How does Chinese aid interact with level of democracy in poor countries?

It is a commonly accepted idea in IR theory that states have the habit of externalizing their domestic institutions [and accompanying economic and political systems] in their engagements within the international system (See Katzenstein, 1976 [pdf, gated]) – think democracy promotion, Reagan-Thatcherist free market evangelism, or Sino-Russian coziness with states that have an authoritarian bend. 

This phenomenon has non-trivial implications for development assistance. For instance, poor countries receiving capacity development assistance from say a Scandinavian liberal democracy often need to also adopt related practices beyond the narrow specific field (say tax reform) that is being addressed by the capacity development program. Many projects fail to produce the desired results because of this. Indeed past research has shown that “though aid [from wealthier, mostly Western democracies] does not affect quality of life in the aggregate, it is effective when combined with democracy, and ineffective (and possibly harmful) in autocracies.” [Kosack, 2003- pdf]

So does the effect of Chinese aid/finance to poorer countries follow this pattern? In other words, does the institutional incongruence effect also hold for autocratic donors? Image

The folks at Aid Data blog think it does: 

…… we estimate the relationship between Chinese development finance and human development in democratic and autocratic recipient countries. Our results show a negative relationship between Chinese development finance and human development in democratic countries. Interestingly, these results also suggest that Chinese development finance can successfully promote HDI growth for autocratic recipients. Kosack found the opposite pattern in his study of Western aid.

The findings are preliminary and may not withstand robustness checks, but all the same interesting.

More on this here.

Also, check out the Economist for a neat analysis of the potential impact of a Chinese economic slowdown on African economies.

China in Kenya

Increasing Chinese soft power in Africa is real.

China in Kenya

I have been spending a lot of time in government offices and libraries in Nairobi lately. One thing that struck me this morning is that China Daily now publishes an Africa Weekly magazine and that government offices in Nairobi actually subscribe to it. They do not subscribe to the IHT.

US Africa Policy, A Response

This is a guest post by friend of the blog Matthew Kustenbauder responding to a previous post.

On the question of human rights guiding America’s foreign policy in Africa, I agree with you; it shouldn’t be the first priority. The US needs a more pragmatic development diplomacy strategy, which would help African countries develop just as it would help American businesses thrive.

But I disagree with your characterization of Hillary’s position in this respect. Here’s Secretary Clinton’s own words:
“Last year I laid out America’s economic statecraft agenda in a series of speeches in Washington, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and New York. Since then, we’ve accelerated the process of updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account. And that includes emphasizing the Asia Pacific region and elevating economics in relations with other regions, like in Latin America, for example, the destination for 40 percent of U.S. exports. We have ratified free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. We are welcoming more of our neighbours, including Canada and Mexico, into the Trans-Pacific Partnership process. And we think it’s imperative that we continue to build an economic relationship that covers the entire hemisphere for the future.” 
“Africa is home to seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. People are often surprised when I say that, but it’s true. And we are approaching Africa as a continent of opportunity and a place for growth, not just a site of endless conflict and crisis. All over the world, we are turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; for example, using new financial tools to squeeze Iran’s nuclear program. And we’re stepping up commercial diplomacy, what I like to call jobs diplomacy, to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, lower the playing field – level the playing field for our businesses. And we’re building the diplomatic capacity to execute this agenda so that our diplomats are out there every single day promoting our economic agenda.” 

One of the problems, however, is that the pragmatic approach articulated by the Secretary doesn’t trickle down through the bureaucracy. This is especially true, ironically, of the State Department’s primary development diplomacy arm, USAID, which has a deeply entrenched culture of being anti-business. It’s a huge problem, and part of the reason why American foreign policy in Africa has been so slow to adjust to new economic realities.

Security drives US Africa Policy

Security drives US Africa Policy

Academics schooled in all the latest development orthodoxies but lacking the most basic understanding of economic or business history have flocked to USAID, so that the suggestion that American economic interests should guide development policy – making it a win-win for Africa and America – is anathema. It’s also why the Chinese are running all over the US in Africa.

As a prominent economic historian recently remarked in the Telegraph, “While we [Western governments] indulge our Victorian urge to give alms to the Africans, Beijing is pumping black gold.” And this is just it. As long as the US approaches Africa as a beggar needing to be saved and not as a business partner worthy of attention, both sides will continue to lose out.

In this respect, what Africa does not need is another “old Africa hand” steeped in conventional development ideas and old dogmas about what’s wrong with Africa and why the US must atone for the West’s sins. For this reason alone, John Kerry – not Susan Rice – probably stands a better chance, as the next Secretary of State, at putting American foreign policy toward Africa on a more solid footing.

- Matthew Kustenbauder is a PhD candidate in history at Harvard University.

Ignoring the log in one’s own eye (forgive the hackneyed biblical metaphor)

Hilary Clinton is on a tour of three African states. She is visiting Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia. This is what she had to say in Lusaka:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday warned Africa of a creeping “new colonialism” from foreign investors and governments interested only in extracting the continent’s natural resources to enrich themselves and not the African people. 

The point was directed at China.

But Mrs Clinton’s statement conveniently left out Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, among others. In these states the US government and American multinationals continue to cooperate with regimes that are obscenely corrupt and/or repressive for “constructive reasons.”

Chinese involvement in Africa is not clean, no doubt about that. Beijing’s support of the murderous regime in Khartoum is despicable. But this is nothing new. The US, Western Europe and Russia have done worse. The worst of all is the French who were in bed with the Rwandan army even as elements within it (Rwandan army) orchestrated the 1994 genocide.

Many people that I have spoken to about Chinese involvement in Africa seem to have lots to complain about, but they also like Chinese pragmatism. They get the roads built, the fibre cables laid out, etc.

I must say that Africans who are suffering under oppressive regimes still need western pressure on their governments to allow for more political space (however janus-faced this pressure might be). That said, Africa needs more options. A globally conscious China with lots of money to throw around will – in the long run – do more good than harm in Africa.

Their resources-for-(white elephant)-projects approach might yet prove to be better than the previous resources-for-Swiss-bank-accounts approach of Western multinationals.

And as has been the case with shady Western involvement in Africa, whenever the Chinese make deals that are bad for the locals the blame should be directed at the African governments who take side payments and look the other way.


if a tenth the charities out to help “africa” were any good ….

A lot of money has been poured in Africa (to use a Kenyan phrase) since the 1960s. Most of it has gone down the drain without much impact. If a tenth of the aid effort in Africa were effective things would be very different. Instead you have a cacophony of aid effort without much coordination. Yes there are the many hospitals, schools and business projects that have improved millions of livelihoods, and we applaud them. But there are also bizarre projects – like giving rape victims cameras to record their ordeals in the Congo or this crazy idea to send a million shirts to Africa.  As Aid Watch aptly puts it, a lot of aid is never about what the people in this mythical place called Africa need but what people want to give – and oftentimes what they want to give is a function of their warped notion of what life is like on the Continent.

And in other news, Sierra Leone has seen the light. As I noted here two years ago, the country’s HDI indicators belong in a time long gone. It is therefore encouraging that the Sierra Leoneans have decided to take HDI matters seriously.

china in africa: getting the right picture

Here is a new blog on this by Brautigam. I attended her talk at Stanford and kind of liked the book.

I am glad that a consensus seems to be emerging that one-sided and blind China-bashing is not productive, especially with regard to Chinese involvement in Africa.

And in other news, what is Kagame up to? The man appears to be turning into a paranoid autocrat. It’s been 16 years since 1994 and about time he started being more open to constructive criticism.

equatorial guinea, where does the money go?

Equatorial Guinea is the third largest oil producer in Africa, right after Nigeria and Angola. Equatorial Guinea also has just over half a million people. It therefore defies logic that this country should still have many of its people living in squalid conditions. This country ranks 121st out of 177 on the UN Human development Index, even though it has a per capita income (PPP)  of 50,200 (CIA Factbook) – only second to Luxembourg in the entire world! Why are many Equatorial Guineans still dirt poor, dying from treatable illnesses and ignorant? Where is Teodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo taking all the oil money?

This is a shame to the continent and to Obiang and his cronies. It is high time African leaders became their own keepers and fostered a culture of intra-continental competition rather than their old-school collusion to steal all they can from the poor and dying, as is happening in this fabulously wealthy country. This is especially important now that the EU and the US – because of competition for resources with China – have decided, like the latter, to turn a blind eye to gross injustices like this one.

With a total population smaller than those of most African capitals, and with all the oil money, how hard can it be to keep track of everyone and ensure that all Equatorial Guineans are well fed, educated and healthy?

of teddy bears and Bashir’s pardon

So in the last few days there has been uproar in Europe over the ludicrous jailing of a British teacher in Sudan because she let her young students christen a teddy bear Mohamed ……. really Sudan, really? Luckily for the poor well-meaning lady the international attention that was generated by her arrest and the resultant embarrassment to the Sudanese top brass made the Bashir government decide to pardon her and have her taken back to the UK.

This got me thinking, it is apparent – at least after this incident – that Bashir cares about what people outside Northern Sudan (East of Darfur) and China think of him. Just like embarrassment was used to put some sense into his administration about this teddy bear incident may be the international community can embarrass him with different kinds of stories about Darfur. Stories with a human face.

A lot of the stories coming out of Darfur have mostly included blanket reports on atrocities and numbers of those dead and displaced but we have not yet had a well publicised story of a poor woman, named say Aisha, who may have been raped, had a village razed to the ground and then left to die by the Janjaweed but who mysteriously survived. May be after Bashir sees these human stories he might just be persuaded into accepting the fact that Darfur needs more attention than it is getting right now from Khartoum.

As the world continues to call him names and antagonise him, Bashir might be growing even thicker skin and plugging his ears. What he can’t ignore, it seems, is an assault on his pride and his basic human sensibilities.

I have focussed on Bashir but this could apply to all those involved in the atrocities in Darfur, including the men bearing the red flag from the East.