The TownhallBusinessPolitics

60 years on, China is still Africa’s most valuable partner

By Gugulethu Hughes 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

“Is Africa to be liberated by relying on foreign countries or by relying on the African people themselves? To liberate Africa, it is essential to rely on the African people. African affairs should be run by the Africans themselves by relying on the forces of African people; in the meantime, they should make friends throughout the world, including China. China certainly supports you. Whether these two points are right or not is for you to ponder over. 

It seems that present Africa is quite different from past Africa. After the Second World War the anti-imperialist movement in Africa developed greatly in 1958. It is expected that the anti-imperialist movement will develop faster in the future. There is no doubt that various countries will help you. The people of various countries, particularly socialist countries and countries that have won independence, will certainly assist and support you. You need support as much as we and all the socialist countries need it. Who is to support us? The national liberation movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America is the main force supporting us. The working class in western Europe supports us too. Support is therefore a mutual matter. Your anti-imperialist movement is a support to us. It is a support to you when the Soviet Union and China have done well. You may think of China as your friend. We are checking imperialism to divert its forces, so it will not be able to concentrate its forces on oppressing Africa…” 

The above is an excerpt from a 1959 speech Chairman Mao Zedong made in a meeting with representatives of the Union of the Populations of Cameroon and of the youths of Kenya, Madagascar, and Guinea. 

Chairman Mao’s speech is important in many aspects. It set the tone for Chinese-African cooperation that exists to this day, even though it is often presented as a new phenomenon by Western media. The speech was a part of the Bandung Conference of 1955 to discuss economic development, decolonization and the role of the Third World in the Cold War. The conference was attended by 29 Asian and African countries who had either achieved freedom from the West or were still battling to emerge from the tentacles of colonialism and imperialism. 

Indonesian President Sukarno was the first of many Asian and Middle Eastern leaders to support Africa when they were under British occupation, stating, “We are often told ‘Colonialism is dead’. Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. I say to you, colonialism is not yet dead. How can we say it is dead, so long as vast areas of Asia and Africa are unfree? And I beg of you do not think of colonialism only in the classic form which we of Indonesia, and our brothers in different parts of Asia and Africa, knew. Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a small but alien community within a nation. It is a skillful and determined enemy, and it appears in many guises. It does not give up its loot easily. Wherever, whenever and however it appears, colonialism is an evil thing, and one which must be eradicated from the earth. 

…If this Conference succeeds in making the peoples of the East whose representatives are gathered here understand each other a little more, appreciate each other a little more, sympathize with each other’s problems a little more – if those things happen, then this Conference, of course, will have been worthwhile, whatever else it may achieve. But I hope that this Conference will give more than understanding only and goodwill only – I hope that it will falsify and give the lie to the saying of one diplomat from far abroad: ‘We will turn this Asian-African Conference into an afternoon-tea meeting.’ 

I hope that it will give evidence of the fact that we Asian and African leaders understand that Asia and Africa can prosper only when they are united, and that even the safety of the World at large cannot be safeguarded without a united Asia-Africa. I hope that this Conference will give guidance to mankind, will point out to mankind the way which it must take to attain safety and peace. I hope that it will give evidence that Asia and Africa have been reborn, nay, that a New Asia and a New Africa have been born!” 

The other political leaders in attendance also made their speeches and position clear on a number of issues. In his supplementary speech, Premier Chou Enlai from China made it clear that China sought mutual understanding and cooperation above ideological differences while Egyptian Prime Minister Colonel Nassir outright called out racialism in South Africa and apartheid in Palestine.

Different positions were put forward, but the final communique set the ball rolling for the cooperation we witness today not only between China and Africa, but many other Asian countries. The communique was composed of seven key principles, including economic cooperation, cultural cooperation, human rights and self-determination, problems of dependent peoples, promotion of world peace and cooperation, declaration on the promotion of world peace and cooperation, and other problems.  

After the Bandung Conference, deepening ties between China and African countries took shape. In 1956, during the rule of Colonel Nasser, Egypt began the first African country to recognize the People’s Republic of China. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, when Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, China took the side of Egypt. Today, the canal belongs and is run by the state-owned Suez Canal Authority, and the canal is the biggest seaborne logistics route enabling trade between the East and the West. 

China began to feature in trade and exhibition events in Morocco and Tunisia while a China News Agency office opened in Cairo in 1958. The Chinese People’s Republic recognized Sudan’s independence and also attended Ghana’s independence celebration while recognizing Ghana as an independent state in 1960. Mali, under Modibo Keita’s leadership, became a strong ally of China and issued joint communiques that were in line with Chinese aspirations. Kwame Nkrumah signed a treaty of friendship with China in 1961. 

From the 1960s to the ‘90s, more African countries gained independence. China, the Soviet Union, and other communist countries became key features in the African wars of liberation.  

China’s activities in aiding self-determination of African peoples reflects prominently in Southern Africa where it trained African activists in guerrilla warfare and also supplied liberation armies like ZANLA from Zimbabwe and Mozambique Liberation Front. South Africa’s ANC’s founding Umkhonto weSizwe members like Ray Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni received guerrilla warfare training in China and were even met by Chairman Mao Zedong. After Zambia’s independence in 1964, China became a key ally in the economic development of Zambia. It was China that funded the Freedom Railway otherwise known as the TAZARA Railway from Zambia to Tanzania’s seaport. This became a key logistics enabler for trade much to the benefit of the copper-producing Zambia which could no longer access routes via Rhodesia to the seaports of Southern Africa. 

Even though China was itself emerging from a cultural revolution and was facing its own challenges, the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai found it prudent to fund the railway line financially and through manpower. The total financial cost to China for the TAZARA Railway amounted to $500 Million which at the time was deemed the largest single item foreign aid project ever undertaken by China. 

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure project wherein China is getting into agreements with countries to build logistics infrastructure to enable trade and link China with the wider world. Chinese financial institutions are financing these infrastructure projects, and this has threatened the monopolistic hegemony of western financiers like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. 

The narrative that is running amok in mainstream media is that China is using the Belt and Road Initiative to trap African countries into debt. The truth is that the West is still involved in the business of acting as an entity enjoying evergreen full custody of Africa. Economic cooperation has always been a key ethos of China, and certainly features in the Bandung Conference communique, so the Belt and Road Initiative falls right into that. It is not only African countries entering into infrastructure development projects with China, and those African countries that do are enjoying the economic benefits of the logistics infrastructure which is even enabling trade with the West. China is not a colonial institute, it seeks economic cooperation with all countries of the world, including the United States of America.

The West has outsourced the bulk of its manufacturing activities to China due to low labor costs and other economies of scale much to the benefit of Western economies. Nearly all countries are pursuing economic relationships with China, but when it comes to African countries, Chinese investments in Africa are subjected to Western scrutiny. The only explanation for this is that China’s model of investment is more cooperative and valuable compared to the Western model of aid, colonialism, slavery, and plunder of Africa resources. It must be noted that China is itself facing political and economic threats from the USA, whose activities in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, India, and Pakistan are meant to threaten China’s territorial integrity. 

In his 1969 conversation in Cairo with President Nasser, Premier Zhou Enlai stated, “After the Korean War broke out, US and UN forces invaded north of the 38th parallel and advanced toward the Yalu River that is the common border of China and Korea. China’s government for this reason issued a warning, stating that if the war expanded to the Yalu River, threatening New China’s existence, China would have to become involved and could not ignore it. This warning was passed via the Indian ambassador to the United States. But the US government paid no attention to this warning. Not only this, but the United States also seized the opportunity to use its fleet to occupy Taiwan, turning Taiwan into a protectorate. This shows that the US occupation of Taiwan, following the launching of a war of aggression against Korea, was something planned in advance…” To this day, the USA still uses Taiwan to threaten China’s territorial integrity.  

For Africa to reach its potential, it needs to deepen its ties with China. The continent already enjoys historical ties with China wherein the latter has supported, funded, and financed the wars of African liberation and economic activities that followed thereafter when it was still unfashionable to do so. For Africa to extract more benefits from the relationships with China, there must be a radical intent to either do away with colonial borders or turn the continent into a United States of Africa where foreign policy will be designed and centralized to reflect the true attitudes of African people towards China. 

Chairman Mao once said, “We are checking imperialism to divert its forces, so it will not be able to concentrate its forces on oppressing Africa…” Had it not been for China and the USSR, Africa would still be a slave hub accepted as just by the global community. 

China is still checking imperialism, and more African countries must seek BRICS membership which China is a part of, but the politics needs to change, too. We have too many bourgeois blacks in national leadership positions. This makes it difficult for the continent to have unity of purpose and pursue true self-determination. China is instrumental for the development of any country that takes itself seriously, and Africa has a moral duty to align accordingly while negotiating good deals for the benefit of African populations. 

African people may even need to do away with Western concepts of democracy entirely. China is a one-party state, and it is easy to manage succession planning of the entire governance structure. In Africa we have had good leaders like Nassir, Gaddafi, Lumumba, and Sankara, among others, who were all killed by Western functionaries. We have not been able to replace those leaders due to the ideological vacuum created by the multi-party regimes being prescribed to Africa. Africa needs to learn more from China, adopt Chinese political governance and economic models, and partner more with China. 

Subscribe to get early access to podcasts, events, and more!

Gugulethu Hughes


Gugulethu Hughes is the ScoonTV Africa correspondent

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Previous Post
Bet your bottom dollar it’s not in the curriculum
Next Post
As China cuts Africa fair deals, America flounders

Related Articles

Tags: , , , , , , ,