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.


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