Monday, 2 July 2012
China in Africa: pure motives?
There is a new narrative about China's ever growing appetite for investment in Africa, and it's one that is proving to be very challenging, and provocative, for those in the West who view the continent through the prism of poverty.
Dambisa Moyo, a high flying Zambian and one time World Bank official, regards aid as dead. Not good enough, she argues, that aid takes little account of the sometimes venal regimes to which that aid is given nor the fact that it is the wrong type of aid to stimulate a genuinely diverse economy capable of competing in the world.
That book alone made Moyo her name as an author and you can argue the merits of the debate one way or another. But her latest book, called “Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World” and which she is vigorously promoting in broadcast studios across the world at the moment, makes the case that China's transformative presence in Africa is a thoroughly good thing - a "boon for Africa" as she puts it in this NY Times op-ed.
To those worried about power games, seeing the trend as evidence of a power grab from the East, she says this: "Despite all the scaremongering, China’s motives for investing in Africa are actually quite pure". And to those who argue that China is exploiting people she points out that this may result in African citizens asking pointed questions of their own Governnments, which is no bad thing.
Moyo often neutralises criticism of her positions by emphasising that she is arguing from an African standpoint. That is a powerful dampener and is the same one responsible for the reluctance of many Western Governments to talk about politics and freedoms when they design and donate their aid, anticipating the charge of neo-colonialism.
But some are unimpressed with this latest foray by Moyo, including Oxford Analytica's Jolyon Ford who wrote his own Op-Ed critiquing that of Moyo on All-Africa.com. He regards Moyo's analysis as at best simplistic and at worst missing a genuine opportunity to subject the role of China to a thoroughgoing assessment.
Things are more complex, says Ford, and questions why an economist of Moyo's standing chose not to address whether or not China's economic investments in Africa would result in genuinely diverse African economic growth. He asks a whole series of other questions including the extent to which local jobs are being created (given China's reputation for importing workers along with their wealth) and whether or not Africa has swapped indebtedness to Western donors to greater chains of debt to Chinese creditors.
For my own perspective I've been bemused by Moyo's other major claim in her latest book, which is that there are likely to be wars over resources. Some might say wars over resources have been going on on a very grand scale for some considerable time, athough in fairness she is simply saying there will be more. Given the failure of the Rio+20 conference to take any meaningful action on addressing issues such as climate change she probably has a point, but perhaps makes it clumsily.
Moyo burst on to the scene with Dead Aid and did so with much backing from African opinion formers themselves. But it appears her latest argument on China as being the next best thing for the continent is under real scrutiny, including from African sources, and many are finding it wanting.