Macharia Munene is Professor of History and International Relations at the United States International University (USIU), Nairobi, Kenya. He also serves as a Visiting Professor at Universitat Jaume-1, Castellon, Spain, and as a Professorial Friend of the National Defense College, Karen, Nairobi, Kenya. Professor Munene has published widely. He holds PhD in Diplomatic history from Ohio University.
CHINA AND THE TAKING OVER AFRICA NARRATIVE
Reading, and listening to, Euro comments about China’s interaction with African countries creates a siege mentality as the Conceptual West spins a vague narrative of the Chinese taking over Africa. The spinning is a Euro defensive reaction to protect interests in their former colonies where China succeeds in getting contracts to undertake major infrastructure operations in Africa. A British MP complained that British companies, not Chinese, should have been building highways in Kenya. And Richard Dowden, Director of the British Royal African Society, asserted that Africa will become a big Chinese colony. This implies elements of envy in the Euro narratives on China taking over Africa.
Another Euro power concerned with China edging it out is the United States whose racist proclivities damage its image. It sees China as a growing threat to its global interests and, in the Barrack Obama and Donald Trump administrations, adopted the strategy of warning Africans about China. An American scholar/journalist, Howard W. French, in his 2014 China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire, simply reinforced this attitude. Obama claimed that Chinese investments in Africa were exploitative and his Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, chided China as Africa’s new colonial power. Trump, ordinarily, wants nothing to do with Obama yet he sounds like Obama when it comes to China’s global penetration. To counter perceived Chinese influence, Trump sent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to mend fences and assure Africans that Trump meant no harm in his sewage insults to Africans.
As leader of the Conceptual West, the US tends to set the pace for other Euros to follow, except in recent times when they exhibit defiance. France, worried about China edging it out of Africa, is one Euro country that is seeking collaboration with China. French President Emmanuel Macron, once it was clear that France could not wish China away in Africa, and France being in need of Chinese investments, decided to cut deals with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Franco-Chinese multiple collaboration in Africa. “We have,” Macron stated in January 2018, “decided to deepen our concertation[sic] on Africa where China is more and more present.”
Bigger than many countries demographically, geographically, and economically, China’s rise to global dominance gives it leverage in global geopolitics and opinion shaping, seemingly at the expense of the Conceptual West. The loss of the monopoly to shape world opinion bothered the Euros so much that they seemingly started spreading views that China was taking over Africa. Thus while China is present everywhere and invests more in Europe than in Africa, it is its success that attracts Euro wrath that is then visited on African states.
For the taking over to have occurred, there was complacency based on presumptions of Euro-superiority over the rest of humanity. They had turned the continent into a series of colonial states that, after 60 to 80 years of control, became independent countries. Since the new states did not cut socio-economic links to imperial masters, dependency relationships intensified. Ghana president Kwame Nkrumah popularized this control system as neo-colonialism. In neo-colonialism, virtually dependent on protecting the interests of leaders on both sides, a master-client relationship developed in which imperial powers were master states and African states became client states. Master states controlled and exploited everything in the client state, especially the leaders who became proxies for extra-continental interests. Attempts to get out of that national enslaving condition landed the “leader” into death especially if he was rumored to be close to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The master states, in their complacency, slept, became blind to changing global dynamic and when they woke up to find their monopoly on the continent rather shaky, they started grumbling about Chinese presence and take over. On its part, China had noticed and exploited that blindness by befriending African states disillusioned by the Euros, building stadia in African capitals, and by opening closed coal mines in places like Zambia. The number of Chinese in Africa increased to roughly 1.1 million, out of a possible 1 billion people but the white population, or people of European extraction were roughly 5.3 million. Canada and the United States have roughly 6.7 million people of Chinese extraction out of less than 400 million people. Europe, with a total population that barely exceeds 740 million, reportedly has roughly 2.3 million people of Chinese background. In comparative terms, and in proportion to the overall populations, therefore, the concern about the Chinese presence in Africa is political and looks far-fetched.
This makes the over play of China taking over Africa narrative alarmist and part of international political power play in a world that is realigning itself, with China in the lead. In that realignment, many Euro-powers have become secondary players but they still nurse colonial hangovers of mediating African interests with China. It is unlikely that China will take away, from the Euros, the extra-continental dominance of Africa. What is definite, however, is that African countries will continue to engage China in strategic areas of perceived mutual benefits; where interests converge. It is the synchronization of interests, whether in global political leverage or in opening up remote places through infrastructure development, that will determine the level of Africa and China interaction.