Competing with China for African hearts and minds

As mentioned by Jai in the morning brief, Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Nigeria today, hailing the “strategic partnership” linking China to Africa in front of parliament. He then jetted off to Kenya for a three-day visit. By now, everybody and their grandma knows that China is pursuing influence in Africa, by providing interest ...

608736_influencechart_0_05.gif
608736_influencechart_0_05.gif

As mentioned by Jai in the morning brief, Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Nigeria today, hailing the “strategic partnership” linking China to Africa in front of parliament. He then jetted off to Kenya for a three-day visit. By now, everybody and their grandma knows that China is pursuing influence in Africa, by providing interest free loans, giving political support to international pariahs like Zimbabwe and Sudan, and generously building up assets and infrastructure. In exchange, Chinese companies (often state-owned) get contracts to dig up oil and other natural resources, Taiwan gets snubbed at the UN, and China builds a reserve of goodwill that will come in handy, say, 20 years from now. While this Chinese policy undermines the work of institutions like the IMF and doesn’t really help fight corruption or kleptocracy, Chinese investment is helping Africa’s economy: and for Africans that's what counts.  And America? Well, in occasion of his 2003 African trip, there was hope that Bush would make a bold move to help Africa, but he never delivered on his promises. Today, there is a rock-solid case for the U.S. to compete (not fight) to invest and make friends in Africa, both on humanitarian and self-interest grounds. Needless to say, trade works better than aid.  As the chart (compiled by Travis with data from a BBC poll) hints, Central and Southern Africans view U.S. influence very positively, more so than Chinese influence. According to another poll, Africa is the only continent where a majority (55%) of the population views the U.S. in a positive light. In the next few decades, the U.S. will badly need friends in the world if it wants to achieve any of its global goals – from fighting terror to finding some solution to climate change. It would be shameful to waste all of this goodwill, and pass on a chance to help the earth’s poorest continent lift itself from poverty.  

As mentioned by Jai in the morning brief, Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Nigeria today, hailing the “strategic partnership” linking China to Africa in front of parliament. He then jetted off to Kenya for a three-day visit. By now, everybody and their grandma knows that China is pursuing influence in Africa, by providing interest free loans, giving political support to international pariahs like Zimbabwe and Sudan, and generously building up assets and infrastructure. In exchange, Chinese companies (often state-owned) get contracts to dig up oil and other natural resources, Taiwan gets snubbed at the UN, and China builds a reserve of goodwill that will come in handy, say, 20 years from now. While this Chinese policy undermines the work of institutions like the IMF and doesn’t really help fight corruption or kleptocracy, Chinese investment is helping Africa’s economy: and for Africans that’s what counts.
 
And America? Well, in occasion of his 2003 African trip, there was hope that Bush would make a bold move to help Africa, but he never delivered on his promises. Today, there is a rock-solid case for the U.S. to compete (not fight) to invest and make friends in Africa, both on humanitarian and self-interest grounds. Needless to say, trade works better than aid.
 
As the chart (compiled by Travis with data from a BBC poll) hints, Central and Southern Africans view U.S. influence very positively, more so than Chinese influence. According to another poll, Africa is the only continent where a majority (55%) of the population views the U.S. in a positive light. In the next few decades, the U.S. will badly need friends in the world if it wants to achieve any of its global goals – from fighting terror to finding some solution to climate change. It would be shameful to waste all of this goodwill, and pass on a chance to help the earth’s poorest continent lift itself from poverty.  

Davide Berretta is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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