Notwithstanding, some analysts see the relations as positive commitment to the development of Africa (Rotberg 2008; Eisenman and Kurlantzick 2006). Even though some have highlighted the weakness of the relations and concluded that it was pernicious (Alessi and Hanson 2012), thorough and objective analyses show that the engagement is still deepened. Indeed, the partnership is largely appreciated on the African continent as it has boosted its growth (Li 2007). Under-developed several years ago, as majority of African countries were, China succeeded in breaking through the ranks of major economic and industrial powers and made positive impact (Li et al. 2012). It is therefore, not surprising that African leaders continue to seek ways to develop their countries with the assistance of China, especially and rightly so, as conditions imposed by Africa’s traditional donors did not lead to any definitive economic independence. No wonder the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, in striking and metaphorically speaking (right or otherwise) stated that ‘the sun has set in the west and has risen from the East’ to state his frustrations at the West and his confidence in China (Gaye 2008).
Beyond these critics, one thing is clear; the cooperation between Africa and its economic development partners (EU, China and US) are strategically different, and each is driven by economic self-interests. It is of vital importance therefore, that Africa approves on an equal footing, strategic and most consistent partner (business or otherwise) who recognizes, shares and respects it’s difficult but critical needs be it political, economic or social as well as sovereignty. Unfortunately, one of Africa's key problems that have hindered its development, irrespective of the kind of relationship, is responsive leadership. It appears that some of its leaders are not able to separate their own interests from the collective national interest; for example, the craze for political power at all cost. They also seem not to have been able to critically analyze the consequences of policy directives and recommendations from its development partners as happened with the IMF and World Bank, or are not able to reject programs that do not embrace the continents problems in totality.
An example in this case, in our opinion is the whole-sale adoption of western-styled governance (democracy) without at least setting up the foundations necessary for its sustainability and smooth running. This is not a suggestion for the total rejection of Western democracy or ideas however; we believe that Africa could have developed its own style of governance based on the Western experience, given its unique issues and characteristics without this ‘copy-paste’ that appears to be causing more harm than good in spite of the ‘democracy’ in most parts of the continent. After all, there were some sorts of governance (democracy) in Africa long before the appearance of the ‘everything Western is best’ mentality.
CONTINENTAL UNITY NEEDED IN APPROACHING CHINA
Another problem is the lack of coherent and collective policy. While China has a clear and strategic policy for Africa, Africa as a united force has no unified policy for its relations with China. Indeed, it is a worrying situation for a relation that is supposed to be based on mutual values in terms of cooperation, trust and development to lack this key ingredient. Each African country therefore, pursues the relation based on its unique needs and development agenda resulting in weak bargaining power in certain aspects and attracting less developmental projects from China. A further troubling aspect is the lack of adequate participation of the African private sector, media and academia in this partnership. For instance, during the conference on China-Africa in 2006, the African private sector was not adequately represented. There were nearly 300 Chinese private firms but only a handful of their African counterparts. This seems to suggest that as Chinese private companies show interest in building long term relations with Africa, the continents private firms do not appear to show much interest in sustaining the relationship or are not given the necessary incentive to augment governmental efforts. This will inevitably create gaps between internal policies of African countries and their implementations.
A NEW PLAN FOR DEALING WITH CHINA
Therefore, Africa must necessarily develop a coherent and structured plan in successfully asserting its political, economic and social ties with China. It must avoid repeating some of the mistakes committed in its past relations with its traditional development partners. In the meantime, African leaders must be able to define and formulate strategic and comprehensive policies, individually, for the influx of Chinese investments. For instance, they must exert pressure on China and together, differentiate and separate investments and loans CLEARLY from interest free loans, grants and aid projects. In fact, several writers have already pointed out the fact that there seem not to be difference, at least on the part of China, between investment and aid projects (Shinn 2012; Der Lug et al. 2011). For example, David Shinn, adjunct professor at George Washington University pointed out that China mixes aid with commercial deals, enabling Chinese construction enterprises access to infrastructural projects in Africa (Shinn 2012). Even the Center for Chinese studies (CCS) based in South Africa appears to agree with this. They believe that ‘Chinese government officials rarely distinguish aid and investments’ (Der Lug et al. 2011).
In any case, the distinction of projects will make it easier to handle and formulate appropriate policies to effectively manage respective projects (Investment, grants loans or grants) such that clearly China could be dealt with as a business partner in terms of investments and loan projects (commercial deals) or as a development partner when it comes to grants and aid projects. As it stands now, it is not easy to tell whether Africa sees China as business partner (an investor) or development partner (a friend). Furthermore, clear distinction of these projects will make easier for tracking and at the same time holding the various governments and implementing agencies accountable. This will among other things, ensure sanity, dedication to job, sense of duty, transparency and above all, mitigate corruption. In this regards, the private sector, business community, academia and more importantly, the media must be encouraged and given the opportunity to vet and critic these Chinese contracted developmental projects.
There are successful and intelligent men and women in all fields living in Africa as well as in the Diaspora that can give Africa value for money considering project contracts and negotiations. Until this is done and African leaders began using these best brains so as to obtain better deals from China, the relations will certainly not be totally different from Africa’s past ones.