West's attempt to discredit China in Africa
Western countries mistake China's cooperation with Africa as something new, which is not the case. Although China's presence in Africa is more visible today than ever before, with increased trade, large infrastructure projects and loans, the friendship between China and Africa dates back to the 1950s and 1960s, when African countries were struggling for independence.
Tanzania which was the training base for most of the African liberation struggles had 20 Chinese military instructors at Itumbi, while other freedom fighters received military training in China. China provided both military and financial support to Africa's liberation struggle without any preconditions.
It should be understood that China had well established diplomatic relations with the Organization of African Unity which advocated the total liberation of the African continent. The OAU later transformed into The African Union, and when China built the $200 million AU headquarters in 2012, it cemented the long friendship between China and Africa. Rather than being a gift or bribe as Western countries have claimed, it was slap in the face for the West, which had never even considered doing something like that.
China supported Africa countries' liberation struggles even when its own economy faced serious challenges. The Great Leap Forward, which was aimed at rapidly transforming China from an agrarian to industrialized economy, failed to take off. Then Chinese leader Chairman Mao Zedong was trying to adapt a Soviet economic model which did not work as expected, probably because it was not the right time for China due to the lack of sufficient capital to invest heavily in both industry and agriculture at the same time. He later concentrated more on efficient ways of organizing labor and increasing agricultural production.
Thus China's support to the African liberation struggles was not that of a rich nation supporting poor Africa, or a method of trying to take over Africa. It was out of ideological clarity and sacrifice for the liberation of the oppressed African peoples. Given this, and China's foreign policy of noninterference in domestic affairs, cultural respect and the absence of racial prejudice, China has gained much acceptance in Africa.
China also does not have the historical baggage in Africa that Western countries do. The relationship between the West and Africa since the 16th century has been dominated by gross human rights violations, notably the slave trade, killings and massive plunder of Africa's resources. Today, the West champions human rights and gives lessons to Africans on how they should behave. With the unresolved historical injustices to Africans, the moral ground for them to lecture Africa on what they do not practice themselves is detestable. African countries should seek reparations from the Western countries for the historical injustices done them either in the African Court of Justice and Human Rights or the International Court of Justice.
Western economies mainly thrived on the barbaric slave trade and the looting of resources from Africa. Barclay's Bank, for example, was founded on seed capital generated from the slave trade. British men, Benjamin and Arthur Heywood who were prominent slave traders founded Heywoods Bank in 1773 on profits from the slave trade. In 1883, Heywoods was acquired by Martins Bank which was bought by Barclays in 1968. As early as 1668 until 1813, Britain's main gold coin was known as the guinea, because the gold that made it was mined from the African state of Guinea. The people of Guinea never received payment for their gold just like many other African countries never received any money for their natural resources. The Chinese people have built their economy through hard work, sacrifice and preservation of their socioeconomic and cultural values against foreign influence.
One of the ways in which the West is trying to discredit China in Africa is by ruining its image. The recent story published in the French newspaper Le Monde alleging that China spied on the African Union was a fake news strategy aimed at influencing the African heads of states who were in an AU Summit to discuss their relationship with China. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is the current AU chairman and the leader of the AU reforms, refuted the allegations by the French newspaper. The Western media persistently carries such reports targeting China's activities in Africa.
China's influence in Africa is growing based on good diplomatic relations, compared to the West's history of manipulation and merciless exploitation of the continent. China has 52 diplomatic missions in Africa compared to 49 of the US. Of the five UN Security Council members, China has the most peacekeepers in Africa with more than 2,000 troops in five countries. One of the best writers on the exploitation of Africa by the West, Zambian born Economist Dambisa Moyo, in her book, Dead Aid, points out that: "The narrative of donor and recipient has changed considerably with China." Chinese banks are currently giving more loans to African countries than the World Bank. This is a real headache for the West, as the era of exploitative conditional lending to African countries has been rendered obsolete. The West is trying to figure out how to counter China's influence in Africa so it can retain its threatened and tainted foothold in Africa.
China's economy is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with recorded growth of 6.7 percent in 2016, compared to 1.6 percent of the US, according to the IMF's Economic outlook. A new study by PricewaterhouseCoopers says China is projected to overtake the US as the world's largest economy by 2050, India will rank second, while the US will slip to third. This trend is intensifying the trade competition between China and the US. While the West views Africa as a trouble spot of instability and a source of illegal immigrants, China eyes Africa as an economic partner.
Africa is a vast emerging market with a growing population. Over the last decade, 60 percent of the world's 10 fastest growing economies were in Africa. China has realized this, and it has overtaken the US to be Africa's largest trade partner, with the trade volume reaching more than $200 billion.
China's historical foreign policy that supported African countries' liberation from colonialism, and its longstanding respect for the cultural values and political choices of the African people, has made China a strong ally of Africa. The patronizing attempt by the West to impose its own political ideologies on African countries has been rejected. African has embraced a relationship with China built on mutual respect and understanding.
The author is a journalist based in Kigali, Rwanda, and is a commentator on Political issues in Africa.