China and Africa

China and Africa: the hypocrisy of the West

Botswana's Festus Mogae - "Bugger all I can do about it"
Two weeks ago, China hosted the board meeting of the Africa Development Bank (ADB) in Shanghai. Economist Jeffry Sachs attended the meeting and wrote an opinion piece for about it contrasting China's initiatives with the failure of the World Bank in Africa: China's lessons for the World Bank. Excerpt:
I had the chance to participate in high-level meetings between Chinese and African officials at the ADB meetings. The advice that the African leaders received from their Chinese counterparts was sound, and much more practical than what they typically get from the World Bank.

Chinese officials stressed the crucial role of public investments, especially in agriculture and infrastructure, to lay the basis for private-sector-led growth. In a hungry and poor rural economy, as China was in the 1970s and as most of Africa is today, a key starting point is to raise farm productivity. Peasant farmers need the benefits of fertiliser, irrigation, and high-yield seeds, all of which were a core part of China's economic takeoff.

Two other critical investments are also needed: roads and electricity, without which there cannot be a modern economy. Farmers might be able to increase their output, but it won't be able to reach the cities, and the cities won't be able to provide the countryside with inputs. The officials stressed how the government has taken pains to ensure that the power grid and transportation network reaches every village in China.

Of course, the African leaders were most appreciative of the next message: China is prepared to help Africa in substantial ways in agriculture, roads, power, health, and education. And the African leaders already know that this is not an empty boast. All over Africa, China is financing and constructing basic infrastructure. During the meeting, the Chinese leaders emphasised their readiness to support agricultural research as well. They described new high-yield rice varieties, which they are prepared to share with their African counterparts.

Sachs is a controversial figure. This opinion piece is again treading on controversial ground. You can browse the comments at the bottom of Sach's piece (linked above) or the comments on this Peking Duck post about the article to get an idea of typical Western reactions.

Your correspondent can't get rid of the feeling that Westerners, smug because they recently granted their African colonies independence after hundreds of years of exploitative colonialism, may not have the right to lecture China on how to behave in Africa.

In response, below is a transcript of a part of a Channel 4 news piece by Lindsey Hilsum that was broadcast during the China - Africa summit in Beijing in November last year. While the report did note global concerns about China's role in Africa, it also included quotes from interviews with the presidents of Uganda and Botswana.

Yoweri Museveni has been president of Uganda since he took power in 1986 as the head of a national guerilla movement. Initially hugely popular in Uganda and among foreign donors, in more recent years he has attracted criticism from the West because he amended the constitution to allow him to run in the 2006 presidential elections and and imprisoned his main rival.

On the other hand, Botswana's president Festus Mogae and his country — probably the best managed in Africa with a booming economy and highly transparent government — are the African darlings of the West.

This is what the two of them had to say to Lindsey Hilsum about China's involvement in Africa on the Channel 4 news clip:

Hilsum: African presidents and prime ministers, and many of the business people I have been speaking to love the sense that they are being honored, feted by the Chinese. They say it makes such a contrast from the reception they feel they get in the West, as representatives of a failed continent.

This is the Ugandan president, criticized by the West for extending his 20 year rule:

"The Western ruling groups are conceited, full of themselves, ignorant of our conditions, and they make other people's business their business. Whereas the Chinese just deal with you, you represent your country, they represent their own interests, and you do business."

Hilsum: Even the president of democratic Botswana, praised by the West, feels it.

"I find that the Chinese treat us as equals. The West treats us as former subjects. Which is a reality. I prefer the attitude of the Chinese to that of the West.

But there's bugger all I can do about it."

Note: The sentence "It seems that Westerners, smug after granting their African colonies independence..." was amended to its current form several hours after posting.

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There are currently 10 Comments for China and Africa: the hypocrisy of the West.

Comments on China and Africa: the hypocrisy of the West

So apparently there is no progress in human affairs? We should forget about modern notions of human rights and democracy because these notions were not so well developed in the past?
China apologists will always hop on the specious argument of past Western evils. The same argument is used regarding environmental damage in China. The fact that Western countries did evil things in the past is irrelevant to what is acceptable in today's reality. In 19th century Europe, it was a perfectly acceptable notion that Africans were inferior and so should be "assisted" via colonialism. Happily, this attitude has evolved over the past century to a modern understanding of ethnicity and the benefits of human rights and democracy that is pretty universally embraced in all free societies throughout the world (not just the West). Despite their many limitations Western organizations such as the IMF and World Bank as well as various charities have striven to tie aid to good governance, a seemingly pretty sensible approach. For China to encourage and support kleptocracies today, given Africa's history over the past 50 post-colonial years is unforgivable.

So it's correct to starve and neglect people simply because we consider their government bad. It's their fault anyways, they're a bunch of ignorant pigs who are too cowardly to overthrow their oppressors.

ShaMao'r: agreed.

talk of "hypocrisy" is an invitation to a downward comparison, a race to the bottom. the "credibility" of the west as critical onlooker has very little to do with the substance of the west's critique.

china is bargain-hunting in africa for fossil fuels, mineral deposits, and development projects which require chinese labor (skilled and manual). nothing more and nothing less.

they think they need africa; the west thinks it doesn't.

why is this not hypocrisy? It seems to be the West don't really really care... Know what I mean?

At least the Chinese straight up tell you it's business, instead of wrapping it up in some bullshit.

The west always talk the talk but they don't walk the walk.

The reality is what it is because of the past...

Is accusing someone of hypocrisy if they criticise someone even though their country has also done bad things in the past really conducive of constructive debate?

And when will we stop talking about that mythical place "the West".

One observer noted, “So apparently there is no progress in human affairs?” Which of the humans, you are referring to? The Black human?

Which aspects of the modern notions of human rights and democracy you suggest we do not forget as African?

You said, "Because these notions were not so well developed in the past" Are they developed now?

You stated that China apologists will always hop on the specious argument of past Western evils. Name the present Western good. By the way of you think, in a convenient compartment, I can predict your answer.

Again you said, "The same argument is used regarding environmental damage in China" and "The fact that Western countries did evil things in the past is irrelevant to what is acceptable in today's reality" I wish I had the opportunity to watch your face as you write these words.

The West does not have an inch of moral ground on which to stand on all points or the issues you raised. The greatest insecurity the World face at this moment is the mindset of people like you - a one-dimensional minded thinker.

You go on thinking that what you are saying really maters, increasingly more people now know better.

All I'm saying is stop looking down on others from your high chair.

I'll be the first one to admit that China is messed up, and will continue to be messed up in the future. The West, i.e U.S.A, E.U, etc is superior in many ways.

But at the same time don't be blinded by the trickeries and bullshit lies of the American government. Because U.S.A looks out for #1...


Another thing. People in the U.S are kind and nice people. But sometimes you they do tend to look down on others.

Especially when you mix in religion.

[joined multiple posts - JM]

What country do you come from Usman?
"The West does not have an inch of moral ground on which to stand on all points or the issues you raised."
So people born in, say, Irealand, which never colonized another country and was itself colonized by a superpower, still cannot utter a single word on African issues? -Even if they happen to have studied them for many years?

Ridiculous. I will not address Usman as he clearly did not understand the points.

Of course countries act mainly to their own advantage, that has always been and likely always will be reality.

But with that said, there are certain notions that have become accepted by most over the past few decades not only in the US and Europe but in just about any free society in the world. One of these would be that kleptocracies are bad. Governments that are run by a tiny elite who sell that country's resources and put the profit in their own offshore bank accounts are not ones that should be supported if possible.

Yes, the US and other governments do support such regimes as a geo-political necessity at times, but at least international finance and aid organizations have made great strides to tie aid to good governance.

The attitude and actions of China in Africa is greatly undermining these efforts. The history of colonialism or any other historical consideration is really irrelevant to this fact.

Hmmm U.S support these types of governments all over the world... Pakistan?

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