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Over the weekend, Ghana detained 100 Chinese for "illegal" mining, the latest case of frictions caused by Chinese economic activities in Africa, amid Western media's China bashing on the continent. However, such incidents shouldn't be allowed to harm growing China-Africa ties.
China established trade and diplomatic ties with Africa way back in the 15th century. Chinese ambassador-cum-mariner Zheng He, who led many a trade and goodwill delegation to Southeast and South Asia, and Africa during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 ), was in the same league as Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus.
As Europe colonized Africa, China and other foreign trade powerhouses with ties with Africa slowly faded into the background, grappling with their own issues with the colonizers and would-be world dominators.
As China's friendship with Africa faded, Western media joined the barrage of tools and stratagems designed and strategically deployed to enforce colonial rule over most of Africa. From its colonial highpoint through the era of sustained uprisings against the sweeping dominance of imperial powers to the present times, no integrated continent-wide information calibration-cum-dissemination model has been successfully forged in Africa.
This unfortunate omission has denied the continent a truly independent and united Afro-centric voice or news channel that can effectively interrogate the rest of the world. This has been a major, yet largely unattended, shortcoming in Africa.
With the West, by and large, still dictating media-generated propaganda in Africa and, by extension, luring Africans to Western thought and consumerism, China and other foreign partners of the continent should brace themselves for an arduous task.
Over the last few months, China has established an Africa channel in its worldwide news outlet China Central Television. This channel is particularly significant, because apart from Al Jazeera there has not been an alternative authoritative news port from outside Europe and the United States.
Through the influence of foreign news channels and their local media converts, Africa has consistently received Western ideas in such key areas as governance. Democracy, as cooked, simmered and served in the West, has perhaps been the most visible point of interest on a rather limited menu. Little wonder, China is now being sold by the West as the ultimate snake oil of neo-colonialism.
There is need to set the record right on the all-important foreign relations of China in governance and democracy in Africa. To illustrate the case properly, let us peg our argument on the fast-changing political landscape in Africa and the smoldering tug-of-war between China and the West to influence Africa.
Between January and December 2012, all factors remaining constant, 16 African countries will hold national elections. Africa comprises more than 50 states, which means nearly one-third of them have already gone or will go to the polls this year.
Political high seasons attract greater media focus and keener foreign interests, which are trained mainly on incoming leaderships. The significance of elections in some of the 16 countries extends beyond their national borders. The penumbrae of influence associated with Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria that sometimes span several neighbouring states are regarded as crucial strategic hubs in foreign relations circles.
Political activity and kow-towing media and foreign interests from Cairo to Cape Town in 2012 and beyond will be fuelled by the reality of Africa's inevitable coming out party.
For starters, according to a recent report of the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies, "Africa's Economic Report 2012: Unleashing Africa's Potentials", seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. They are Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria in descending order. The other three economies in the top-10 list are China, India and Vietnam, again in that order.
If commonality of trends counts for anything, then Africa's emerging moment is on the same tangent as China's. In this regard, more captive confluences between the destinies of the two beg a keener analysis.
As politicians in different parts of Africa continue to regale and even electrify their electorates with promises of a better life, the focus will be on better roads, better markets for their produce, cleaner water and more reliable health facilities.
Few of those looking for victory will focus on such important but moot topics in the African context as governance, expansion of democratic space and agitation for civil liberties. Make no mistake; they will not dwell on the subjects not because they are not important. They will side step them because such issues, amid deprivation, hunger and poor infrastructure, don't count much among the poor and marginalized across Africa.
In fact, with reference to governance, a near-obsession with Western lobby groups, most politicians would rather talk about accountable exploitation of natural resources, which continue to be discovered every day in many places in Africa.
Of course, the Western media will report what has been spoken, but they will also sneak in their preferred governance styles and systems which they consider superior to others. The dessert on this predictable menu, as you may well have guessed, will certainly be "China's takeover of Africa".
What the West seems to miss is a straightforward fact - that China is meeting Africans at their point of need while the West has stuck to a rendezvous whose relevance may not yet be critical in a long list of priorities.
The author is a culture editor with Kenya-based magazine, Diplomat East Africa.
(China Daily 10/17/2012 page9)