Written by Adams Bodomo.

As African and Chinese leaders meet for FOCAC2015 in South Africa, it is time to reflect on, assess, and evaluate the Africa-China relationship. One effective way to do this is to show how the relationship fares against other competing relationships involving Africa.

In this short article, I will show that whereas general Africa – Europe relations have been more enduring than Africa – China relations, the latter have far surpassed and are doing better than the former. I advance three reasons to show why this is the case, propose not just only what Europe, particularly the European Union (EU), must do to rebuild its relations with Africa but also what Africa and China must do to make their relations even better than they are now.

Why Africa – EU relations are in the doldrums:

There are at least three things that make Africa-EU partnership – once a premium relationship in the world –  a backwater relationship to other established and emerging relationships such as Africa-China, Africa-India, and Africa-Brazil relations, some of which I addressed in my book, La Globalizacion de las Inversiones en Africa. These are emphasis on ‘aid’ as against trade, economic terrorism, and military invasions.

The EU just doesn’t get it about aid. Africans want trade, not aid. Europe should move away from aid and concentrate on trade. Africans are now quite clear about an unwritten policy proposal that Europe is ignoring, and which I coin here as: TRADE NOT AID. The EU should close down its AID businesses in Africa and start trade and investment businesses. That’s what young, teaming, enterprising Africans want. The more Africans get prosperous the more they will take care of their own AID issues; indeed I believe Africans to be more philanthropic than most other people.

It is not for Europe to help Africa, it is for Africans to help themselves and those Africans who are poor and can’t help themselves. Europe can spend its AID money helping its own poor, and that is a growing segment in the European population. It is time for Europe to retrain its so-called ‘development experts’ into ‘business experts’ – MBAs to start up businesses in Africa. The only reason why Europe seems to hang unto AID is that Europe uses it as a political tool to continue its unfair neo-colonial and imperialistic agenda in Africa.

Second, the EU should stop its economic terrorism against Africa. We often use the word ‘sanctions’ to describe what Europe does to us and other parts of the world, but that is a euphemism. The real name for sanctions is economic terrorism. The real thing that Europe does to Africa is the imposition of economic terrorism in selected African countries. One can’t continue imposing ‘sanctions’ or constantly threaten others with same and expect one’s business partner to trust you, an economic terrorist. Most African countries have been victims of economic terrorism (sanctions) or the threat of it over the years: Zimbabwe, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and so on.

The third major reason why Africa-EU partnership is now clearly under the shadows of Africa – China relations and those of other emerging powers like India and Brazil is that Europe resorts mainly to violence and military confrontation in Africa to resolve conflict and differences of opinion. No partnership can flourish if one party employs gun-boat diplomacy, ie, comes to the negotiation table with a loaded gun, in the form of a battle ship waiting at shore, and drones hovering over the skies of Africa.

Europe is badly in need of moral philosophers to change its ways of relating to Africans and others in the world. One cannot develop a win-win partnership by invading country after country in Africa with regime change in mind, leading to the installation of puppet governments there: Libya, Egypt, Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, and so on.

Why China is different:

There are many more reasons why Europe is not performing as well as China, India, and Brazil in Africa but the above are among the three most important ones. Comparing Europe to China, for instance, on all these, we see that the Chinese do more trade than aid business in Africa. In 2000 the Africa-China trade volume was only 10 billion dollars, 15 years later in 2014 it is 200 billion dollars!

So while China is busy starting up businesses all over Africa, Europe is starting up NGOs and sending more and more AID and AIDS workers into Africa. China doesn’t practice economic terrorism as Europe does in Africa through the wicked imposition of sanctions. Finally China doesn’t deploy its armies to invade Africa as Europe does all the time. There is therefore more mutual trust between Africa and China than between Africa and Europe. There is thus far more symmetry between Africa and China than between Africa and Europe.

How the EU can pick up the pieces:

For the EU to salvage its relations with Africa, it can do a few simple and practical things. First, it needs to make use of its comparative advantages over its competitors. Europe has some clear geopolitical and people-to-people advantages over potential rivals in its dealings with Africa. Many centuries of close relations between these two adjacent continents have left the two very geopolitically close in terms of commonality of political, educational, and even some cultural and linguistic institutions.

It is much easier for Africans and Europeans to communicate with each other at international conferences because many European languages are also official languages in much of Africa. Yet Europe has not made use of this comparative advantage because it continues to insist on colonial mentalities of asymmetrical power relations, of master – slave relations. Many European scholars of African studies just can’t get over too much emphasis on the colonial past to studying Africa as an independent rising part of the world.

Second, Europe is lucky to have some of the most established African Diasporas in its midst that other places like China and India lack. Diasporas, as I have shown in my book, Africans in China, and in several journal article studies, have been known to play some key roles as socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-cultural bridge builders between their source and host communities. No relations between two polities should ignore the other’s Diaspora in their respective polities. Europe could harness the powerful resource of African Diasporas that it has in its midst to promote Africa – Europe relations at the political, economic, and cultural levels.

China cannot stay on its laurels:

China seems to be on the right track with regards to its relations with Africa. For one thing ,there appears to be more trust between this country and many African political heads and opinion leaders. But it must do more to consolidate its relations with Africa. To maintain the aforementioned trust, China must not renege on its policy of non-interference in Africa. Rumours and chatter about Chinese military outposts in Djibouti and a deep-sea port in the Gulf of Guinea probably with more than just commercial intentions are worrying and China must reassure Africans at FOCAC 2015 by addressing and reaffirming issues of non-interference.

Second, China must avoid looking for a philosophical dream partner in Africa at FOCAC2015. Africa respects people who choose to have philosophical dreams couched as ‘American Dream’ or ‘Chinese Dream’ but there is no such thing as an ‘African Dream’ and no economic partner should try to impose this philosophical worldview on Africans, who have their own philosophical worldviews such as ‘African Personality’, ‘Negritude’ and ‘Ubuntu’ that I collectively called AFRICAN ASPIRATION elsewhere. We Africans just don’t dream about the future, we ASPIRE to it with concepts like Ubuntu.

Finally, as I have mentioned repeatedly in several of my journal papers, Africa and China must now go beyond these overly government-to-government high-level FOCAC meetings to a people-to-people relationship that can see more Africans and Chinese making sense of these Africa – China relations that have been developed over several decades at government-to-government levels.

Adams Bodomo is Professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna and Director of the University’s Global African Diaspora Studies Research Centre. He is author of Africans in China: A Sociocultural Study and its Implications for Africa – China Relations, shortlisted for the Africa – Asia Book Prize. Image Credit: CC by European Parliament/Flickr.

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