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28 - 05 December 2007 
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Leveraging on China’s Thirst to Develop Africa

I recently heard a great daughter of Africa tell a story of two sisters who chose two different paths.  One of them chose to take control of her destiny whilst another chose to allow others to take control of her destiny.  The one that chose to take control of her destiny insisted on making her own choices, decisions and setting her own agenda.  The other waited for others to give her choices, decisions and an agenda to follow.  The two sisters are Asia and Africa.


More countries in both east and south Asia have progressed and are attaining the status of the so-called ‘developed’ countries that was previously the preserve of European and North American countries.  China is one of those Asian countries that is successfully industrialising and successfully reducing the percentage of its citizens living below the poverty line. China is now looking towards Africa for raw materials, particularly oil, in order to sustain and further its development. 


What factors have led to China’s success?  China is most definitely in charge of its destiny. It is in full control when determining the terms of trade with others.  China continues not only to invest in its infrastructure, but also investing in developing its human resources. 


Fully aware that Europe and North America have a stronghold over the oil resources from the Arab world; it is in China’s interest, whilst using its historical connections with Africa, to focus its energies in establishing a strategic stronghold over the oil resources from black Africa.  Indeed, China has already entered Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Angola and Somalia, amongst others. 


Albeit its wealth in raw materials and all the ‘advice’ from foreign ‘experts’ (mostly European and North American) African countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, have either remained poor or gotten poorer over the years. It is reported that Nigerians were poorer in 2000 than they had been at the start of the oil boom in the early 1970s.  Why?  Is Africa in charge of its destiny? 


In the past 50 years, Africa has oscillated from one development model to another as dictated by foreign ‘experts’. The models ranged from structural adjustment programmes to a multitude of poverty eradication strategies that are arguably promoting poverty.  Corruption is rife at all levels of government. African leaders and the elite collude with foreigners to exploit Africa’s wealth for their own benefit.  The list of African leaders that have amassed personal wealth from government coffers with impunity and in a heavy handed manner of brutality against the citizens of their countries is endless: Mobutu, Abacha, Bokasa, and many others.


Is China’s engagement with Africa any different from Europe’s or North America’s?  Not really.  China is offering an alternative bargain for Africa to choose from. However, it has the same level of priority as its competitors: Europe and North America (but significantly very low), when it comes to the development of Africa. 


Some people argue that China’s trading offer to Africa may be better than Europe and North America’s.  Better for whom?  At the end of the day, for the development of Africa to occur, it is not the offer that really counts.  What matters is what African leaders and the elite do with what Africa receives in exchange for its oil.  I am sure we are all familiar with what happened in Nigeria, the biggest oil producing country in Africa, involving the Dutch oil company (Shell), the people of Nigeria as represented by the people of Ogoniland and the activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.  The standard of living of the people of Nigeria is the same as those African countries that are not ‘blessed’ with oil. It falls in the category of countries with a Gross National Product (GNP) per capita of below USD 545.  In contrast, I am also sure that we are all familiar with how another African oil producing country, Libya, utilised the revenue from its oil to develop its country.  The standard of living of the people of Libya is one of the highest in Africa, falling in the category of countries with a GNP per capita of between USD 2,200 and USD 6000. 


China’s thirst for Africa’s oil can only be a blessing to Africa if Africa leaders grow up, take the destiny of Africa in their hands and set the agenda for their engagement with China.  Most importantly, African governments need to wake up to the realisation that it is their responsibility to develop Africa.  Otherwise, China’s thirst will be quenched, the African leaders will be blessed with personal wealth and the people of Africa will, as usual, be cursed. Uganda is one of the African countries in which oil deposits have been discovered.  So far, government discussion has hinged on how quickly we extract the oil and sell it. Very little or no attention is given on what and on how the Government of Uganda intends to utilise the revenue from the oil.  A starting point would be the establishment of a national investment fund supervised by a Swiss banker!

By Norah Owaraga
Owaraga is C. E. O., Executive Support Services

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