Is Africa a trophy for the West and China to fight for?


Africa, which has had average annual growth of between 4 and 5 percent since 2000, has become a sought after trophy by the West especially because of China’s interest. China not only has the money but is also not imposing strict conditions that the West does. But more importantly China is hungry for resources which used to be the preserve of the West.

Britain’s House of Commons had a special debate of the United Kingdom and China with emphasis being on how Britain could benefit from the tremendous opportunities that Africa now offers.

“The story of Africa these days is not so much about aid, charity and poverty as democracy, innovation and opportunity,” one of the legislators Martin Horwood who used to work for charity organisation Oxfam said.

“For this country, it should be about seeking and developing strategic relationships with countries such as South Africa. However, we must also guard against any harmful consequences of the work we are doing and the development we are encouraging so that Africa does not repeat mistakes that countries in Europe might have made over time, and so that we have an entirely positive political, economic and development relationship with the countries of Africa.”


His full contribution:

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow so many well informed and thoughtful speeches. I used to work for a development non-governmental organisation—Oxfam. I suppose that over the years what development organisations have tended to emphasise in their presentation of African issues has been the real challenges of poverty, ill health and lack of rights, although they have also tried to put across some positive images.

The theme of today’s debate, however, is that the story of Africa is increasingly about resilience in the face of many of the challenges, about potential and about growth. The economic success story is extraordinary now. The average growth in the continent since the year 2000 is 4% or 5%, which we would be pleased with. The GDP of about a quarter of African countries grew at 7% or higher in 2012; if the current momentum continues, more than half of sub-Saharan African states will be middle-income countries by 2025.

There are obvious signs that the Department for International Development and the Government in general are working hard to improve African governance and remove obstacles to investment in Africa as part of our development focus, but it is good to hear in this debate about more emphasis on UKTI and trade missions, to help British companies make the most of the economic opportunity as well.

We are not alone in noticing the transformation of African economies. China is well known as a massive trade partner of Africa’s, but it is also increasingly a source of foreign direct investment there. Some 80% to 90% of that investment goes into the energy and metals industries, but Chinese small and medium-sized enterprises are increasingly investing in manufacturing and construction, some of them taking advantage of the fact that the Chinese Government are providing generous loans for infrastructure investment. We have to be aware of that growing economic relationship.

I have seen a Foreign and Commonwealth Office analysis paper that points out that the slow-down in the Chinese economy and the structural changes there given rising labour costs may pose something of a threat to the African economic success story. However, the situation may also present opportunities, particularly as labour costs rise in China, for investment in manufacturing in Africa. That might be a great opportunity coming down the track for many African economies. It would be good to hear from the Minister how we are encouraging British companies not to miss out on that potential economic revolution.

Many Members, including the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), have emphasised the political context. Political reform and good governance are integral to Africa’s future success. In the 21st century, new political relationships are developing around the world. China is also politically involved in Africa and has been tolerant of some pretty unpleasant regimes, including Sudan and Zimbabwe. If there is a failing in its relationship with Africa, it is that it has not paid enough attention to human rights and good governance. We can encourage good governance and champion democracy in Africa.

The transformation towards democracy in Africa is spectacular. It happened before the Arab awakening and is on a par with what has happened in eastern Europe and Latin America. Although the process has often been faltering, some countries seeming to take one step forward and two steps back, it is a long time since we talked about Botswana as virtually the only stable long-term democracy in Africa.

The Mo Ibrahim index emphasises the rule of law, accountability, personal safety, education, health, participation, human rights, and the business and public management environment. It showed that in 2012 almost 70% of African countries were improving their scores. The roll of honour—the top 10—are Mauritius, Botswana, Cape Verde, the Seychelles, South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Tunisia, Lesotho and Senegal. Many of those were not remotely democratic only a few years ago.

Cape Verde is extraordinary. When I worked for Oxfam, it was probably one of the archetypal basket cases of African development. It was one of the least developed, poorest countries in the world and a byword for failing systems. Yet the Mo Ibrahim prize, which goes to former democratically elected African Heads of State and Government who have shown exceptional leadership, went to former President Pires of Cape Verde, who was singled out for his contribution to a country that is now characterised by stability, democracy and progress. That extraordinary transformation shows what is possible. Mo Ibrahim himself, who set up the prize, is a Sudanese philanthropist and telecoms millionaire who is also an example of how Africa can change and has changed in many respects already.

We need to look politically at Africa in a different way. We need to seek out strategic allies among the leading democracies there. South Africa is an obvious ally; we have a strong relationship with it and it is a fellow Commonwealth member and democracy. The issue of LGBT rights is still a problem across Africa; homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries. However, it is not always the best strategy for the former imperial power to lecture those countries about such issues. South Africa, however, has gay rights enshrined in its constitution, it has legalised same-sex marriage and it is a powerful advocate for LGBT rights. It can lead the attempt to change the political situation in some other African countries.

In Africa as a whole, and particularly South Africa, the other positive political relationship is the development of multi-party democracy. I am very proud, through the Liberal Democrats, to be a member of Liberal International, which probably has more African members than ever before. It includes the Democratic Alliance in South Africa, which in 1994 polled just 1.4% of the vote—even less than we got in the Newark by-election—whereas at the last general election in 2014, spectacularly, it got 22% and is now the official opposition to the African National Congress. It is no surprise that we are now taking strategic political advice from Mr Ryan Coetzee, formerly of the Democratic Alliance and now of the Liberal Democrats. We fully expect him to have a similarly spectacular impact on our political fortunes in this country.

There is not only a political and economic relationship, but a military one. British Government funding accounts for some 7% of UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, making us the fifth biggest donor in the world. Those operations include forces in Western Sahara, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, the Central African Republic, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, with British personnel on the ground in the latter two. We also have permanent operations for the UK Army in Africa, including the British peace support teams in east Africa and in South Africa, the British Army training unit in Kenya, the international military advising and training mission in Sierra Leone, and many others. That is all part of contributing not only to good governance in the democratic sense but to the good conduct of Government operations through, for instance, the security services.

This is a positive story in many respects, but we still have an important development relationship as well. It is right to emphasise the work of DFID, not only in terms of aid. It is no longer just about aid but about development in a broader sense. I am proud that we have as part of our Government’s record the achievement of the historic goal of spending 0.7% of our national income on international development assistance, but that is not the whole picture. Among other things, that money has contributed to the GAVI Alliance funds—where we have committed billions of pounds, much of which is going to African countries—and to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which since 2002 has contributed £200 million in South Africa, leading to a dramatic scaling-up of anti-retroviral medical treatments for HIV and AIDS and, in turn, to a dramatic drop in HIV. Since 2005, life expectancy in South Africa has shot up by six years, and that has had a dramatic impact. Millions of lives have been saved across Africa—across the world, in fact—by the British Government’s commitment to initiatives such as the global fund and GAVI, and we should be enormously proud of that.

We should also be proud of what we are doing to encourage private sector growth, which the Secretary of State for International Development has strongly emphasised. SMEs and small companies are often the engines of growth in African economies just as they are in this country. That is a very positive story.

There are also positive stories such as CDC, formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which has created an enormous number of jobs by leveraging capital that it already had—so there is no extra cost to the British taxpayer, which will please my Conservative friends. This Government are very proud of having created 1 million private sector jobs in this country since the coalition began. CDC has helped to create 1 million jobs a year, contributing some £2 billion to local taxes. That is an amazing boost to development. CDC’s focus is now much less on dramatically growing economies such as the emerging markets in China and elsewhere, and much more on Africa, where it is seeking out hard-to-invest businesses. That is a real success story of which we should be proud.

Development work should be about good development. We need to check that everywhere we are working to support development it is having positive impacts. If I have to raise one concern, it is about areas such as the Lower Omo valley in Ethopia, where we are a contributor to the promoting basic services programme. That is part of an operation that includes the Gibe II dam project and the Kuraz sugar project, which will inevitably displace many traditional peoples from their pastoral lands. If some of that is forced relocation, and if the principle of prior informed consent is not being properly followed, that is a matter for real concern, and the British Government should be paying attention to it and raising it with the Ethiopian Government. Ethiopia is, in many ways, a great success story for economic development and progress, but there are human rights concerns there and elsewhere of which we need to be mindful.

The story of Africa these days is not so much about aid, charity and poverty as democracy, innovation and opportunity. For this country, it should be about seeking and developing strategic relationships with countries such as South Africa. However, we must also guard against any harmful consequences of the work we are doing and the development we are encouraging so that Africa does not repeat mistakes that countries in Europe might have made over time, and so that we have an entirely positive political, economic and development relationship with the countries of Africa.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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