China's increasing presence on the African continent can no longer be taken for granted
By Chippla Vandu
As a ten-year old, my knowledge of China was limited to that of a huge but once famine- stricken country that was far away.
Its capital, I pretty much knew to be Peking (or Beijing, as is preferred today) as well as the fact that it housed the Great Wall of China, a structure I had come across in encyclopedias.
The name Chairman Mao also did ring a bell, thanks to hours spent watching British comedies. I also knew that Taiwan was close to China. Most toys I had were made in Taiwan. And there were a couple of Chinese restaurants in town, which I learnt served a lot of strange and awkward delicacies.
Well, childhood days are over and both China and Taiwan appear to have changed drastically since those years. The Great Wall still stands in one piece and Beijing remains the Chinese capital.
But, famine and poverty? Well, there may be millions of poor people in China but the country hardly resonates when one speaks about poverty-stricken nations. One would rather be more inclined to think of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and O yes, oil-exporting Nigeria.
With regard to China's recent encroachment on the African continent, I have declared myself a Sino-skeptic a number of times ( i.e., someone who prefers to be cautious about such a relationship rather than opening his/her arms to warmly embrace the fast-changing giant).
China's presence on the African continent can no longer be taken for granted. And while some European and American media attempt to make sense of it, objective reporting is very difficult to come by.
Few people, I believe, ever get to watch, listen to or read the news from other sides of the globe.
The BBC, which, in my opinion, is the most global English-speaking news agency I have come across, is still deeply British (or rather, English), and sees the world as one would when sitting in that corner of the globe.
Not even the presence of foreign correspondents (several of whom are foreign to the lands from which they report) is able to enhance its global outlook.
There's no need delving into American media corporations. CNN, which is viewed in most parts of the world as CNN International is, like the BBC, also global.
But my experience with news in the United States is this: the rest of the world barely exists. To rationalize this, one needs to understand that several of these media corporations have target audiences and only feed their audiences what they want to hear.
Why should America be bothered about a stubborn monarch in Nepal who is trying to rule with absolute power, when the price of gasoline is hitting highs above $3 a gallon?
Back to China. Each time I had the opportunity of tuning into CCTV (Chinese Television), there always seemed to be some ballet or cultural display going on.
Thanks to the Internet however, CCTV is now available online in English, with real-time streaming.
But few in the West may want to be bothered about propaganda television. As with most things in China, the state has control.
The official line from China with regard to how it is portrayed by Western media, when dealing with Africa, is one of disgust. For instance, preceding President Hu Jintao's visit to Morrocco, Nigeria and Kenya, there was significant coverage both in the Western media, and the English-speaking blogosphere about China's increasing role in Africa.
What astonishes one, with regard to the blogosphere coverage, is the diversity of the people who write about these things. They seem to be scattered all across the globe!
The English version of the People's Daily Online [of China] lashes out on Western media with these words:
"Western media hypes up China's 'economic colonialism' in Africa, cooking up stories about China's oil-and-nonferrous metal motivated investment increase in Africa and playing up the ‘threat’ on local business and labor by China's textile exports or the 'menace' on the local economy by China's imports of raw materials and exports of manufacturing products."
It doesn't end there:
"None of those assertions which sound mindful of the interest of the African people are based on facts or go with the tides. Behind them is the intention of sowing discord between China and Africa. As it is known to all, western powers, not China, colonized Africa and looted resources there in the history. There is no historical feuds or interest conflicts between China and African countries. The traditional friendship between China and Africa has a long history and is well-established."
In the new scramble for Africa, China appears to be a winner on all fronts —getting lucrative deals while choosing not to interfere in the internal politics of nations. And, if these nations increase their purchasing power with time, China sees a huge and largely untapped market, and one that has been largely ignored by Europe and the United States.
China is communist but most Africans, I believe, couldn't give a damn about that. The United States, which trumpets democracy as the only acceptable form of government, has as its third largest trading partner, a communist nation!
And history appears to be on the side of China. It never came to the African continent to buy slaves or exploit natural resources with the barrel of a gun, or to carry out atomic tests in the Sahara desert (as shameless France did in the 1960). But China must be aware of the fact that the silencing of opposition within it cannot go on for much longer.
Oil deals struck between China and Nigeria when Mr. Hu Jintao visited Abuja on April 26, 2006 has left me wondering. Nigeria now appears as a nation whose key assets are up for grabs.
Seeming to have little trust in the volatile entity that is Africa's most populous nation, key American and European investments have been limited to the oil and gas industry, predominantly in the South of the country.
China appears to have taken a different turn. It embraces not just oil and gas but anything that appears to be of benefit to it. And I am left wondering. What does this say of what I had always wished would be stronger ties between Nigeria and the United States? A mirage? It seems so. But that is a story for another day.
Vandu is a Nigerian academic and writer. He blogs as Chippla
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