama administrations, the Congressional Black Caucus, and human rights supporters.

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The China-Comoros Malaria Eradication Experiment

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Artemisinin. Photo: Brigitte Betzelt

The Economist on January 25, 2014, carried an article by Shannon van Sant — “Malaria eradication: cure all?

Artemisinin. Photo: Brigitte Betzelt

Shannon van Sant analyzes the fascinating and controversial effort by Chinese researchers, a Chinese drug company, and the Government of the Comoros to eradicate malaria across their three islands, and 700,000 people, using several rounds of an malaria treatment: artemisinin, developed from a Chinese herb, for the entire population, one by one. The questions she raises are good ones. Being myself in the middle of an intensive, months-long IRB (Institutional Review Board) process at Johns Hopkins to allow me to move forward on grant-funded research on Chinese agricultural investment, I can say that (no surprise) it appears that China lags behind in imposing rigorous safeguards for ethical research practice.

1. Are side-effects being monitored in a systematic way?
2. Are people who participate doing so with adequately informed consent?
3. How commercial is the motivation, given the involvement of China’s Ministry of Commerce and the Chinese drug company?

Van Sant concludes with two interesting comments. First, she notes the point made by the Minister of Health in the Comoros, Dr. Mhadji, that Western criticism may not be unbiased: “Not that the West is a disinterested party, for Western firms, too, manufacture artemisinin-based malaria therapies. On that point Dr. Mhadji has strong views. He dismisses criticism of the experiment as fuelled by competition between Western and Chinese pharmaceutical companies.” And she concludes with two great quotes from Nick White and Oscar Wilde:

As Nick White, a malaria researcher at Oxford University’s School of Tropical Medicine who has been working for years on eradicating malaria, says, “This research is radical. It is controversial. It is led by a very famous Chinese physician and investigator. There are lots of very serious questions here and a lot of unknowns.” Or, as Oscar Wilde more succinctly put it, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

A lot of reporting went into this story. It is very well-balanced and insightful, and pulls in informed voices from different sides of the debate. Other islands (Mauritius, for example) eradicated malaria by compulsory spraying of DDT inside people’s houses. This option is no longer available and obviously contained its own risks. I’m not a public health expert — but I’m interested in comments from readers who are: what is your take on this experiment? What is the WHO position on it?

The Risks for the Region of a South Sudan Civil War

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Civilians seeking refuge at a UN compound in Bor, South Sudan. Hailemichael Gebrekrstos/UN

The turmoil that erupted in Juba last month threatens to ignite a full scale ethnic civil war.

Civilians seeking refuge at a UN compound in Bor, South Sudan. Hailemichael Gebrekrstos/UN

If peace talks fail, a potential genocide may even result. Certainly, political risks for foreign investors and neighboring governments would increase under such circumstances. Given South Sudan’s position as a regional oil producing country, a civil war would also close transnational energy corridors throughout Central/East Africa and fuel regional instability.

South Sudan’s economy is the world’s most oil-dependent, with Juba’s oil exports accounting for 98 percent of the country’s revenue (as of January 2012) and approximately 80 percent of its gross domestic product. South Sudan’s GDP per capita of just $1,100 ranks low even by African standards, so control over oil production is naturally a contentious issue. When rebels seized control over the strategic town of Bentiu (the capital of the oil-rich Unity Province) last month, fears that a full scale war would erupt were a source of great concern. As is the case in Libya, South Sudan’s government knows that it will lose power if non-state actors seize de facto control of the petroleum production facilities, as the national economy is held hostage.

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Remembering Mandela’s Foreign Policy

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President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela in Philadelphia, PA, July 4 1993

When I heard the news that Nelson Mandela, our beloved Madiba was gone, I had flashbacks to the first time I laid eyes on my South African wife.

President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela in Philadelphia, PA, July 4 1993

I didn’t know much about South Africa at the time, and for some reason or another I kept calling her Mandela over the course of the entire evening. Thinking back, why she agreed to a date is beyond me. However, the point I am trying to make is even as a very young international relations student, an American who had never left the borders of the United States, I knew about Mandela and what he stood for. Today, our beloved Madiba is gone. Much is being said about his values and principles that made him a global icon. And it was Nelson Mandela’s international stature and profile in the early and mid-1990s which often became South Africa’s image, and in some cases, its foreign policy.

When Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, he and South Africa as a nation became a symbol for reconciliation and bringing peace for having overcome apartheid. Speaking at Harvard University after receiving his honorary doctorate in 1998, Mandela stated that Harvard embodies the spirit of universality which marks a great university. “To join the ranks of its alumni is to be reminded of the oneness of our global world…Hence our universal obligation towards the building of a world in which there shall be greater equality amongst nations and amongst citizens of nations,” Mandela reiterated.

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South Africa’s Relations with China and Taiwan

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Jacob Zuma

The Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University published a policy brief in November 2013 titled “South Africa’s Relations with China and Taiwan: Economic Realism and the ‘One China’ Doctrine” by Ross Anthony, Sven Grimm and Yejoo Kim.

The authors conclude that at the heart of the relationship between South Africa, China and Taiwan exists an economic pragmatism which functions in tandem with a policy of diplomatic isolationism.

Rwanda’s Development Drive

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013.  Photo: Moritz Hager

For many Rwanda is synonymous with genocide. However, since the inter-ethnic conflict has ended, President Paul Kagame’s government is focused on revolutionizing Rwanda’s public image and converting the nation into the economic powerhouse of East Africa.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013. Photo: Moritz Hager

After coming into office in 2000, Kagame outlined his primary economic objectives: privatize state-owned industries, reduce financial regulation for businesses and transform Rwanda from an agricultural economy to a knowledge-based economy. What is helping to achieve these objectives is the government’s wide-ranging advisory support from institutions such as the Singapore Economic Development Board, the Clinton Foundation and the African Development Bank.

In terms of infrastructure development, Rwanda ranks 96th out of the 144 countries surveyed in the Global Competitive Index. This is due to major transport deficits which impede national and regional connectivity and contribute to the high costs of doing business. In response, the government has instituted the National Transport Sector Policy which provides the implementation framework for transport development. Among the envisaged projects is an ambitious transnational railway line which will link the Rwandan capital, Kigali, with the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. Since the Rwandan section costs an estimated $1.5 billion the railway line will rebate its cost by creating a cheaper and more efficient trade route for Rwanda to export its agricultural products and mineral wealth to international markets. More importantly, the railway line is expected to reduce the cost of importing machinery and construction material - both of which are imperative in the development of Rwanda’s infrastructure.

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China Confronts Terrorism in Africa

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A Somali soldier in Afgooye, Somalia. Tobin Jones/UN

China’s counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks on the United States has increasingly been pursued in the context of the global war on terror.

A Somali soldier in Afgooye, Somalia. Tobin Jones/UN

Exhibit number one is its preoccupation with terrorism in the troubled Xinjiang region of northwest China inhabited primarily by the Muslim Uighur people. China underscored this concern following the 28 October 2013 vehicle crash in Tiananmen Square. Chinese officials said the incident was a terrorist attack perpetrated by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group linked to Xinjiang. The United States listed ETIM in 2002 as a terrorist organization. In October 2013, Pakistan, at China’s request, banned ETIM and two other organizations that are active in Xinjiang.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, speaking at the United Nations in January 2013, identified four themes in China’s international counterterrorism cooperation. First, China fully respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries that are combatting terrorism. Second, China seeks to leverage the UN and the Security Council as the main channel of cooperation and welcomes the establishment of the UN Counterterrorism Center. Third, China believes in a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes as well as the symptoms of terrorism. Fourth, it argues there should be no double standard; all terrorist organizations including the ETIM must be condemned and defeated.

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China’s $1 Trillion for Africa

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Chinese-owned supermarket

China-US Focus published on 26 November 2013 a piece titled “China’s $1 Trillion for Africa” by Robert Rotberg, Fulbright research chair at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Rotberg concludes that China thinks it will be easy to finance $1 trillion for projects in Africa, but whether Africa can absorb that amount of money will depend on good governance and high-functioning leadership across Africa.

What Game is Gambia Playing with Taiwan and China?

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Yahya Jammeh

Until 15 November 2013, Gambia was one of only four countries in Africa that recognized Taiwan. On that date, President Yahya Jammeh announced that Gambia had cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan for reasons of “national strategic interest.” Gambia hoped to remain friends with the Taiwanese people, he said. A day after making the announcement, Jammeh posted on Facebook that the People’s Republic of China is the only China Gambia recognized diplomatically as the country goes forward. There has been no indication that Beijing has recognized Gambia.

A report in the 19 November 2013 Taipei Times titled “Taiwan Declares Ties with the Gambia ‘Terminated’,” states that last January President Yahya Jammeh requested $10 million in cash, which is contrary to Taiwan’s foreign aid policy. Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Lin, said there is no indication that Beijing had anything to do with this unexpected decision by President Jammeh. He added that should China and Gambia establish relations, “it would be a very serious warning to us.” Taiwan and China have had an informal diplomatic truce on the issue of diplomatic representation since the election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.

Paths to Achieve Peace and Security in Africa

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A Somali woman waiting for medical treatment from AMISOM. Stuart Price/UN

It is impossible to separate peace and security in Africa from economic development, democratic governance, and improvement in the daily lives of Africans, including those from ethnic and religious minorities.

A Somali woman waiting for medical treatment from AMISOM. Stuart Price/UN

A significant failing in any one of these three areas will put in serious doubt the ability of a country to maintain peace and security. Africa has experienced impressive economic growth in recent years. That is the good news. At the same time, too many African countries continue to experience conflict. That is the bad news. Conflict can quickly reverse the benefits of even strong economic growth. Fragile states are especially susceptible to conflict.

The African Development Bank estimates there are 20 “fragile states” today in Africa. Almost half of these states qualify as “middle income,” a shift from a decade ago when most were low-income countries. The African Futures Project, a collaborative effort involving the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa and the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, uses criteria that identify 26 fragile African countries. It projects that 10 of these countries will remain fragile until at least 2050. Whether the number of fragile states in Africa is 20 or 26, the large number is of concern for many reasons. Adding to the concern is the estimate that by 2050 some 23 percent of the world’s population will be living in Africa.

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Political Risk Factors Facing Chinese Investment in Africa

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Johannesburg, South Africa

The Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS) at Stellenbosch University published in September 2013 a paper titled “Political Risk Factors: What Chinese Companies Need to Assess When Investing in Africa” by Gerda du Toit, a research intern at the CCS.

She argues that security is becoming a more important factor for Chinese firms as they expand investments in Africa. Economic development, social development, political instability, corruption and political violence are host country factors that may shape the African political environment and Chinese firms’ exposure to political risk.

The U.S.-China ‘Cold War’ in Africa

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Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Dakar published on 21 August 2013 a piece titled “The US-China ‘Cold War’ in Africa” by Kyle Benjamin Schneps, junior fellow at ISS Dakar.  While the commentary makes some useful points, the overall thesis is unfortunate. There is commercial competition between the United States and China in Africa just as there is commercial competition between the United States and all other major trading nations. As the author points out, China and the United States also have a different approach to Africa, but this hardly constitutes a “Cold War.” The author suggests that the purpose of President Obama’s recent Power Africa Initiative and Trade Africa Initiative is to counter Chinese influence in Africa. There are many reasons for these initiatives and “countering Chinese influence” is not very high on the list.

The analysis also contains some factual problems. It notes that President Xi Jinping and his predecessor have made five tours to Africa in the past decade, while Obama only made his first full tour this year. While factually correct, this statement compares apples and oranges. The visits of China’s leaders cover a decade and for Obama less than five years. President George Bush made visits to Africa in 2003 and 2008 while President Obama made a brief, earlier visit to Ghana.  The article mentions U.S drone bases in South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. I am unaware of any such bases. There are U.S. drone operations in Djibouti, Niger, Ethiopia and the Seychelles. The commentary also notes that the United States severed formal diplomatic ties and aid with Guinea Bissau in April 2012. Actually, Washington suspended embassy operations in Guinea Bissau in 1998.

China’s Response to the Islamist Threat in Mali

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Chadian soldiers secure Gao airport, north of Mali. Source: Christian Science Monitor

China has traditionally been relatively passive when it comes to dealing with extremism and terrorism in Africa.

Chadian soldiers secure Gao airport, north of Mali. Source: Christian Science Monitor

China’s response this year in Mali to earlier Islamist successes, which have at least temporarily been halted by French and African military intervention, suggest that Beijing may in the future pursue a more activist counter-extremism policy. Mali has faced a long-standing internal rebellion by the Tuareg people, who demand an independent state of Azawad in the northern part of the country. Partly as a result of mishandling the Tuareg rebellion, Mali in March 2012 experienced its first coup in 21 years. Al-Qaeda-linked groups took advantage of the turmoil and effectively hijacked the Tuareg rebellion. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, which splintered from AQIM, controlled northern Mali by mid-2012.

Since its independence in 1960, Mali has had cordial diplomatic relations with China. Mali’s recently deposed president had visited China four times between 2004 and 2010. President Hu Jintao visited Mali in 2009. While China-Mali trade is not significant for China, it is important for Mali; China is its largest bilateral trading partner. China has invested about $50 million in Mali and is a major supplier of aid. Some 1,500 to 1,800 Chinese nationals reside in Mali. Following the coup, China called on all parties in Mali to return to normal order and to uphold national unity and stability, a traditional Chinese response to such events. As the situation quickly worsened, China urged the Economic Community of West African States to lead mediation efforts in Mali, a response that is also in accord with its policy of non-interference in a country’s internal affairs.

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Obama’s Missed Opportunity in Africa

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President Barack Obama participates in a joint press conference with President Macky Sall of Senegal at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, June 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama participates in a joint press conference with President Macky Sall of Senegal at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, June 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

Africans anxiously awaited President Obama’s return to sub-Saharan Africa, but they may be disappointed when he leaves Wednesday unless he announces a major initiative to promote trade.  Many remember his first trip — a 24-hour visit to Ghana in 2009. During that brief stay he said, “Development depends on good governance — [the] ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That’s the change that can unlock Africa’s potential.”

Obama — who visited Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania on this trip — spoke Sunday to an audience of future African leaders at the University of Cape Town.  Obama could have used that opportunity to stress a new vision for Africa, where 50 percent of the population lives in poverty. He could have emphasized that trade is worth five times more than aid.

The Cape Town speech could have been a defining moment for Mr. Obama, with millions of Africans tuned in.  He had a chance to set the tone for a new engagement policy for sub-Saharan Africa and to continue the legacy of his predecessors.  Instead, Obama pledged more aid — $7 billion for electricity projects in five African nations — and warned the audience not to trust any foreign country or company offering to build projects unless they benefit Africans themselves.  Obama also alluded to the U.S. holding a summit with African leaders next year.  Obama squandered a chance to announce that he would work to make the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) a permanent program and spread the benefits of free trade throughout the continent.

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U.S. Ignores Sub-Saharan Africa

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President Barack Obama and Professor John Evans Atta Mills, President of the Republic of Ghana, hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, March 8, 2012.  Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama and Professor John Evans Atta Mills, President of the Republic of Ghana, hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, March 8, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

African leaders are skeptical about President Obama’s engagement of sub-Saharan Africa, in part, because he has been there only once since becoming president, visiting Ghana in 2009 for less than 24 hours. What’s more, when Mali’s government called out for help to subdue Islamist extremists who had overrun the northern part of the country, the Obama administration demurred.

Mistrust and resentment exist in sub-Saharan Africa, and present a challenge for the administration as Mr. Obama plans to visit Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania from June 26 to July 3. “The president will reinforce the importance that the United States places on our deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade; strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next generation of African leaders,” according to a White House statement this month. “The trip will underscore the president’s commitment to broadening and deepening cooperation between the United States and the people of sub-Saharan Africa to advance regional and global peace and prosperity.”

Last week, Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the African Union. In his remarks Saturday, Mr. Kerry focused on building democracy and protecting human rights.  “As everybody knows, we believe very deeply that where people can exercise their rights, and where there is an ability to have a strong democracy, the economy is stronger, the relationship with the government is stronger, people do better, and it’s an opportunity to be able to grow faster, stronger, by rule of law,” he said.  Mr. Kerry also acknowledged that the United States is far behind in investing and taking advantage of the economic opportunities in Africa. The U.S. has shown only a limited interest in sub-Saharan Africa, with most of its attention focusing on the petroleum and minerals sectors.

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