Thursday, June 16, 2011

Clinton's African Warning

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cut short a three-nation swing through Africa on Tuesday. It might come as a surprise to hear this since little attention had been paid to Clinton's trip in the first place (US media outlets seem to only be stirred to cover Africa when the United States is bombing part of it). It's too bad since the Secretary of State had some interesting things to say about China's growing clout on the continent. While starting with some pleasantries about China and America's interests not necessarily being at odds with each other, according to Reuters, she went on to say “we are however concerned that China's foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance,” and that China “has not always utilized the talents of the African people in pursuing its business interests.”

That first part is a reference to China's tacit support for despots ranging from Sudan's Omar al-Bashir to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and that unlike foreign aid offered by the United States and European nations that is tied to good governance reforms, Chinese aid typically comes with no strings attached – so long as the recipient nation is willing to give China access to whatever vital natural resource they hold (i.e. oil in Sudan, diamonds, gold and other minerals in Zimbabwe). The suggestion from the Western powers is that Chinese aid is undermining their attempts at promoting governmental reform across Africa since despots (like Bashir/Mugabe) know they have a ready source of cash in China – so long as they have the natural resources to pony up. The second part of her statement touches on a bit of growing dissatisfaction towards China in Africa. The Chinese have been laying out billions of dollars to fund major infrastructure projects – roads, bridges, hydroelectric dams and the like – which would not have been built otherwise. But the Chinese method of doing these projects is to dispatch a virtual army of engineers, technicians and laborers, perhaps thousands at a time from China; Africans typically have little or no involvement in the construction of these projects.

So African states are saying to the Chinese that while they appreciate the projects, they'd appreciate it more if training and jobs for their citizens came along as part of the deal, which is the point that Clinton was skillfully hitting at. She suggested that aid from the United States was a viable alternative to the Chinese, but another could be aid from Brazil. RealClearWorld recently ran an informative piece on the “Brazilian way” of doing foreign aid projects, which unlike the Chinese, includes training and jobs for indigenous workers, something appreciated by the African nations. Brazil has also been able to capitalize on the fact that it was never a colonizing power, playing off the long, sad history Africa has had with Europe and fears voiced in some corners that China is attempting a 21st century style of colonization with their aid-for-resources approach. Brazil, which is emerging as the regional power in South America and as an energy-exporting nation, is increasing their foreign aid and assistance programs.
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