Week Seven: China in Africa, Africa in China

The three readings this week focus on Sino-African relations. The first article, by Paul Zeleza, offers an expansive and somewhat nuanced account of some of the most vital dialogues on China’s ever growing involvement in Africa. We learn from Zeleza that there are two major sides in the debate on China in Africa: on one hand, there are those who believe China to be a well-intentioned, amicable partner in the structural and idealogical war against western imperialism. On the other hand, there are those who are just as skeptical about China’s involvement in Africa as they are about the west’s involvement on the continent. The latter group believe, as Zeleza points out, that instead of being an amicable partner, China is in fact a self-interested competitor looking to do to Africa what the west has done. Much of Zeleza’s article is concerned with reconciling these opposing views, and he concludes that in order to achieve sustainable development, Africa must deal with China as collectively as they can.

The second article, by Chris Alden and Cristina Alves, offers in contrast a strictly historical account of China’s Africa policy. It offers the reader a glimpse into how China has manipulated, to a certain extent, or over-exaggerated its ties with Africa in order to construct the image of a benevolent, innocuous developing country that can do no harm to the continent of Africa.

The third article, on which this response focuses less of its attention, is by Adams Bodomo and Grace Ma. Bodomo and Ma discusse the dichotomy between the treatment of Africans in the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Yiwu. We learn that there exists in the two cities a vast, ever-growing population of Africans. In Guangzhou, the Africans are met with animosity by the locals; meanwhile, in Yiwu, the Africans are met with hospitality, and a recognition of their added value to the local economy. For this reason, the authors state, Yiwu has “eclipsed” Guangzhou — economically, of course, but also culturally and politically.

Keeping in mind the first two articles by Zeleza and Alden et. al. one discovers what the burgeoning relationship between China and Africa means. As Zeleza rightfully pointed out, Africa has for centuries been reduced perniciously into a “hapless tabula rasa always waiting for the inscription of development models from elsewhere.” Africa, in this sense, is an entity in perpetual need of help, and in this sense, since it cannot fend for itself, it must cling to strangers bearing gifts like an infant does to its mother. Hence, since Africa is no more an infant than China or Europe is, it must stop conducting itself like one, and instead develop an agency for itself that will render strangers’ gifts useless. One way to do this, like Zeleza suggests, is for the continent to deal for the continent to deal collectively with China; but since this pan-Africanist ideal is highly improbable, perhaps the onus lies on African leaders to instigate a developmental push that is reminiscent of China’s.

Moyosore Arewa

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