BY ROLAND NGAM
CHINA invested colossal sums in Africa in the 2000s. It was not until mid-2010 that African leaders realized that China was practicing realpolitik like many other colonial powers. They started complaining that China’s roads were rubbish and that China was threatening to take over failing companies like Zesco in Zambia and the port of Mombasa.
The 2022 edition of the Africa-EU Summit – recently held in Brussels – came at a very difficult time as the world is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we must remain optimistic that there is life after COVID and out of the ashes of this difficult context must rise the foundation for a new beginning. Let’s be clear: what Africa wants, more than anything right now, is a Green New Deal (GND).
Africa and Europe share close ties, some say even a common destiny, and the two continents have enjoyed a close relationship for decades. The ACP-EEC and ACP-EU (Lomé, Cotonou, etc.) trade agreements, for example, have existed for most of the life of the European Union.
Many in Africa also believe that the ACP-EEC agreements and subsequent iterations of similar initiatives have been too colonialist in their approach so far. The South African Institute of International Affairs has even postulated that the AU-EU relationship is not yet a true partnership. This is certainly true if we consider the asymmetrical nature of the balance of power or even the volumes and flows of goods and services between the two continents. Africa is primarily a consumer and receiver of conferences, while Europe earns a lot of money from exports and then teaches Africa lessons on how to build strong economies and state institutions.
This empire-periphery mentality is what has recently caused many African countries to look to the Far East for help.
Foundation for a new partnership
If it wants to improve its relations with the African continent, that is to say its image, its goods, its services and its culture, the EU must build its partnership with Africa on win-win agreements.
The EU has chosen five priority areas for partnership with Africa over the next five years, namely: just transition and access to energy; digital transformation; growth and sustainable jobs; peace and governance; and migration and mobility. In this momentum, the EU has already announced a massive €150 billion aid package for the Global Gateway to provide “strategic infrastructure, industrial infrastructure, health infrastructure and youth and education”. It is a very large sum of money. It provides in a very short time the amount of aid that China, for example, has provided to Africa in two decades.
Significant efforts must be made to ensure that this money is spent on serious climate change mitigation and adaptation projects as well as GND initiatives.
Africa’s biggest challenge right now is the climate change factor. We have seen an unprecedented number of coups in the early 2020s, fueled in part by the collapse of state institutions in the Sahel, but also because of environmental collapse. The reduction of green spaces causes deadly skirmishes between farmers and herders each year and the number of deaths continues to increase. These struggles for resources have claimed 1,800 lives in Nigeria since 2018 and in Cameroon, farmer-herder conflicts claimed 22 lives and emptied the town of Kousseri of its 90,000 inhabitants last December.
Multi-year droughts, salinization and rising heat levels make agriculture impossible in some communities. In East Africa, coffee and other crops have produced low yields for three consecutive years. This drives an ever-increasing number of people to migrate to urban areas and other countries in search of better opportunities. On the east coast of Africa, cyclones Ana and Batsirai killed 190 people and caused more than a billion dollars in damage.
The AU-EU partnership should contribute to ending infrastructure poverty in Africa. It should help the countries of the Sahel improve their agriculture and extend the Great Green Wall.
The AU-EU partnership should contribute to ending energy poverty in Africa.
The AU-EU partnership must deliver ready-to-use projects. Such projects must be launched. Thousands of young people can be hired, for example, to plant trees, restore mangroves, build rural irrigation projects and work in cooperative farms, etc. The money must not stop in the capitals where it will only be used to buy luxury vehicles and tickets for Giselle Knowles-Carte Beyoncé concerts.
Young Africans are increasingly impatient with their leaders and no longer want to wait in abject poverty for services. If they don’t have access to roads, electricity, food, education, water and culture now, more and more of them will join armed groups or seek better life elsewhere.
A continent emptied of its youth does not support
Africa has understood that China is like everyone else.
China invested colossal sums in the 2000s. Each year, the Forum on Sino-African Cooperation (Focac) delivered colossal sums for infrastructure projects in Africa: roads in Congo-Brazzaville, football stadiums in Mali , railway networks in Kenya, oil projects in South Sudan, mines in the DRC, etc.
If you had commodities and recognized that Taiwan was part of China, you quickly got money for projects. To sweeten the deal, the Chinese would like
often say that your internal politics were none of their business. It was music to the ears of many leaders
It was only later in mid-2010 that these same leaders realized that China was practicing realpolitik like many other colonial powers. They started complaining that the Chinese roads were rubbish, that they collapsed a few months after the project was completed, and that the Chinese government had started threatening to take over failing companies in Africa, like Zesco in Zambia and the port of Mombasa.
Be that as it may, Focac delivered in spades, especially for China. Between 2000 and 2019, China extended loans to Africa worth an estimated $153 billion. However, for the same period, trade flows amount to more than 2,000 billion dollars. In 2019, Chinese aid to Africa was just $2.7 billion; it increased slightly to $4.2 billion in 2020. Trade amounted to $176 billion over the same period, with most of the profits going to China.
Chinese industries are mostly powered by coal-fired power plants at a time when we should strive to limit warming to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial times to avoid an overshoot in global temperatures.
Look out for our own interests
It came as a shock to many that China practices realpolitik and always puts itself first. For some strange reason, African leaders thought China was just there to hand out free money if they castigated the West. The situations in Zambia and Kenya put the fear of God in them.
Now that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a reality, African leaders need to put their continent first more than ever. They must look at the continent’s youth bulge and realize that they must deliver on the promise of a better continent. It starts with building universal basic infrastructure across the continent. A good way to do this is to make partnerships like the AU-EU relationship work for Africans.
At the same time, when taking money from others, African leaders must also be ready to be challenged when they fail to treat their citizens fairly. This is how we develop a better world for all.
- This article was reproduced from the Daily Maverick
- Roland Ngam is Program Manager for Climate Justice and Socioecological Transformation at the Rosa Luxembourg Fopundation, Southern Africa