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World awakens to a rising Africa

Updated: 2012-10-15 17:40
By Tom McGregor ( China Daily)

Africa appears to hold amazing potential for greater prosperity. The land is rich in natural resources with much fertile ground for agriculture and a population that remains young with high birth rates. The continent is recognized for its beautiful natural scenery, abundant wildlife and unexplored regions destined for development.

Yet, the Western media often portrays it as the Dark Continent ravaged by wars, corruption and famines. Many Westerners perceive Africans as primitive and treat them as charity cases. Hence, Africa has received little respect from the West.

However, the continent is enjoying remarkable economic growth in recent years and some so-called experts on Africa from the US or Europe had blasted stronger Sino-African economic ties. They claim that Beijing seeks to exploit Africans, not help them.

Skeptics accuse the Chinese of making a power grab to drain its natural resources. Yet, the criticisms seem to be more about pushing a joint US-EU globalist agenda that knocks out Chinese business rivals.

Accordingly, they belittle Chinese companies as "incompetent", and encourage African governments to sign more expensive contracts with major Western firms.

Alexander Benard, managing director of Gryphon Partners, wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, "ask any African ministry official or businessperson his or her views on Chinese companies and you tend to get the same response: horrible quality and broken promises." He added, "The Chinese brand is often the object of ridicule even among average Africans."

He declared US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an "effective partner" for the African business community, which may come as no surprise since Benard formerly worked for the US Defense Department, according to National Review magazine.

Well, yes it's true that sometimes mistakes have occurred when some Chinese companies and investors built major infrastructure projects. But, it's impossible to build Rome overnight. Pointing at a few flaws overlooks the big picture – China has invested billions of dollars into the African economy, which is blossoming nowadays.

China has become Africa's largest trading partner and Africa is expected to surpass the US and EU as China's largest trading partner in three to five years, according to Wei Jianguo, a senior commerce official in Beijing.

Related reading: African trade to surpass EU, US

As reported by the General Administration of Customs, "in 2012, China's trade with Africa will probably hit $220 billion, up 25 percent year-on-year. China's exports to Africa grew 22 percent in the first nine months this year, while imports jumped by 21.5 percent during the period."

Additionally, "China's non-financial direct investment in Africa increased 58.9 percent year-on-year to $1.7 billion last year, according to the Ministry of Commerce. By the end of 2011, Chinese investment stock in Africa reached $14.7 billion, up 60 percent compared with 2009," as disclosed by media reports.

President Alassane Ouattra of Coite d' Ivoire, disputes the notion that all African officials despise Chinese investments. At the 4th Conference of Chinese and African Entrepreneurs in July, he said, "Chinese investment is the cornerstone for our country to maintain a double-digit GDP growth from 2014 to 2105."

Other high-level African officials have voiced their support as well. H.E. Alhaji Amini Bashir Walid, ambassador of Nigeria to China, told ChinAfrica magazine that "he believes Africa is headed in the right direction although numerous problems persist".

He added, "China comes to Africa with a win-win situation," according to ChinAfrica. "The ambassador accepts that entrepreneurs want to earn a profit, and the Chinese and Africans can speak at the same level."

He blasted the West for trying to "dictate morality" to Africa, which highlights the key difference between Chinese and Western perceptions of Africa.

The Chinese seek a business partnership, while the West wants to keep the continent as tool for philanthropy. Accordingly, many Africans appreciate China's efforts to show them the path to emerge as an economic super power with a burgeoning middle class, which would help them overcome a subservient role as recipients for donations.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.