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THE SPIRIT OF CHINA-AFRICA FRIENDSHIP
Remarks by former Defence Minister, ALIYU MOHAMMED GUSAU at ongoing 11th meeting of the ChinaAfrica think tanks forum in Beijing
The organization of this event comprising intellectuals, academics, experts, and policy formulators, is timely given the increasingly significant role China-Africa relations has assumed in the development trajectory of African countries and communities. It is very important for fora such as this to pause and take a critical look at the roles of both Chinese and African governments and institutions to detect and address policy defects, weaknesses, and errors, but also to appreciate progress.
It is to China’s credit that it has placed Sino-African relations as an important component of its international relations and cooperation policy. Gusau Institute recognizes the importance of the role that China plays and that is why, in collaboration with the Zhejiang Normal University, we instituted biennial bilateral conferences to examine issues of mutual interest to China and Africa.
Relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), at present, are the most significant strategic link for almost all African countries, and particularly for most sub-Saharan states, because they represent a qualitative difference from past experiences. This is not merely because of the high levels of investment by China in Africa, but because the links do not mirror historical prejudices or expectations.
In addition, the important advances China has recorded over the past few decades in economic and political development, poverty alleviation, as well as technological and military advancement are unprecedented in history in terms of rapidity and success. It provides a sound model for developing states to follow. Nonetheless, there are also room for improvement regarding effective collaboration between China and Africa in several areas.
In the security sphere, there is great appreciation for the more than 40,000 Chinese peacekeepers who have served on 24 UN missions, mainly in Africa, since the first deployment in1989. China has an opportunity to be a positive force for peace, stability, and development, but I would like to emphasize that African citizens should be at the centre of these engagements.
In our view, given the tremendous development of relations, especially in the economic sector, the security cooperation between China and African countries has not been given the level of attention required to enable African states improve their capacity to deal with the threats they are facing. Africa and China need to focus greater attention on the causes of conflicts. These include natural phenomena such as the effects of climate change and desertification. One issue in our region that deserves mention is the receding Lake Chad which has brought about displacement of communities, large scale poverty, and armed conflict.
The security threats fuelled by religious extremism, banditry, piracy, etc. are posing existential threats to many African countries. These threats are also endangering the safety of the growing number of Chinese citizens who are involved in development projects on the Continent. As an example, in Nigeria a particular bandit is fast gaining a reputation as an expert in the kidnapping of Chinese citizens for ransom. Many projects that require Chinese expertise are now negatively affected by this emerging phenomenon.
African states are also becoming more sophisticated in their battlespace management and require access to greater real-time reconnaissance and communications capabilities. Similarly, several of the bigger African economies would benefit from technology transfer to create self-sustaining ordnance and defence support capabilities. We need to know to what extent China can support these needs. In the economic sphere, Beijing’s focus on either African resources or African markets for PRC goods is sometimes viewed with scepticism. Critics believe Africa is not seen as a partner with the PRC, but, rather, just a resource and marketplace. Allegations of the deliberate creation of debt traps, lack of transparency, and corruption abound.
Therefore, for a country that possesses one of the most robust anti-corruption law and law enforcement systems, China needs to ensure that there is better probity and transparency in the granting and management of loans to African countries. While it is absolutely expected by Africans that China should benefit from its relationships in Africa, it is also expected by African societies that the relationship should not be seen as exploitative of Africans. Otherwise, it draws comparison with the earlier colonial powers. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has to date focused heavily on raw materials extraction, both agricultural and solid minerals, and the development of transport infrastructure. It must now move to the next phase.
The question is at what point would it be in Beijing’s interest to partner with African states in the development of manufacturing and processing industries on the Continent so that African states could benefit from the full value chain? The Russia-Ukraine conflict has for example particularly damaged most African states by not just disrupting grain supplies to Africa, but, more importantly, disrupting fertilizer supply. This jeopardizes African agricultural performance in the coming few years at a time of general African economic downturn. Africa needs a greater emphasis on local fertilizer production from its natural hydrocarbon resources. This would be critical if Africa is to meet food requirements for the PRC and other export markets.
The overarching question that faces African states in the current political climate of an emerging new Cold War, however, is whether any treaty relationship with China could endanger an African state’s neutrality. In other words, will African states be better off refusing to get into formal alliances with the West, or with Russia, or the PRC? On the other hand, it needs to be acknowledged that China, by interacting with African governments on a higher level of equality, has given African states greater leverage and stature in dealing with European powers and the United States of America (USA).
With these few thoughts I would like to conclude my remarks. It is my hope that over the next two days this 11th conference will address these and other issues of mutual concern.
· Lt General Gusau, at the Africa-China forum in Beijing.