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A kite on Safari – China into Africa

Beijing is using aid as a barrier to access Africa's natural resources. Bintumani hotels in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown were looted during the Civil War. Now it has opened again with new Chinese owners. Across Africa, China's presence is increasing.


[kampala / dar es salaam / oslo] It had been good to read about Mao's Three Worlds theory on the train from Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam to Zambia's capital Lusaka. Mao believed that Africa and Asia should stand together against the superpowers the United States and the Soviet Union, and the railway line was built by the Chinese in 1976.

But in recent years, the drums from the track have become more aggressive. They are reminiscent of a new superpower seeking influence and natural resources in Africa. In the last five years trade with China has quadrupled. The country has now thanked the United Kingdom as Africa's third largest trading partner. Both aid and trade patterns are changing. And thus the political architecture of the continent is also changing. China may replace former colonial powers and western donor countries on the African stage.

Uganda is an example. Not only have the Chinese built a national sports stadium, a hydropower plant and a new foreign ministry in Kampala, but they have also undertaken to renovate the stately State House in Entebbe before the Commonwealth meeting in 2007. It is planned that Queen Elisabeth will stay there during the conference.

One of the editors of the Ugandan newspaper Monitor, Bernard Tabaire, fears that China's aid will be abused by President Museveni.

- But we need Chinese technology, Chinese consumer goods and we need access to Chinese markets. It is a dilemma, he says.

- Still, do you want Chinese aid rather than the traditional Western aid from countries like Norway?

- Honest. Yes!

The Chinese have an ace in their sleeve in the fight for the goodwill of Africans. They do not intervene in the recipient country's internal political conditions. They do not presume anything in areas such as human rights, democracy and corruption. In Angola, the Chinese are heavily into the deeply corrupt oil sector. In Zimbabwe, students will now learn Mandarin as part of Robert Mugabe's "Look east" policy. The Chinese have already taken over many of the occupied large estates in the country and given the army a cheap deal to replace the aircraft Mugabe lost during the Congo war in the late 1990s. In West Africa's hottest problem areas, Sierra Leone and Liberia, China is also on the way.

All Beijing asks for is support in international forums when the human rights situation in China or the Taiwan issue is on the agenda. The latter is an almost essential requirement. Of the 53 states in Africa, 47 benefit from cooperation with the Chinese. The last six have diplomatic relations with the small but contentious island state.

Classical imperialism

Mao's Three Worlds Theory was recently replaced with a strategic paper on African politics in Beijing. It was published in mid-January and contains for the first time an approach in which aid, trade and military, political and cultural cooperation are seen in context. "Honesty, equality and mutual benefit, solidarity and common development" must be guiding.

However, according to the criticism that has come since, especially from Western commentators, it is rather talk of neo-colonialism disguised as South-South cooperation. Beijing lends money and provides favorable trade agreements and assistance, often to large infrastructure measures involving Chinese companies. In return, they get licenses to extract oil and minerals. At the same time, markets in Africa's capitals are flooded with cheap Chinese consumer goods.

- It is classic imperialism, says Helge Rønning, professor at the University of Oslo and marked critic of China's African adventures.

He fears that Africa will once again be locked into a developmentally hostile trade pattern where Africa delivers the raw materials and imports finished goods.


In 1998, China was the country in the world that received the most assistance. As late as April last year, however, the Chinese received the last aid broadcast from the World Food Program. In the same year, China-Africa trade growth was 40 percent, reaching $ 37 billion.

In parallel, Beijing presented its new one

Africa strategy in January, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing embarked on an eight-day tour of West Africa to strengthen the foothold on the continent.

The trip included visits to Senegal and Nigeria, where the state-run Chinese oil company CNOOC recently paid $ 2,3 billion for access to oil and gas extraction. The tour was also part of the preparations for a Chinese-

African summit to take place

in Beijing in 2006.

In Senegal, a Chinese foreign minister was welcomed for the very first time. It was a result of Dakar breaking his diplomatic relations with Taiwan last October. As a thank you, Senegal received $ 18,5 million in debt cancellation and $ 3,7 million in hospitals. A Senegalese commentator said, according to IRIN news agency, that China is showing Africa a human face.

That's something the chief editor of the Rwandan newspaper The New Times, Edward Rwema, signs.

- Africa needs assistance without conditions, he says.

In Rwanda, the Chinese are involved in road construction and will be responsible for the planned new building for the Foreign Ministry in Kigali.

- But it is a problem that the Chinese use almost exclusively Chinese labor. Rwandans rarely get a job on the projects, says Rwema.


In Sudan, 13 of the 15 largest foreign companies are Chinese. When the country recently hosted the meeting of the African Union, a Chinese company had been in charge of refurbishing the magnificent The Friendship Hall conference center where the meeting was held. The burgeoning oil industry in the country is also dominated by the Chinese. Sudan alone accounts for five percent of China's oil imports.

According to former Secretary General of the Norwegian People's Aid, Halle Jørn Hansen, Sudan is an example of China choosing partners that are dictatorial, authoritarian and corrupt.

- The central problem is that respect for national sovereignty takes precedence over good governance, democracy and human rights, says Hansen, who is currently associated with the Joint Council for Africa.

According to some reports, Chinese convicts are used as labor on the Chinese projects in the country. It denies Beijing. But one thing is certain: the many Chinese workers in Sudan – as elsewhere in Africa – are keeping to themselves.

- Such secrecy is problematic. For example, it is impossible to get the oil money promised to the rebel movement SPLM / A in the peace agreement that was entered into in the civil war-torn country just over a year ago. They do not even get insight into the accounts, Hansen says.

Sudan has also purchased weapons from China over the past ten years, including fighter jets and helicopters to be used in the bloody conflict in Darfur. The state-owned Chinese oil company CNPC is currently also the only one operating in this troubled part of Sudan. In return, Sudan is supported by China in the UN Security Council. When the Council passed a resolution on Darfur in September 2004, China threatened to veto, but ended up abstaining after the resolution was considerably bleaker than initially thought.

There is no doubt that China will become an even bigger player in Africa going forward.

- The question is how Norway and other countries meet this, says Helge Rønning, and continues:

- Will they return to more corrupt forms of cooperation, or will they focus on openness as their forte?

Halle Jørn Hansen thinks Norway should start talks with African government and civil society partners to investigate the situation.

The Chinese train line was built when Mao's theories were in the running through Tanzania's largest national park. You can see giraffes and elephants from the windows. It is not a given that the idyll lasts when the Chinese dragon himself is on a safari.

Read more in the paper edition of Ny Tid. It can be bought in most shops and kiosks that have newspapers.

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