Millennium Post

Slaying the rising dragon

A man in a Chinese straw hat stops our car on the swanky road from Nairobi to Mombasa at midnight, smiles and turns to us.

'Any problem?' None I presume. He explains he is just checking if the mechanised road lights that throw a luminous glow are working and did that help us to drive in the cover of darkness. That’s China at work in Kenya. This supervisor could have been a Kenyan. A senior manager from the United nations Economic Commission for Africa told Solange Guo Chatelard, expert in China-Africa relations, 'If you want concrete things you go to China. If you want to engage in endless discussion and discourses you go the normal traditional donors'. Chatelard is doing his Phd in Paris and is an associate at the Max Plank Institute for Social Anthropolgy in Germany. While examining the Chinese foray in the African subcontinent, he surmises that the truth of the matter is that China’s involvement in Africa is not a black and white affair. In fact, most of it is grey. Very grey, says Chaterlard.

China is an economic powerhouse with long term ambitions in Africa. Like Brazil, Russia and India it is here to stay. Ambassador Deepak Vohra, now advisor to the Republic of south Sudan, on the China-India tussle in Africa, told me, 'Eight thousand Africans study in India whereas only 500 go to China.' Vohra flagged the immense educational and medical facilities available in India for Africa. Soft diplomacy contrasted with China’s rapacious scramble for oil, minerals, timber and cotton in Sudan, Angola, Nigeria and South Africa. Coupled with the fact that the Indian diasporas is not interested in furthering India’s interests along with India’s non-aggressive nature has had downside: the two way India-Africa trade is less than a quarter of the Africa-China trade.

China is now Africa’s largest trading partner, ahead of the USA and Europe, and its commercial ties since 2000 has jumped from $10 billion to over $100 billion in the last decade. At the 2012 China Import Export Fair in 2012, the value of deals signed rose by 13.5 per cent while Europe and the USA reported declines of 5.6 per cent and 8.1 per cent respectively. India is a distant way behind. Anti-Chinese quite like anti-French sentiments have often muddied waters in Africa. Michael Sata, the self proclaimed champion of anti Chinese sentiment changed his tune however to accommodate rather than expel when he became the president of Zambia in 2011. Has India missed the bus in Africa?

A relatively late entrant in Africa, India benefits from a non-colonial, non-exploitative, non politico-military interventionist image which some of the other leading investing countries have acquired. France maintains a right grip over the so called in Francophone countries which are required to deposit 60 per cent of their foreign exchange earnings in the French treasury plus 15 per cent for financial liabilities and have to offer first right of refusal to French companies for all government contracts. These former French colonies [CFA countries] have access to only 15 per cent of their own money since the French left in the 1960s.

Professor Nicolas Agbohou, associate professor at the university of Gabon burnt a Euro note in front of TV cameras quite recently. Professor Mamamdou Koulibay who teaches economics and has authored, The servitude of the Colonial pact and also happens to be the speaker at the Ivorian National Assembly is one of the harshest French critics in recent times. France maintains permanent military bases in Africa and has been under fire for their link to massacres in Burundi, Sudan and the Central African Republic and other regions of unrest in West Africa.

Early in the day, one must highlight the scramble Indian companies are making for agricultural land in Africa. This could become testy issue in the years to come because money alienates the Africans from their own land. Rather Indians initiatives need to be in the sphere of manufacture and ofcourse education and medical infrastructure. It is only the Indian Ocean that separates us and as they say countries don’t have friends, they have interests. India’s trade is largely in West Africa [approximately $16 billion] out of a total of around $40 billion. The Indo-Africa summit started in 2008 is considered a benchmark in the deepening of the Indo-Africa connection. This year 600 African delegates attended the summit in Delhi.

Over the years it is being increasingly argued that India should concentrate on long term projects; mainly infrastructure. India has become dependent on natural African resources; 16 per cent of India’s crude oil import is from the African countries, mainly Nigeria, Egypt, Liberia and Sudan. Acquiring assets in the hydrocarbon and fertiliser sector is the way forward; BHEL is working on more involvement with Nigeria in the power sector. The power lines in Ghana and Kenya are being put in place by power grid, an affiliate of the NTPC. Transferring skills to students, bridging the digital divide, engaging Indian enterprise in African rural electrification seems the way forward for India.

In short all the right noises are being made by India. India in fact can play a more important role in the development of Africa than China. Former World Bank economist William Easterly praising Indian’s model of engaging Africa with a view to promoting trade, writes in his book, The Whitemans Burden. Indians engage local labour and managerial power in contrast to China. There is no Indian standing in the middle of the night on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway checking road lights. Despite critics who liken the India-China rivalry in Africa as a new form of necolonialism quite like the 19th century European scramble for Africa. India is not saying don’t worry Africa, we will leave when we finish.
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