December 7th 2013

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Abbott and the Indonesia espionage row

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Australia's enemies at home and abroad

AGRICULTURE: Fighting to keep families on their own land

SCHOOLS: Economy held back by lack of skilled tradesmen

LIFE ISSUES: Tasmania widens scope for abortion, restricts free speech

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Middle-class families struggling on two incomes

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Joe Hockey and the ADM takeover bid for GrainCorp

POLITICAL LANGUAGE: Defending the indefensible by sugar-coating killing

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: China takes leading role in new 'scramble for Africa'

CULTURE: 'Tis the season to give the imagination free play

LITERATURE: How George MacDonald's fantasy fiction illuminates reality

BOOK REVIEW When science poses as a religion

BOOK REVIEW Family decline behind loss of religious faith

CINEMA: Nostalgic retrospect on Sixties radicalism

LETTERS Why it matters who owns Australia's GrainCorp

LETTERS Expatriate Australian intellectuals

LETTER Practical fuel-reduction tip to prevent bushfires

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China takes leading role in new 'scramble for Africa'

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, December 7, 2013

China is using a multidimensional strategy to gain influence over the world’s fastest-developing continent — Africa.

China lacks the wealth or investment capacity to match the United States or Europe, but it is using its economic leverage very effectively. China is also deploying “soft power” to win friends and influence people in Africa.

The first “Scramble for Africa” was between 1880 and 1900, when the European colonial powers carved up Africa among themselves to gain access to its raw materials, which helped fuel Europe’s industrialisation. The European powers also sought access to Africa’s markets to sell their manufactured goods.

The colonial experience ranged from the hideous, as described in Joseph Conrad’s classic novel The Heart of Darkness about the Congo, the personal domain of Belgium’s King Leopold, to the relatively benign administration of much of British Africa. The first “Scramble for Africa” linked Africa into the global trading system, with Africa producing raw materials and being sold manufactured goods in return.

The notion that colonialism was simply exploitative was contested by Lord Peter Bauer (1915–2002), who maintained that colonialism modernised backward areas of Africa. Bauer, a British economist of Hungarian background, also said that “a country that cannot develop without foreign aid is altogether unlikely to develop with it”.

Bauer added that the economic progress of a nation depended on the “aptitudes and attitudes” of its citizens. He also held that economic development depended on institutional arrangements such as the rule of law, security of tenure and the right to own property. He also fiercely opposed birth control in developing countries, insisting that family size was a matter for the families concerned.

In all these things, Bauer has been completely vindicated, and the people who have vindicated him have been the Chinese. The Economist magazine recently confessed that it had been wrong to write off Africa as a continent without hope and that it was now the world’s fastest-growing area.

Africa is now not only a producer of raw materials; it is becoming a manufacturing centre. Telecommunications, in the form of mobile phones, are spreading to even the remotest villages. This means that farmers can get market prices and other information in seconds, rather than days or weeks.

The Western financial model has been positively detrimental to African development. When bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) lend money to a typical African country, it rarely trickles down to the people themselves. The money remains in the hands of the country’s elite, who appropriate it for their own use.

When the IMF demands repayment, it forces the government concerned to impose draconian economic regimes under which the burden of taxation falls most heavily on the poor. This form of “assistance” is positively detrimental to economic and political development.

If the Chinese are requested by an African nation to build, say, a railway, they bring in their own engineers and workers, and build the railway. This has the effect of denying work to local people and restricts the transfer of technology; but at least the country now has a railway, even if it makes the government unpopular with the local workers.

Similarly, China has been using “soft power” very effectively in Africa. Soft power has been defined by U.S. scholar Joseph S. Nye Jr. as the “ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and policies.” (See “Being smart about using soft power”, News Weekly, February 7, 2009).

Despite what some people believe — or what the Chinese might have us believe — China is neither a developed country nor a very wealthy one. This means, first, it must get value for money and, second, its level of technology is more appropriate to developing African countries than Western high-tech manufacturing.

Free trade zones are being developed throughout Africa to foster manufacturing industry. Some are successful; some aren’t. To be successful, free trade zones need to be nurtured, not smothered, by African governments. If they bring jobs, they will be popular.

Kenya is developing as a centre of Chinese influence in Africa. China’s Xinhua (New China) news agency, similar to Reuters and the Associated Press, has its African headquarters there, as does the China Daily newspaper and China Central Television.

China’s media is attracting interest from experienced African journalists such as Charmaine Pretorius, who has previously worked for the South African Press Association. She has also worked for The Citizen, one of the biggest daily morning newspapers in South Africa.

“Media and culture are two vehicles for increasing soft power, and China is using both — through their media presence and through the Confucius Institutes that are springing up all over the continent,” Ms Pretorius told News Weekly.

It is no accident that Kenya, which is a vigorous democracy with a vibrant press and well-established court system, is attracting China’s interest while South Africa, under the influence of the absurd clown Jacob Zuma, is falling behind, both economically and politically. 

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