China in Africa, the Fear among Europeans (Part 1)

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This article is a product of the press conference, tagged: “Africa between Europe and China: which international cooperation today? New sceneries, actors and approaches” held last Saturday, 12 February, 2011 at the University of Padova, north of Italy.

Although as the Prime Minister of Italy he was embattled out of the government in 2008, Romano Prodi is still one of the tallest personalities in the peninsula country. Many will adjudge him as an intellectual repute and a perfect gentleman. Apart from being a one time president of the European commission (1999 to 2004), he also has a wealth of experience both at the international politics and the economy. He is currently lecturing at a university in Shanghai, China’s most crowded city.

Last weekend, Saturday 12th 2011, Mr. Prodi was celebrated as a guest speaker at the University of Padova, one of the most ancient universities in Europe, and he decided to stand by what many contemporary politicians would easily dodge away from; being honest in an argument, even when it’s not in your favour.

The press conference which began at half past nine in the morning was organised in collaboration with the University of Padova, the local government and CUAMM, a medical NGO that has been operating in some countries of Africa for the past 60 years.

Although the conferences was centred on Africa, another thing was also important, “the fear among some Europeans as to what might become of the present relationship between Africa and Europe” and by extension one of the main reasons for the conferences.

Many were the speeches and they were as diverse and intense as the different faces of the speakers, all in an attempt to resolve the African problems or at least identify them. This is how the African case usually goes, attractive, sensitive and sometimes complicated.

While some people are saying that it will require God himself to save Africa from its economic underdevelopment, some others have convinced themselves that the real solution actually lies in the promises from big western politicians and the generosity of countless NGOs across Africa.

In whichever way you see it, people must keep talking and the local Africans will keep paying the price. They will keep paying the price both for the wrong choices they have made the ones they were never able to make.

“I would love to talk on Europe and China in Africa…,” Mr. Prodi continued after greeting the cheering crowd, a mixture of politicians, academics, economists, NGO workers and several armies of African sympathisers.

Africa, he said, is the second largest continent with 20% of the world territory… Her population is expected to hit 20% of the global population in 2050, but today, Africa has 2,5% of the world production… “2,5%, to put it in abundance,” he emphasized.

With the affirmation, “73% of sub-Sahara Africans lives on less than 2 dollars a day”, Mr. Prodi concluded the first piece of his analysis.

Going further, he submitted: “the problem of rapport with Africa has become the card number one in G8 summits. Every year, there is a growing concern about Africa, in words, only in words. I have to say I have participated in ten G8 summits; five as the president of the European commission and five as the Prime minister of Italy. And with all honesty, we have never maintained the promises we have made…”

At this point one might begin to wonder. Why are the Europeans and their western allies such as the United States always the ones deciding the rules of engagement with Africa; whereas the same western powers can wilfully choose to honour or disregard their so-called promises and the conditions of engagement with their African partners, and nothing will happen?

By the end of the Second World War, a lot of Africans realised that, after all, they could fight for their own liberation from the hands of European powers, thereby starting a revolution which would have done them well as a people. But then, the European colonialists were smarter. They quickly decided to grant freedom to many Africans along the fragile borders, which have been created against the individual history and cultural evolution of the African people. Using the words of Prodi during the Padova conference, the created borders “had nothing to do with the ethnic or political histories” of the local people.

This was a trap and a well-coordinated one. It was going to be a true recipe for conflicts and be used to justify the present destabilisations in many parts of Africa. Right from the onset, however, the end result of this premeditated arrangement was known, “exploitation”.

By granting the kangaroo freedom and installing some local Africans who best suited the interest of European colonialists, the growing awareness about political consciousness and the pride of being a free people was thwarted in Africa. The revolution was eventually replaced with indirect colonialism and the false friendship between Africa and the West; the type of friendship which is still making the African development and self-dependency a rather illusive mission, even till date.

Since freedom is never granted to a people out of freewill but a pay off through the struggle of the concerned people whom at a certain level of maturity realises that they need to be free and so fight to be free, the European colonialists did not truly set the African political and economic system free during the so-called independence of the African states. In fact, they never will, until Africans are politically conscious enough to take their stand for self-determination, while keeping in mind the consequences that might await them.

Until then, nearly the whole continent of Africa might remain what it is today, a mere satellite village with a semi-independent system, which is strictly accountable to a coalition of western powers instead of the local Africans. And to some people, Africa will remain a piece of farmland or better still, an investment. This is why the African case is always at the table of each G8 summit, to decide on how to manage the investment, not because it has suddenly become a necessity to create a better standard of living for the Africans.

So no one should be surprised at the earlier remark by the ex-Italian prime minister and president of the European commission that the big western politicians are not keeping to their promises of alleviating poverty and human suffering in Africa. It is in fact not their job. It is the job of the African people to take up their responsibility and fight for their own interests and survival as a people. And not until they have realised that, no miracle is going to happen, not even with the presence of China in the continent.

Meanwhile, what has been helping to keep the African system in a vicious circle, “the relevance of Europe in Africa”, is now also the reason for the fear among some European futurists on the growing Chinese influence in Africa.

Europe has a great economy and politics, fine, but like the stages in human life which is also true of the human systems, Europe is not likely to grow younger any time soon. This is already visible, not only in the system itself, which has to confront the fast dynamic world of today, but also of the primary resources and the population growth and therefore the continue productivity, to meet the essence of capitalism.

Africans has been helping in this area and when fully analysed, Africa will become one thing to the European system, “an essential partner”, yet that is not the point.

Over the years, Europe has managed to maintain its relevance in Africa, using the indirect colonialism with their most faithful Africans, a system which has been working wonders since the 1960s, when many Africans believed that they have been set free.

This was made possible partly by some African lords and elites who are unable to see the local interests beyond their immediate families, their egos and personal aggrandisements. This was true both during the enslavement of millions of Africans and the current exploitation of African human and natural resources.

It was also partly due to the immaturity of the African political consciousness, a result of the aborted post-second-world-war revolution in Africa. Therefore, the African system has practically been a mirage.

Coming to power in many parts of Africa has only been a question of selection, whether in military dictatorships or in the democratic brouhaha, and those selected usually satisfy their masters in Europe and helping to keep the African continent the way it is. The local resources are repeatedly stolen away and the destination is usually the European market and those of their western allies. Infrastructures are not developed, therefore the local economies cannot satisfy the needs of the local people, not to talk of competing at the international level.

And since the local people are unable to provide their own needs then it is understandable that “they need help”, the number one characteristic in the Europe–Africa relationship. This has made Europe very relevant in Africa, because it usually ends up providing what the local systems were never pruned to provide, the means of survival of the local people. Therefore the western politicians and businessmen are able to dictate how the African system should be run.

Continue in part 2.

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