By Kumbukilani Phiri
It has indeed been a busy few weeks after the FOCAC where the entire African leadership except for Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) went to Beijing to cut deals with China. The West has gone wild with propaganda and most African countries have been a target of the China scare slander campaign.
Now that the lies and truths about the China fever in Africa has reached its peak and we are now faced with the dilemma to either believe what has been said or not, I thought of sharing my thoughts on this topic.
A few days before the FOCAC in Beijing, I wrote about some distinct policies that have made China to be where it is now and wished our leaders the best of their FOCAC meetings in Beijing.
Truth be told, China is not and will not be the bad guy in the cooperation with Africa. If this cooperation is going to fail, we will have ourselves to blame. Here is why;
China FDI to Africa is still the lowest among all the continents. For instance, in 2016, the highest China NET FDI went to Asia at $130.27 billion, followed by Latin America at $27.23 billion, North America at $20.35 billion, Europe at $10.69 billion, Oceania at $5.21 billion and Africa received a paltry 2.4 billion investment. In fact the United States receives more China FDI than the entire Africa every year.
China has a very powerful leadership structure which Africa or African countries cannot match. Therefore, when it comes to the execution of the deals, if Africa does not up its systems to match up to China, then we stand to lose out.
According to the Chinese, A WIN WIN deal is one in which either party gets their perceived value from the deal. As Africans, we have a tendency of getting satisfied and comfortable with mediocrity. If we are going to execute these deals with poor governance structures, our representatives will easily sign off deals once they are given a few coins for themselves, not knowing that they are actually selling off an entire country.
The lack of understanding of Chinese culture by Africans is our weakest bargaining point. The Chinese try to understand their partner’s way before sitting down with them for any discussions. The Chinese will go to great lengths to know the size of your dress, the number of children you have, what food you like, etc, so that when they meet you, it will look like they have known you for a long time. They will buy gifts for you whether you are visiting them or they are visiting you. Unfortunately, as Africans we even ask our hosts or visitors to buy us gifts of our choice without any reciprocation. This becomes our weak touch to negotiate deals as we are already psychologically defeated by the generosity of our colleagues and the only thing left is to be soft on negotiating national deals as a way to give back. This is the reason why we get surprised at how our representatives signed off certain deals which look very unreasonable. In such instances we need to know that they were given some iPads and phones by the other party before getting on the negotiating table.
Failure is not part of Chinese vocabulary and culture. Chinese respect instructions from their leaders and have a strong sense of patriotism. It’s an honour for a Chinese to represent his country at any platform and they take this very seriously. When leaders assign work to a Chinese subordinate, they expect total success no matter what it takes. Subordinates also want to exceed their leader’s expectations by executing deals at the lowest budget and in record time. This culture poses a great threat to our representatives who mostly have no loyalty to their leaders and their countries. They will go to China with a laisses faire attitude and they will be knocked down in the first round by their well prepared and not taking chances opponents.
China is smart, no cash will be poured in our treasuries, and money will be given directly to Chinese contractors. Now, imagine signing off a deal at 3 times the actual value because you received a little insignificant something from our Chinese friends as a gift, the fact is that you will have sold off your entire country because the executing companies for the deals will be Chinese with little local content. Therefore, the net gain for most deals may end up in the negatives as there is no effect in the communities where they are being carried out. We can take a leaf from the Malaysian Prime Minister on how he wants to deal with China.
China will continue making friends for recognition as a real world power and Africa is an easy ally because of its global positioning and we are known to be very good receivers (reactive) and not givers (proactive). Further, we don’t make any decisions at the UN or at WTO; we can easily be swayed and bought.
The West will continue playing double standards as regards our friendship with China. In the actual fact, they are also yearning for Chinese money as much as we do. Imagine they are the largest beneficiaries of the Built and Road Initiative and only a few African countries will directly benefit from it, but they are trying to portray a picture of bad deal for Africa already. We need to be very careful with them.
The West still has no trust about our loyalty to them and our capacity to make good decisions for ourselves. Their fear is that China will spoil us to compensate for their centuries of lies to us, so they will continue sponsoring propaganda to confuse our already confused minds. We need to put our focus on what we want from China not what the West is telling us. In as much as we have to be cautious as we cooperate with China, the west should be the last to pretend to have our best interests at heart, they have had the opportunity to be our real messiah for centuries now, but they can only point at brainwashing us using their culture which to some extent supports their own agenda in Africa as it has failed to accrue meaningful development for us. Their primary focus was to grab our land and minerals for free. Surely with the rise of China, the west can sit back and either cooperate or just compete. They have not been our real friends.
In conclusion, unless we are a cursed and not really ambitious at all, China poses a real opportunity for us to have some form of control on what we want. That’s why we need to quickly devise a strategy for our new friend. He is rich and he is ready to spoil us, but, will he spoil us with intoxicating substances or tangible things that will benefit us even in the future? The choice is ours. Our excitement to receive free things should not blind us to the real threat that the new loans and grants that our rich friend (China) is giving us. Remember our friend has a family and a big family of over 1.5 billion people to take care of. We need to study him carefully, we need to know his interests, and we need to know his motivation of coming to us. We need to understand how we can tame his expectations; we need him to know that we are not a bunch of people who can easily be bought with hard liquor and a few toys.
One thing for sure is that our new friend is here to stay, all we need is to make sure that he understands his role and position in our house; he needs to know that the master bedroom (internal politics) remains ours no matter his money. The day we will allow him to enter our master bedroom is the day we will lose our throne, and it will not be long before he throws us out like a stranger. We have been there before, the West came, and they forced themselves into our master bedroom and took over the throne. Today we are still healing from the scars of this part of our history. We shouldn’t forget, Africa still has a future, let’s not sell it to our new friends like our forefathers did; the consequences of doing that now may be too grave to the extent of putting our entire race at risk.