BY ROLAND NGAM
CHINA invested enormous sums of money in Africa in the 2000s. It wasn’t until mid-2010 that African leaders realized that China, like many other colonial powers, had practiced Realpolitik. They began complaining that Chinese roads were junk and that China was threatening to take over defaulting companies like Zambia’s Zesco and the Port of Mombasa.
The 2022 edition of the Africa-EU Summit, recently held in Brussels, took place at a very difficult time as the world is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we must remain optimistic that there is life after COVID, and from the ashes of this difficult context the foundation for a new beginning must be born. Let’s be clear: What Africa wants more than anything right now is a Green New Deal (GND).
Africa and Europe are closely linked – some even speak of a common destiny – and the two continents have maintained close ties for decades. For example, the ACP-EEC and ACP-EU trade agreements (Lomé, Cotonou, etc.) have existed for almost the entire lifetime of the European Union.
Many in Africa also believe that the ACP-EEC agreements and subsequent iterations of similar initiatives have so far been too colonial in approach. The South African Institute of International Affairs has even posited that AU-EU relations are not yet a true partnership. This is certainly true given the asymmetry in power relations or even the volumes and flows of goods and services between the two continents. Africa is mostly a consumer and listener, while Europe makes good money from exports and then teaches Africa how to build sound economies and state institutions.
This empire-periphery mentality has recently prompted many African countries to look to the Far East for help.
Foundation stone for a new partnership
If it wants to improve its relations with the African continent, ie its image, goods, services and culture, then the EU must base its Africa partnership on win-win deals.
The EU has identified five priority areas for partnership with Africa over the next five years, namely: just transition and access to energy; the digital transformation; growth and sustainable jobs; peace and governance; and migration and mobility. As part of this momentum, the EU has already announced a massive €150 billion Global Gateway aid package to provide “strategic infrastructure, industrial infrastructure, health infrastructure and the infrastructure for youth and education”. That’s a very large sum of money. It is delivering in a very short time the aid that China, for example, has delivered to Africa in two decades.
Significant efforts must be made to ensure that this money flows into serious mitigation and adaptation projects and GND initiatives.
Africa’s biggest challenge right now is climate change. We saw an unprecedented number of coups in the early 2020s, prompted in part by the collapse of state institutions in the Sahel, but also by environmental breakdown. Shrinking green spaces cause deadly skirmishes between farmers and herdsmen every year, and the death toll keeps rising. Such struggles over resources have claimed 1,800 lives in Nigeria since 2018, and in Cameroon, conflicts between farmers and pastoralists claimed 22 lives and devastated the town of Kousseri, home to 90,000 people, in December last year.
Perennial droughts, salinity and rising heat make agriculture impossible in some communities. In East Africa, coffee and other crops have yielded poorly for three consecutive years. This is driving an ever-increasing number of people to migrate to urban areas and other countries in search of better opportunities. Cyclones Ana and Batsirai killed 190 people and caused more than $1 billion in damage on Africa’s east coast.
The AU-EU partnership aims to help end infrastructure poverty in Africa. It aims to help countries in the Sahel to improve their agriculture and expand the Great Green Wall.
The AU-EU partnership aims to help end energy poverty in Africa.
The AU-EU partnership must deliver ready-to-build projects. Projects like this need to get off the ground. For example, thousands of young people can be hired to plant trees, restore mangroves, build rural irrigation projects and work on cooperative farms, and so on. The money shouldn’t stop in capital cities, where it’s only used to buy luxury vehicles and tickets to Giselle Knowles-Carte Beyoncé concerts.
Africa’s youth are becoming impatient with their leaders and no longer want to wait in abject poverty for service. If they don’t get roads, electricity, food, education, water and culture now, more and more of them will join armed groups or seek a better life elsewhere.
A continent drained of its youth cannot endure
Africa has realized that China is just like everyone else.
China invested huge sums of money in the 2000s. The Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) provided huge sums of money for infrastructure projects in Africa every year: roads in Congo-Brazzaville, soccer stadiums in Mali, rail networks in Kenya, oil projects in South Sudan, mines in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, etc.
If you had raw materials and acknowledged that Taiwan is part of China, you quickly got money for the projects. To sweeten the deal, the Chinese would
often say your domestic politics are none of their business. That was music to the ears of many executives
It was only later, in mid-2010, that the same leaders woke up to the fact that China, like many other colonial powers, had practiced Realpolitik. They began complaining that Chinese roads were junk, that they were collapsing within months of project completion, and that the Chinese government had started taking over defaulting companies in Africa, such as China. B. Zesco in Zambia and the port of Mombasa.
Be that as it may, Focac has delivered a lot, especially for China. Between 2000 and 2019, China lent Africa an estimated $153 billion. However, over the same period, trade flows total over $2 trillion. In 2019, Chinese aid to Africa was just $2.7 billion; it rose slightly to $4.2 billion in 2020. Trade totaled $176 billion over the same period, with most of the profits going to China.
China’s industry is mainly fueled by coal-fired power plants, at a time when we should work to limit warming to below 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial times to prevent global temperatures from overshooting.
In search of our own interests
It comes as a shock to many that China engages in realpolitik and always puts itself first. For some strange reason, African leaders thought that if they blew up the West, China was only out to hand out free money. The situation in Zambia and Kenya has made them fear God.
Now that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a reality, more than ever, African leaders need to put their continent first. They must look at the continent’s youth surplus and realize they must deliver on the promise of a better continent. This starts with building universal basic infrastructure across the continent. A good way to do this is to make partnerships like AU-EU relations work for Africans.
At the same time, if African leaders accept money from others, they must also be prepared to be called out if they do not treat their citizens fairly. This is how we develop a better world for everyone.
- This article was reproduced from Daily Maverick
- Roland Ngam is program manager for climate justice and socio-ecological transformation at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Southern Africa