Defend Truth


Chinese mantra of win-win co-operation makes political and economic sense


Paul Zilungisele Tembe is a Fellow at TMALI and Associate Professor of Zhejiang Normal University

The Western model of organising society is on the ropes. The shortcomings of democracy fuel the rise of populism. The weaknesses of a liberal market economy have increased poverty and inequality. What then are the viable alternatives to stem problems of late capitalism? Which model should Africa consider as it is courted by the European Union, North America, Russia and China?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) gathering in Davos is now viewed with suspicion as an example of the economic division between the 1% elite and the 99% economically disenfranchised. This growing gulf is underlined in a recently released Oxfam Report which points out that the wealth of 26 billionaires is equivalent to the assets of 3.8 billion people.

Should we then not consider imposing a 1% wealth tax (about $400-billion), as Thomas Piketty and others suggested to deal with poverty, inequality and unemployment (PUI)?

Failure to deal head-on with PUI has shown the fault lines in a Western democracy, as highlighted by Brexit, Trumpism, Jair Bolsonaro and emergence of populism.

Quite obviously, Francis Fukuyama was wrong in his “end of history” prediction. The Western liberal democracy model is not the final solution. Countries in the Global South are looking elsewhere for a model that could spur economic growth, build state capacity and unite society towards a common vision.

Post-1978 China is proving popular and gaining traction, in Africa above all. From Ethiopia to Kenya and South Africa, the Beijing Consensus is becoming a favoured friend instead of the Bretton Woods agreement.

But is this influence a signal that China is recolonising Africa and only interested in extracting its abundant natural resources? Would postcolonial countries in 2019 be so blind as to allow another superpower to colonise them and exploit their resources without benefit for their people?

The evidence shows the contrary, that Chinese material support to Africa produces positive results. The Chinese mantra of win-win co-operation makes political and economic sense when factoring that, instead of planting military bases in Africa, China has focused on hard infrastructure (railways, roads, communication, cities).

Instead of indoctrinating African scholars with individualistic Western values, China prioritises frameworks, like Confucianism, which share much with African belief systems such as communitarianism or ubuntu.

The Chinese model is becoming preferred by African governments since it is based on a three-point strategy. This strategy of Africa-China engagement consists of infrastructure development, human resources development and financial support. These three strategic areas are structural bottlenecks which have hindered the much-punted “Africa Rising” narrative as witnessed by the stellar cases of Rwanda, Mauritius, and Botswana.

Of course, one should also mention leadership incapacity and epidemic corruption as two other important factors responsible for our continent being dubbed “the hopeless continent” by the Economist magazine in May 2000.

Therefore, if China was intent on exploiting Africa, would it have built more than 10,000 kilometres of roads, 6,000 kilometres of railway lines, in addition to the hundreds of schools, stadiums, and seaports dotting the African landscape? Would China have agreed to show its hand of solidarity and friendship by financing the headquarters of the African Union (AU) in Ethiopia even though the AU is still largely dependent on the EU for its operational upkeep?

Logic says that it is not in the interests of China for Africa to remain poor and dependent. This would run counter to the practical vision of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative which aims to connect the world’s trade and infrastructure routes.

It makes sense to assist in Africa’s mid- to long-term development since this is a continent with an enviable young population, hungry for reskilling and retraining for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It also makes sense to empower Africa’s demographic dividend to climb the social ladder into a middle-class lifestyle, to partake in entrepreneurial drives and innovation schemes.

Win-win co-operative development, unlike colonial divide-and-rule, is a rational choice as everyone looks towards the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) gaining political stability under, hopefully, a new progressive national leader. As the DRC emerges from decades of exploitation and misgovernance, it will need genuine friends to build a community of a shared future for its long-suffering citizens who have never tasted the fruits of postcolonial freedom.

It is possible to speak of an African Dream in the same sentence as a Chinese Dream since China has no history of forced or benign colonisation.

It is possible to realise Nelson Mandela’s vision that, “If there are dreams about a beautiful Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal”. The China-Africa co-operation model is such a goal. DM

Paul Zilungisele Tembe is a Fellow at TMALI and Associate Professor of Zhejiang Normal University.


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