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Author Topic: China in Africa: Challenges & Prospects
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Post China in Africa: Challenges & Prospects
on: January 14, 2021, 11:03

China's irresistible breakthrough in Africa has sparked heated controversy in the international community. A lever for the continent's future political and economic emancipation or a brake on its development, or even a factor of instability? An approach that considers the diversity of points of view and the multiple dimensions of the Sino-African relationship makes it possible to better appreciate its importance, the challenges, and the implications.


Shaking up international development agendas and redefining the major geopolitical and economic balances, China has continued for the past fifteen years to broaden its field of action and consolidate its presence in Africa, the traditional home of the Western powers.
Beijing approved in 2004 a $ 2 billion line of credit to the Angolan government to the chagrin of international financial institutions; exceptional contract announced in 2007 with the Democratic Republic of Congo; growth in investments in the copper sectors in Zambia, coal in Zimbabwe, oil in Sudan and Gabon; large-scale land acquisitions in Cameroon, Uganda and Ethiopia; buyout in 2007 of 15% of the shares of the largest South African bank (Standard); new dams planned or underway (Zambia, Ghana, etc.); launching of multiple infrastructure projects across the continent (universities, railways, ports, roads, etc.); ceaseless ballet of Chinese diplomats on African soil ... not a day goes by without the major international media, sometimes outraged and sometimes taken aback, echoing the Chinese gesture in Africa, while wondering about its implications and on the real motivations behind it.
A cause for concern for some, an opportunity to be seized for others, the emergence of this "Chinafrica" did not fail to challenge institutional actors and development specialists either. background of lively controversies, oppositions and clear - and often sterile - positions on the nature and implications, merits and limits, challenges and risks posed by this "unprecedented" rapprochement, symbolized by the now highly publicized and commented on Forum on China Africa Cooperation
According to some Western editorial writers, China is literally devouring and infuriating Africa. Galvanized by its tremendous economic growth and driven by its frantic quest for raw materials, the search for new markets and its desire to increase its sphere of influence, China would prioritize the mere pursuit of its interests over all other considerations. Behind the rhetorical veil of a new "South-South solidarity", it would pursue a strategy that has been matured and planned for a long time, aimed at imposing on Africa a new colonial-type relationship. His affected concern for Africa would mask neither more nor less an entirely different agenda.
To this suspicion about China's real intentions, which in many ways reactivates the myth of the "yellow peril", have been added the concerns of international financial institutions and OECD donors. While recognizing the role of China in the reintegration of the African continent into the international economy and, to a lesser extent, the effectiveness of its aid, "traditional" donors fear above all that China's African strategy lastingly undermine the progress made by the international community in favor of human rights, democracy, and good governance, if not the “efforts” made in terms of debt reduction.
And to point out the opacity of contracts signed between Beijing and African capitals, loans granted to governments that do not meet the criteria of solvency and good governance, the non-compliance by Chinese companies operating in Africa with international standards on the social and environmental level and above all, the political, financial, and military support given to regimes ostracized by the international community, like the Sudan of Omar El-Bashir and Zimbabwe of Mugabe. In short, the Chinese offensive on the continent appears to be much less a vector of development than a brake on democratization and a factor of instability at the regional level.

Accusations rejected outright by Chinese officials who do not fail to recall the historical responsibility of the countries of the North in the deterioration of living conditions in Africa and their inability so far to meet the challenges of development. And conversely, to highlight the virtues of Sino-African cooperation based on a long history of friendship and mutual respect; the role of China in boosting growth in Africa; the effectiveness, speed, and non-coercion of its aid; and the opportunity that cheap Chinese imports represent for African consumers.
As for the fears of the West, the Chinese attribute them at best to unfounded prejudices, at worst to frustration arising from the worry of losing a historical zone of influence (Shay Lu, 2008). An observation and an analysis publicly shared by many African leaders and intellectuals, on the one hand seduced by the "success" of the Chinese development model and on the other hand, overwhelmed by the opportunity offered by China to sever the ties of dependence which still attaches Africa to the former Western powers.
Between these two radically opposed readings, but obviously situated, what is the perspective of Chinese engagement in Africa? Beyond the a priori demonization and blissful enthusiasm, what are the real issues and the concrete implications of China's growing presence in Africa? Does this represent a threat or an opportunity? A brake or an instrument for development? Beyond an international debate structured by obvious tropisms (pro-Western on the one hand, Third Wordlists on the other), what are the challenges posed above all by this Chinese breakthrough on the ground for African populations, and how do they look at this commitment? Before daring to begin to answer these questions, it is important to place the African relationship in a broader historical analysis framework, to better understand the nature, the springs, the challenges, and the scope of the Chinese commitment. in Africa.


"China has settled in Africa and intends to stay there ... From Cairo to Cape town, from the islands of the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Guinea, crossing savannahs and mountains, a new wind from the East is blowing on Africa”. The quote could have been taken from a news article commenting on the recent Chinese scramble for Africa. Yet it is taken from the 1965 book East Wind over Africa: Red China’s African Offensive written by John Colley, which already warned against the sprawling expansion of Communist China in Africa! (cited by Large, 2008). This is to say how little new Chinese interest in Africa is, nor are the reactions aroused in the West by such a presence, a mixture of worries, fantasies, and enthusiasms. "For those who follow relations between China and Africa over the long term," explains Jean-Raphaël Chaponnière, "the fascination aroused among Western analysts by the Chinese advance is seen as Deja vu" (2008-a).
Certainly, the nature of the relationship between China and Africa has changed dramatically since this first Chinese breakthrough on the black continent, before China then turned in on itself to focus on its own development. Replacing this relationship, which is both moving and complex, in its historicity should allow us to better appreciate the foundations and the springs that underlie it.


From support to independence movements and non-aligned governments to the financing of major infrastructure works and projects in sectors as diverse as fishing, textiles, and agriculture, including the construction of dispensaries and sending on the continent of the famous “barefoot doctors”, between China and Africa, very early on, close relations were woven. Which found their first formalization ten to fifteen years after the advent of the People's Republic (1949), with the establishment of diplomatic ties and the signing of cooperation agreements with Nasser's Egypt, Ben Bella's Algeria, Ghana of Kwame Nkrumah or Guinea of Sékou Touré (Gaye, 2006; Chaponnière, 2008-b; Large, 2008).
Obviously, the driving forces behind this first Chinese push in Africa were more ideological than clearly understood economic interests. The logic of direct aid prevailed over the logic of trade. The ideology preceded the enterprise. In addition to Beijing's concern to broaden its sphere of political influence and its desire for diplomatic recognition, this first Chinese engagement on the continent was mainly driven by the idea that there was, between Africa and China, the same " community of destiny and interest” (Guérin 2008; Large, 2008; Chaponnière, 2008-a).
After all, like Africa, China had known the colonial yoke. Like her, her economy was then based on an essentially agricultural basis. A poor country, plagued by significant internal difficulties, China at the time made it a duty to help Africa financially on behalf of this “Afro-Asian” community, in the spirit of Bandung (Alternatives Sud, 2007) and South-South solidarity even if it means making enormous sacrifices: “Having practically nothing to offer Africa,” wrote Pradet in 1963, “since its difficulties are known to all, nor much to buy, Lacking means of payment, the People's Republic of China is nonetheless making a big effort, (…) because it offers credits that it itself requests from the socialist camp ”(cited by Chaponnière, 2008-a).
Denouncing both the practices of the Soviet camp and those of the Western camp, and anxious to counter their hegemony on the continent, China will offer a third way to African governments. Namely a model of cooperation, recognition, and mutual respect, which will be based on eight main principles, first set forth in 1964 in Accra by Zhou Enlai: equality between partners, mutual benefits, respect for sovereignty, use of donations or loans without interest and relief of charges, strengthening of the beneficiary, equal treatment between Chinese and local exports. While their meaning has changed since this first phase of the Sino-African relationship, these principles still constitute today the theoretical foundation that guides and still largely governs Chinese aid to Africa (Ibid.).
The spectacular return of China to the continent from the 1990s, after a relative eclipse, is intimately linked to the rapid conversion and extraversion of the Chinese economy and to the transformation of its productive fabric following the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping at the end of 1978. This new period will be characterized by significant changes from the point of view of the relationship between China and Africa.
As indicated by the intensification of trade between China and Africa, which has increased eightfold since the 2000s, and 100fold since the early 1980s, to reach today more than 100 billion dollars (106.8 billion dollars already in 2008), commercial logic took precedence over ideological commitment. And economic motives seem to dominate political motives today. Likewise, as shown by their strong growth, Chinese direct investment, the stock of which was valued at some 7.8 billion dollars in 2008, ended up taking precedence over development aid (Hellendorff, 2010). From now on, the search for new resources and primary goods and the search for new outlets, essential to fuel the bulimic Chinese growth, seem to make obsolete the old discourse of South-South solidarity, even if the Chinese officials do not hesitate. if necessary, to reactivate it, following a rhetorical line testifying to a remarkable consistency (Chaponnière, 2008-a).
Along with this development which has seen the private entrepreneur and Chinese state-owned enterprise replace the doctor and humanitarian worker in Africa, and the People's Republic forging diplomatic and economic relations with most governments in the region, the way how African elites perceive China has also changed a lot since its first engagements on African soil (Oboriah, 2007). More than in the past, the Chinese development model and strategy, offering the image of a successful socioeconomic transition, coupled with very (re) marked progress in the fight against poverty, seduce and inspire these research elites. of a new development path. Conversely, the Western model is increasingly seen as a foil in their eyes, including among large sectors of the population scalded by more than two decades of neoliberal politico-economic reforms.
Faced with the indigestible nature of the old recipes served to Africa by traditional donors and their inability to respond to development challenges, more and more leaders are turning to China, like Ethiopian President Meles Zelawi who, following Hu Jintao's African tour in early 2007, expressed in an interview a feeling that is already fairly widely shared on the continent towards China, which is generally coupled with a sharp criticism of strategies Westerners: “I think Westerners would be wrong to believe that they just have to buy good governance in Africa ... What China has achieved is tearing this illusion to pieces. It [China] is in no way endangering good governance reforms and democratization in Africa. Because only those who [like China] favored endogenous growth had any chance of success” (Financial Times, April 5, 2007).
The financial crisis of September 2008 will subsequently complete discrediting the neoliberal model in the eyes of many Africans, while at the same time strengthening the legitimacy of China's development strategies and its approach to Africa (Rebol, 2010). Failure to consider this evolution of African outlook and sentiment only gives a truncated vision of the scope, challenges, and implications of this return of China to Africa. Of course, it is legitimate to speak of an "offensive" to describe the spectacular establishment of China in Africa (Niquet, 2007). But it is still necessary to keep in mind that this offensive could only take place because the African elites have rolled out the red carpet for China, favoring more and more the "Washington consensus", long presented as the 'only credible politico-economic model after the end of the cold war, what many commentators and analysts now call the "Beijing consensus".


If the economic dimension has taken precedence over the ideological dimension in the Sino-African relationship, the logic of cooperation and the modalities of Chinese aid to Africa nonetheless testify to a remarkable continuity in terms of principles and discourse (Chaponnière, 2008-a).
As in the past in fact, China's aid to Africa is officially not accompanied by political and economic conditionalities, Beijing, faithful in this to the main principles that govern its foreign relations, showing itself reluctant to intervene in internal affairs of States, in the name of respect for national sovereignty and refusal of the right of interference. A posture that does not go without tensing traditional donors and some of the social actors, but which on the contrary appeals to most African governments, not unhappy to enter a report stripped of the leaden cover that in their eyes represent. conditionalities imposed by Westerners, which are generally accompanied by paternalistic and moralizing speeches.
Much more than in the past, however, Chinese aid is strongly linked to other types of flows (trade, investments, etc.), to the point that it is difficult to disentangle what falls under development aid stricto sensu, economic cooperation or even simple private interests (Guérin, 2008). Multiform, Chinese aid to Africa is in fact part of a complicated web of interventions, relationships, and commitments, mixing the “opportunist” logic of interest and the “altruistic” logic of the donation, the political dimension and economic dimension. Hence the difficulty of determining the exact amounts of this aid according to the criteria of the DAC (Development Assistance Committee bringing together OECD donors).
Thus, during the much publicized FOCAC summit which was held in Beijing in the fall of 2006, China announced at the same time the doubling of development aid by 2009, the contribution of 5 billion dollars in the form of preferential loans (3 billion) and export credits (2 billion); $ 5 billion in support for Chinese companies wishing to invest in Africa; debt cancellation for African Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (PTTE); the creation on the continent of special economic zones (SEZs); the increase (from 190 to 440) in the number of African products exempt from customs duties when exported to China; strengthening technical cooperation in the sectors of agriculture, science and technology; and building an African Union conference center in Addis Ababa (Ibidem).
The apparent multilateralism of these summits and the generosity of the amounts announced should not hide the fact that Chinese aid remains bilateral and strongly tied. “More precisely, notes Bruno Hellendorff, China links aid and business in an innovative way by promoting its national interests through mutually beneficial partnerships implemented by a wide spectrum of actors and instruments. In this way, Chinese development aid is not seen as a moral issue, but as a tool of political persuasion and a way to soften the entry of Chinese economic operators on the continent "(2010).
Most often, this aid is provided through package deals, a kind of state-to-state negotiated barter contracts combining public, semi-public and private investments, direct aid and grants, concessional or non-concessional loans, technical or financial support, support Chinese and African companies, even military or cultural cooperation. In African countries rich in natural resources, the modus operandi of this type of agreement is relatively uniform, so much so that it has become common to speak of the "Angolan model" to characterize this relationship.
How do these agreements work in practice? In the case of the package deal negotiated with the DRC, explains Daniel Guérin, “the funds are not loaned directly to the African government, but the Chinese government mandates a Chinese public construction company - generally receiving the support of the Eximbank (Chinese Bank investment and import-export) - to carry out infrastructure projects with the agreement of the African government concerned. Then, in return for the provision of this infrastructure, the African government grants Chinese companies (mostly private) the right to extract natural resources (oil, minerals, etc.), through the acquisition of shares in a national company and licensing. The package deal is also accompanied by donations dedicated to the construction of schools, hospitals, or prestigious buildings (presidential palaces or football stadiums) by Chinese companies "(2008).
As suspicious as this approach to aid is in the eyes of the West, and in relation to the intentions which animate China and the enormous advantages it derives from it, we must keep in mind the theoretical foundations and the justifications ideological behind it.
Let us first remember that officially China is not deploying its cooperation in the name of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an approach that it considers paternalistic, even miserable, but in the name of “Southern solidarity”. -South”, from the Afro-Asian tradition and above all from a form of equal partnership between historically dominated nations, and vector of benefits for each of the parties, even if today economic interdependencies and pragmatic considerations have taken precedence over ideological commitment. A perceptible shift, moreover, in the speeches of Chinese officials who now speak of strategic "win-win" partnerships and complementarity (Chaponnière, 2008-a; Tan Mullins, Mohan, Power, 2010).
Through this relationship that it presents as "win-win", China intends to participate in the development of Africa, without indicating the way to follow, by offering its assistance and its know-how in return. 'advantages, concessions and rights for economic purposes, which, Chinese officials say, will in turn also be beneficial to the continent, by helping to strengthen its productive fabric (Shaye Lu, 2008). This vision of cooperation explains why most of the aid (around 70%) is concentrated in infrastructure projects: road and port infrastructure, railways, energy, and telecommunications, etc. An area of investment long neglected by traditional donors for the benefit of institutional strengthening and the fight against poverty, proof that there is a certain complementarity between Chinese aid and Western aid.
Only consider Sino-African cooperation from the angle of self-interested engagement, shameless exploitation without regard for democracy and human rights or even as a simple classic economic relationship, in which both parties would seek neither more nor less to exploit their respective comparative advantages, amounts in fact to sweep away an essential dimension necessary for the understanding of the African strategy of China: the conception which it makes of development and the path to take to initiate it.
Like the trajectory followed by the People's Republic, the Chinese authorities are placing first and foremost emphasis on strengthening the economic base, which in turn is supposed to benefit the whole community. This development model notes Girouard “above all recognizes a community's right to development. There is little room for human rights, such as these have been conceived within the framework of Western modernity (…). Democracy is not understood in the same way either (….) Beijing sees in it (above all) a power exercised for the people and in their interests…” (2008). Peculiar to the Chinese trajectory, this model nonetheless structures the Sino-African relationship, exercising a real attraction among the elites who also see it, it is true, a very convenient justification for staying in power.
In fact, beyond the legitimizing speeches, the “Beijing consensus”, affirms Jean-Raphaël Chaponnière, would pursue neither more nor less “the same objectives as the Washington consensus by declining them differently: the first gives priority to stability and development, while the second makes reforms a prerequisite for development and stability” (2009). Except that China does not seek to universalize its model and even less to impose it. No doubt more than Western donors, it is aware that its model is hardly transposable as such, recognizes the heterogeneity of the African context and accepts the coexistence of development strategies and the complementarity of orientations. Therefore, what would ultimately make China so attractive to Africans is not so much the "success" of the Chinese model as the lack of a single "Beijing consensus" (Rebol, 2010).


In a 2007 interview, former British Secretary of State for Development Hilary Benn expressed concern over China's breakthrough in Africa and warned of the potentially disastrous consequences of China's loans to several countries that do not meet international conditions for granting loans. Because it does not consider the conditions imposed on aid by countries such as Great Britain, he explained, - good governance, respect for human rights and expenditure directly allocated to the fight against poverty - China risks reversing progress made in democratizing local government. And hence doing more harm than good, despite its commitment in Africa to the fight against poverty (The Guardian, February 7, 2007).
A point of view widely shared by Western chancelleries, multilateral financial organizations, and most of the major international media, but which contrasts sharply with that of this Nigerian diplomat who, during a debate organized within the framework of the World Social Forum of Nairobi in 2007, said, “There is something refreshing about the Chinese approach. They do not match their loans with all of these conditionalities that come with Western loans "(cited by Bello, 2007).
More than reluctance towards the goals of democratization and more than a lack of sensitivity to issues of good governance and human rights - even if there is little doubt on the part of some governments delighted in that of securing the support of China -, this African point of view testifies above all to the disenchantment and a generalized mistrust on the continent towards the development strategies designed and imposed by international financial institutions and donors. traditional funds, which until recently exercised unchallenged hegemony over aid.
Presented as a sine qua non for the revival of African economies, structural adjustment, imposed from the 1980s, by reducing the state and its functions to their simplest expression, was experienced as a real disaster in Africa. Finally, the hypothetical growth that was dangling in Africa did not come, while the debt of African states has continued to increase, further reinforcing dependence on the directives of international donors and / or bilateral.
As for the poverty reduction strategies which have replaced structural adjustments, they do not create much illusion either. Emphasizing the historic responsibility of the West in the indebtedness and impoverishment of Africa and denouncing their double talk, many Africans see the conditionalities associated with aid programs and loans as an obstacle to the initiation of a crisis. more “self-centred” development, even as neo-colonial-type impositions (Delcourt, 2008).
Also, the arrival of a new major player in the party, devoid of any colonial history in Africa and not very demanding in the granting of its funding is envisaged as the possibility of loosening these ties of dependence and of expanding the narrow room for manoeuvre available to African countries. From this perspective, the Chinese presence in Africa, like that of other emerging donors (Brazil and India in particular), can be considered beneficial. These new actors are not only bringing new financial resources to Africa, in a context of relative scarcity, but they are also creating "new competitive pressure" on established donors. And they are opening up new political spaces for African countries that may ultimately enable them to escape liberal orthodoxy and define a specific, non-prescribed and unconditional development path (Tan-Mullins, Mohan, Power, 2010) .
In fact, thanks to the multiplication of actors in the field of aid, African countries are in a better position of strength in the negotiations. They can compete and go to the highest bidder. Faced with a more diversified “development offer”, they are no longer required to conform to the standards of traditional donors alone. And they are more empowered to choose the partnership that seems most advantageous to them and best suited to their needs and interests (or what their different governments see as their own interests).
Avinash Persaud, renowned analyst in the financial world and member of the Overseas Development Institute (London), agrees with this when he writes in a letter to the Financial Times: “There is no doubt that China is in doing good business in Africa. For Africans, however, the guarantee of getting a good deal certainly does not lie in respecting a set of external standards, but in the choice of the backer and the investor. I have seen first-hand the beneficial power of competition when it comes to financing infrastructure projects "(2007).
However, it goes without saying that in this game, China has a definite advantage over its Western competitors. Its development offer is less expensive and the realization of its projects, less demanding in terms of the guarantees that African governments must present, faster, which is moreover enough to temper the criticism regularly made against China to practice competition. unfair or colonize the public construction sectors in Africa. "Whether it is correct or not," noted a member of a Chinese NGO present at the Nairobi Forum, "the image Africans have of the Chinese is that they do not do things by halves. They don't waste their time in meetings. They go ahead and build roads "(cited by Bello, 2008).
Mozambican President Armando Guebuza said nothing else when he said in 2006: “When they see China coming and adopting an approach that contributes to improving their productivity, Africans say 'you are welcome', because these investments and these projects, especially in the area of infrastructure, will help reduce our poverty problem” (cited in Chan-Fishel, 2007). A reading that would not deny either the Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who sees the Chinese as much more pragmatic and efficient business partners than the “Western bureaucrats” (Girouard, 2008).
Faced with this "competitive pressure" exerted by China, the feeling that they are "losing" Africa is also palpable among traditional aid providers. Behind the professions of faith on good governance and the exhortations in favor of respect for human rights and democracy, the concern for a loss of influence is very real. Philippe Maystadt, President of the European Investment Bank, therefore, went so far as to call for a downward revision of social and environmental criteria to improve the competitiveness of European companies present on African soil (Brautigam, 2009).
Besides the destabilizing effect that the Chinese presence can have on Western standards, it also says a lot about the coherence of the strategies and the solidity of the principles that these same actors claim to defend, as well as the interests which inspire their strategies in Africa. The denunciation of Chinese practices should not mask the close links that have been created between Chinese firms and Western firms.


Despite the rhetoric dear to the Chinese authorities of "mutual respect" and "win-win" economic and strategic partnership, it is difficult, however, to envision Sino-African relations as genuinely equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation. This is evidenced by the economic flows between the two continents and the nature of Chinese investments, which appear structurally unbalanced and potentially fraught with perverse consequences for Africa.
If the trade balance between China and Africa is generally positive for the latter, a more precise fluoroscopy of trade between the two continents shows that 70% of Chinese imports come from only four countries (Angola, South Africa, Sudan, and Congo Brazzaville). Only 16 African countries - all oil and mineral exporters - have a trade surplus, while 37 other countries are in deficit. More significantly, African exports are made up of 70% petroleum and 15% minerals, while China exports 90% of manufactured products to Africa: textiles, shoes, electronics, bicycles and motorcycles, various equipment., etc. (Chaponnière, 2008-b; Hellendorff, 2010).
In other words, the structure of trade, but also the destination of Chinese investments (mainly directed towards the mining and petroleum sectors) and the geography of China's aid to Africa, mainly concentrated in a few major commodity-exporting countries. and oil [5], confirm the attraction exerted by natural resources on the People's Republic. This observation thus contributes to accredit the idea that China came to Africa to appropriate, even plunder its resources, in defiance of the basic rights of the populations, as would also be suggested by Beijing's support for Khartoum and Harare, which has also resulted in arms sales to the Sudanese government during the Darfur crisis and the delivery of fighter jets to Mugabe (Hellström, 2009; Hellendorf, 2011).
However, we cannot accuse China of investing only in authoritarian countries with little respect for human rights. In total, nearly fifty African countries, those which recognize the principle of one China, are beneficiaries of Chinese aid and investment and have been granted debt relief or preferential trade tariffs (Brautigam, 2010). In countries considered to be "democratic" and poor in resources, such as Benin or Ghana, Chinese investments have made it possible to revive some local businesses with very large losses, without any profit being made, while in others. , Sino-African trade has made it possible to considerably boost the prices of several agricultural products (cotton, cocoa, etc.) which often constitute for them one of the only sources of income (De Loeul, 2007; Dohinnon, 2010; Tan -Mullins, Mohan, Power, 2010).
As for establishing links with authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes, this is not the preserve of China alone. Western companies and firms from other emerging countries also operate in Sudan and Zimbabwe, while international financial institutions and countries in the North also maintain close ties with governments that are not particularly distinguished by their democratic practices. (Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, etc.).
Finally, the People's Republic, which came to the continent late, was not forced to invest in so-called "pariah" countries, with Western companies already monopolizing the markets in other countries, like France, which almost completely controls the uranium sector in Niger? (Delcourt, 2008)
Basically, what is problematic about the relationship that has developed between China and Africa is that in its structure it resembles a classic North-South relationship. Even if the comeback of China has made it possible to reintegrate Africa into the formal flows of international trade, to boost the price of raw materials and to relaunch a wave of investments in its productive fabric and its weak infrastructure, the relationship Sino-African will not ultimately strengthen the unfavorable place of the continent in the division of labor, by confining it almost exclusively to a role of supplier of primary goods, conditions not conducive to the initiation of a real process of development ? Despite the stated intentions, isn't China reproducing a well-known scenario by locking Africa into its status as a land exploited and exploitable at mercy? Doesn't the large-scale acquisition of land by China, to produce agrofuels, risk compromising food security and exerting new pressure on the peasantry, while rehabilitating the agro-exporter model? If they allow, thanks to their low blow, more Africans to have access to more consumer goods, will not Chinese imports ultimately help to crush the local industrial sector in the few countries where it has been able to? develop (South Africa, Zambia, Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, etc.).
The People's Republic is certainly bringing new financial resources and contributing via its massive imports to increasing the revenues of African states, but the question here arises of the use / distribution of this new income. And this issue is even more central as Sino-African contracts are negotiated state-to-state in the utmost opacity. Will the populations ultimately benefit from this new windfall? Or will this contribution, much needed to relaunch the development process and improve the well-being of the community, ultimately only benefit a handful of the well-to-do?
Finally, the large-scale exploitation of natural resources raises a problem of "sustainability". What will happen to the continent when these resources are depleted due to their intensive exploitation? Already more than 60% of African timber exports go to China. Often accused of practicing illegal logging, Chinese companies have thus been held responsible for a large part of the savage deforestation of forest cover in Cameroon, Gabon and in the Congo DRC and Brazzaville (Ngoubangoyi, Bwiti Lumisa, Kibelolo, Lachance, 2004).


Praised by most governments and quite generally well received by many African intellectuals (on the continent as in the diaspora) - the former mainly seeing China as a political ally, a more efficient economic partner and a less demanding donor; the latter especially as a means of breaking the ties of dependence vis-à-vis the West, of burying the “Washington consensus” or even as an opportunity for Africa to find the path to development -, Chinese engagement in Africa is nonetheless the object of strong criticism from independent African civil society organizations (unions, NGOs, human rights groups, peasant movements, etc.), but also a resentment and a growing rejection within the populations.
A recent report of over 200 pages, published by the African Labor Studies Network on the initiative of regional unions, paints a damning picture of working conditions and relationships in Chinese companies operating in ten countries. on the continent: insignificant salaries, days that are too long, exhausting and not interspersed with breaks, generalization of temporary contracts, even no contract, deplorable housing conditions for workers, non-compliance with minimum safety standards, hostility towards unions, proliferation threats and pressures towards workers, coercive measures, withholding of pay, keeping African workers in subordinate and underpaid positions, etc. While the authors of the report recognize the heterogeneity of the situations and the fact that these forms of exploitation are not unprecedented in Africa, their conclusions are no less clear.
Contrasting with the often-displayed desire by Beijing to build a "harmonious society" (Hu Jintao), most Chinese firms regularly violate the most basic rights of workers, especially where states have neither the means nor the will. to enforce them. And the authors point the finger at the contempt of Chinese entrepreneurs for local social legislation, the frequent circumvention of the latter and the close collusion between Chinese firms and public authorities (local and / or national), which do not hesitate to lend a hand to employers to curb any hint of revolt (Yaw Baah and Jauch, 2009). A connivance and disdain for the rights of populations which is also evident in the context of the major infrastructure projects financed by China [6].
Chinese officials often highlight the effectiveness of their engagement in Africa and the speed with which their plans are taking shape and materializing. But these projects, like the Meroe dam, are also designed without any concern for their social and environmental costs. Insensitive to working conditions and the social, environmental and health impact of their activities, many Chinese companies are also exploiting legal loopholes, loopholes in national laws and the weakness of control bodies, where they exist, to increase their profit margin (Yaw Baah, Jauch, 2009).
If the responsibility and the failings of African states must be pointed out here too, the lack of consideration of Chinese companies for the rights of populations and the socio-environmental consequences of their activities fuel the anger of African popular circles and give rise to more and more often to various forms of resistance and revolt. From workers' strikes in the copper region in Zambia which preceded Hu Jintao's visit in 2007 to popular raids in the cities of Congo, Cameroon and Senegal against Chinese traders, accused of stealing the livelihoods of local sellers , through the attacks perpetrated by armed groups against Chinese interests and workers in the Niger Strait, etc., there are many signs that confirm the rise of an “anti-Chinese” feeling among the populations, a thousand leagues from the enchanted statements of Chinese and African leaders.
In fact, more and more people in Africa now consider the Chinese presence as a predatory presence and as a form of new-look colonialism, benefiting moreover from the complacency of highly discredited local governments. An image that comes to reinforce the establishment of "friendly" links with authoritarian regimes which openly violate social and political rights, restrict, and repress all forms of political opposition and all popular movements.

Admittedly, Beijing has long justified these reconciliations and its wait-and-see attitude about the behavior of its companies, by taking refuge behind the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States or by evoking its inability to monitor the activities of private actors. Yet, on closer inspection, this "hands-off" rhetoric hardly stands the test of the facts. One example of this is the threat made to Zambia by the People's Republic to withdraw its aid in the event of victory for Michel Sata, the opposition candidate in the 2006 presidential elections, who had announced that he would question the contracts signed with China. This example shows how the new Chinese deal has also become a decisive political and electoral issue in Africa.


Faced with the exacerbation of social and environmental conflicts, the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment and the multiplication of internal and external criticisms, China is increasingly aware of the difficulties inherent in African contexts and begins to realize that 'it is in his best interest to change his posture. It has therefore revised its cooperation strategies and its general approach to Africa (Hellendorff, 2010, 2011; Hellström, 2009).
Without departing from the main principles that guide its action, it is more concerned than in the past to reduce the social and environmental impact of its projects and the activity of its companies. Revealing this new direction, the words of a manager of a Chinese company active in Ethiopia, who explained in 2007: “We used to think that we should only be friends with the government. Now we realize that we must also forge bonds of friendship with the communities where we operate” (quoted by Hallendorff, 2010).
This change of perspective was manifested in particular by a series of concrete measures: adoption by the Eximbank of a reference framework integrating several social and environmental criteria; development in 2007 by the Chinese forestry administration and the Ministry of Commerce of a "guideline", including in particular the obligation to consult and compensate the communities affected by a project, "guideline" that Beijing is now seeking to have adopted by its companies abroad; efforts made to ensure greater transparency in projects and contracts; significant increase in aid for more social projects or even significant debt cancellations [7]. This recent concern, combined with the holding of several summit meetings with traditional donors, also shows that China tends to align itself more and more with international standards in terms of cooperation and social and environmental responsibility ( Brautigam, 2009).
More today than yesterday, attached to its international image and much more sensitive to internal and external pressures, China is determined to shoulder its new global responsibilities and intends to participate fully in the resolution of African regional conflicts within a more multilateral. So, behind the scenes, it no longer hesitates to use its enormous lobbying power to influence the decisions of governments in the region. However, it should be noted that it remains, at the same time, one of the main suppliers of weapons to Africa (Hellendorff, 2011).


Does China represent a threat or an opportunity for Africa? The answer to this question formulated in binary terms must be qualified if one favors a multidimensional reading, considering the multiplicity of points of view and integrating different levels of analysis. Such a reading must from the outset rule out any final opinion and any final opinion.
Clearly, China's growing presence in Africa offers the latter an opportunity to loosen the ties of dependency that still bind it closely to the former colonial powers and international financial institutions. In addition to contributing to the widening of the political space, the new links that have been forged between China and Africa make it possible to reduce the financial pressure weighing on African states, which are finding budgetary room for manoeuvre than structural adjustments had taken them away.
From the status of passive beggars subject to the directives and requirements of international financial institutions and bilateral donors, African countries have thus moved on to that of active players in the game, or even arbiters in the competition between the great powers. Certainly, after having undergone more than twenty years during an imposed slimming cure, African states are recovering new margins of sovereignty and are more able, because of China's financial support, to take part in a process of development more self-centred and less dependent on external recommendations.
However, while it is potentially beneficial to African countries, opening this new space for action and decision-making in no way guarantees the initiation of development that is both beneficial to populations and sustainable. First, because, whatever Chinese and African officials say, the economic relationship that has developed between China and Africa is nothing more or less of a North-South configuration. Despite the very real economic benefits derived from such a relationship, Africa remains confined to its exclusive role as a supplier of raw materials. The possibility for the continent to emerge from a relationship in which the former colonial powers had placed it is therefore still very hypothetical.
Secondly, because the ties forged between China and Africa are elitist in nature, Beijing prioritizing above all state-to-state cooperation, without any concern as to how the partner uses the funds. However, African states have often shown their inability to ensure real redistribution. Monopolized by oligarchies, authoritarian or semi-authoritarian, many of them are characterized precisely by their lack of sensitivity to the demands and needs of their population. Without a modification of power structures in Africa which could lead to the opening of political spaces allowing the expression of all national actors and guaranteeing their elementary rights, it is indeed possible to doubt that the populations derive a real benefit of the Sino-African relationship.
Most specialists also agree that the Chinese model is hardly transposable in Africa and that only the emergence of a space of political inclusion, control and participation can ensure that income and revenue freed from this Sino-African rapprochement are not diverted to ends other than improving the living conditions of the entire population. That said, it is not for external actors, but for Africans themselves to create and define the nature of these spaces. Just as it is up to them, once the integration of all national actors is guaranteed, to choose themselves and define the development strategies that best meet the aspirations and needs of the community.
Even if it could be transposed to Africa, the Chinese model, based on the excessive exploitation of raw materials and giving priority to the objectives of economic growth over any other consideration (political, social, or environmental), is hardly viable in the medium and long term. If it intoxicates or exalts the leaders and many African intellectuals, who see it as an alternative to the "Washington consensus" and to the development agenda of traditional donors, the Chinese model is a misleading model. eye.
Behind legitimizing rhetoric, Chinese engagement in Africa and the forms of cooperation favored by China pursue, under different modalities, almost the same economic goals as Western strategies. If it is marked with the seal of "success" and recognized as such by many Africans, in its logic of exploitation and its consequences, the Chinese model does not really differ - or very little - from the development model. western. In some aspects (working conditions and relations) it is even worse. From this perspective, contrasting the two models and evaluating their advantages and disadvantages does not turn out to be the most relevant approach.
Much more than the choice between two models, it is especially important for Africa to choose its own development path according to its own needs and its own prospects. “Undeniably,” explains Kwessi Kwaa Prah, “China is approaching Africa from the perspective of satisfying its own interests - or at least what it considers to be in its best interest - and these interests do not necessarily overlap with those of Africa. Africa. There is something that Africans should be aware of. There is no point in pointing fingers sometimes at the West, sometimes at China. What Africans need to do is build their own history and participate in it as best they can and in their own interests "(2007).

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