This is a continuation of our previous editorial on what Africa can learn from China.
China used its natural resources and human capital, to build a very ambitious industrial base; African leadership to a large extent used its natural resources to build individual families or cliques. Sub-Saharan Africa for example has many countries with a lot of natural resources: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo ,Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, , Sudan , South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are all very rich countries, yet at the same time poor. With the amount of resources these counties have at their disposal they have no excuse whatsoever to be where they are, and if they were to be effective; their success would trickle down to other African neighbours.
Even Botswana and South Africa that are supposed to be democratic and relatively well governed, both remain among the most unequal societies in the world, thus resources are mainly enjoyed by a very small sector of their population.
The post-independence leadership in Tanzania and Zambia, were partly different from the others mentioned above, at least they tried to use their resources to liberate other African countries, instead of enriching themselves, their biggest problems however, was the failure to set up their own effective political systems, borrowing wholesale from textbook socialism.
Strategy, targets and discipline: Africa like china has to learn to set targets and focus on them. For example, in 1970 DR Congo, then Zaire, had some continental ambitious contribution, the famous Inga dam. The Inga Dam project capable of supplying electricity to the entire African continent; was supposed to be in place by the year 1980, under what the president then Marshal Mobutu called in French, “ objectif quatre vingt” or 1980 targets. Fifty years down the road not a single stone has been built! This is the kind of project that the Africa development Bank or World bank or even China -Exim Bank could have financed if delivery had been assured. Even Mobutu’s personal wealth estimated in billions of US dollars stolen from Zairean coffers could have financed this project. The Trans African Highway project proposed in the 1970s, almost 40 years down the road hardly any one talks about it anymore, the buzzword today, is the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA). If one looks at the progress in Regional Economic Communities Free Trade Areas, such as the COMESA Free Trade Area and Customs union, SADC Free Trade Area, EAC Common Market, ECOWAS Trade and Market Integration, one cannot be blamed for being skeptical about ACFTA. Like China, Africa has to learn to set targets and stick to them. If we are to meet ACFTA, we have to stick to planned infrastructure projects that we have talked about for ages, good Annual Reports are not development products by themselves.
Another cancer that the Chinese have been able to get rid of that Africa needs to borrow a leaf is the Fight against corruption. Corruption is the cancer that has eaten most African countries alive, right from free for all corruption in many countries that listing them here would be endless. The Chinese on the other hand fight corruption mercilessly even if it involves high echelon of the communist party. Most African countries will fight corruption for political gains than for national building.
In Conclusion African countries have to learn to set up systems that reflect African values and needs. We have to learn to think strategically not only for the present but also plan for the future. We have to put political systems, which survive all weathers. Countries like Kenya, have very hard working and innovative population, yet they still lack clear political structures. Political parties are in many cases pegged on tribes, born every election year and die before the next election, because they serve individuals and not an ideology! On the other hand the Chinese Communist party has survived for 70 years, adjusting itself to meet the challenges of the time and prepare for the future.
I am not advocating for a one party state, but even old democracies like the United Kingdom, the United States of America and France, are literally two party states. Kingsely Moghalu, former deputy governor of Nigeria Central bank, in his 19th May 2020, opinion article first published in Abuja, Premium Time, reproduced by All africa.com, sums up China’s strategic thinking approach as follows: “the Chinese world view is based but not completely on their Confucian religion, that time is endless and is one continuum (and that is why they think in 50-100 years horizon not just about now)’’
Africa like China has to think strategically in terms of 50 to 100 years and not just in the present. As earlier indicated, it took more than 20 years for modern China to become a member of the United Nations, and 50 years to become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its predecessor GATT. Yet each and every African country rushed to join so many so called international organisations at the first opportunity and newly created ones. We have to belong to the exclusive club even if the club does not offer much in return. We have many regional organisations in Africa such as; COMESA, EAC, ECCAS, ICGLR, IGAD, SADC, NEPAD,ECOWAS etc. There has been a call to merge some of the many African regional communities, but each organisation fights for its own survival and countries find it difficult not to belong to them since they often serve political platforms. We have not bothered to states how many world bodies Africa belongs to. The Chinese are selective, while African countries go whole sale.
Despite the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) almost 60 years ago and its successor the African Union (AU), some 18 years ago, Africa rarely presents its position as Africa. We prefer to remain in our small enclaves and often act in accordance with either our former colonial masters or we incline to our biggest creditors. We join regional, continental and international organisations more as members of the clubs than what is in them for us and our people. We walk in and out of organisations depending on the interest of the individual in power. Have you ever thought why it took China 20 years to join UN or WTO?
First of all, let us remember that the UN is post World War II institution, promoted primarily by the Americans and its allies, whose headquarter is based in New York. With the exception of Russia that joined the allies against Nazi Germany due to its own threat; the other allies were Western countries dominated by the US. The UN was therefore created to advance as they call it “their values” and literally each member of the allied countries gave themselves a Veto Power. China did not want to join the UN as a junior partner, and the only way it could join as an equal partner, was through lengthy negotiation. But china had to also build its economy, as the saying goes “money talks”. China also had to build itself internally so that it became a country to recon with. As a result it became obvious to the founding members of the UN, that the UN was better off with China as a member rather than as a non-member. That is why by the time China was admitted to the UN it had all rights that the major powers had including full membership of the Security Council, the acceptance of Mandarin as a UN language and China having Veto Power. Africa has not managed to have any of these within the UN body because we have internally failed to even agree among ourselves how we should be represented. We do not trust any country to truly represent our interest; we don’t even trust our own African Union!
Similarly, China did not join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as a simple member of the club. China joined because the leadership deemed it necessary that the Club had become useful to modern China and its people. China had embraced the era of reform and opening up to international organisations and the outside world.
The WTO, was created in 1995, replacing the GATT originally created in 1948, it was not created to provide an even playing field as always claimed. It was created to promote the Western capitalist model of Free Trade, when Free Trade benefitted the western capitalist models. Unlike Africa, there was no way a third world Communist China born in 1949, would have joined GATT, it would have been at a minimum a junior partner and at worse suicidal. China experimented with its communist system, built its internal capacity, educated its people, caught up with Capitalist Europe and America and then joined WTO. It could afford to compete with the world markets and that is when WTO rules were in agreement with China’s interests. By the year 2019, China, under the leadership of president Xi Jinping was more of an advocate of “free Trade” than the United States of American under president Trump.
Kingsely Moghalu, in the opinion article mentioned earlier; quoted Solange Guo Chatelard, a researcher on Africa-China relationship, who summarizes what African states can learn from china in this way, “If there is one thing that African States can learn from China, it is how to imagine their future, explore new possibilities and engage with the rest of the world while retaining control over the conditions of those engagements”. Control over the conditions of those engagements; is the key!
Africa-China Review Editorial