In the early 2000s, Africa was seemingly looking for another global partner that would provide her with aid without exposing her dirty linings in public or meddling in the management of these aides and politicking of the times.
China presented a better option after major European powers and America had become too involved in Africa politics, including its trivia realities.
Two things accounted for this new politico-economic voyage by African leaders to the Asiatic giant. Firstly, China had just experienced massive economic growth and prosperity which ensured that its economy was classified second in the world after the United States. Secondly, just like Britain in the 1700 which experienced Industrial Revolution and Abolished Slave Trade in favour of African and Asiatic territories, China was looking for an eternal economic sustenance which it found in the resourceful but turbulent Africa.
On the part of African countries, they had wondered politically and economically for close to 50 years and were still faced with economic and political pressures from Europe and America, which ensured that some of their political systems and leaders were dictated from abroad.
The late French author Francois Xavier Verschave opined that most African political systems and leaders are either placed or influenced by France which exerts direct pressure on these entities and their personalities.
Knowing that Africa is hungry even after decades of Western aid, China proposed an alternative food in the form of aid and since 2000, it has spent billions of dollars in Africa in the form of aid and loans.
Cameroon has benefitted from some of these aids worth FCFA 3 trillion, which have not necessarily changed the lives of the people. According to International relations expert, Immanuel BumaKor, aid from China has not transformed the lives of Africans because African countries have not reshaped their economies, so whatever comes in is either wasted in elephant white projects or mismanaged. Since China is not a model for democracy and human rights, these aids have not trickled down to the common man in Africa, Bumakor alleged.
Therefore, Africa has moved from aid with strings to aid without strings, aid without obligation except for its repayment.
According to the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, China’s aid without strings is a testimony of a faithful friendship and amity like no other. Xi expounded on these during the 3rd Forum on China and Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). While the 54 African leaders and heads of delegation concentrated on what aid they would get which informed their decision to personally and massively participate in the forum, the Chinese President played the master by seducing them with his non-interference policy through what he called an 8 point initiative to be implemented in the next three years and beyond.
Looking at the low level of industrialisation in Africa, China intends to promote industrial growth in Africa. This would be followed by an infrastructural development which would largely be through Chinese companies.
China would also facilitate trade with Africa as well as ensure that African imports in China increases. According to President Xi, China would also be fostering environmental protection in Africa as well as share Chinese best practices in development through capacity building and training of Africans.
The sixth point on Xi’s agenda is health care development. He also promised to engage Africa in a people-to-people exchange and lastly ensure peace and security in Africa.
Grosso modo, China is acting as a messianic emissary with a salvific solution for Africa’s “born again” project after European and American countries were unable.
Even though President Xi would argue for a policy of non-interference, the 8 points’ initiative is design to transform Africa into a mini-Chinese city or a Chinese overseas territory like Hong Kong.
According to Immanuel Bumakor, this is because China wants to take a firm position in the world by even challenging world power, America.
In this light, Chinese cultural implantation in Africa would be enhanced through cultural exchanges which would ensure that there would be many more mandarin speakers in Africa than Swahili, Bamileke or Wolof speakers in China.
African politics would also be reshaped and democracy and human rights which are interpreted differently in China would also be interpreted following the Chinese model and many more Communist Party of China with no political delimitation between ruling party and Government would emerge in Africa.
Moreover, Africa’s long serving Presidents may eternalised their marriage with power till death do them part as any resolution against them would be vetoed by China.
China’s trade facilitation and industrial development policy would also ensure that China’s eternal quest for raw materials and market is served. Moreover, her infrastructural development policy would lead to an unchallenged rise in Chinese companies in Africa.
Presently, most roads and infrastructural development projects in Cameroon are done by Chinese companies especially the China Railway Engineering and the China Road and Bridge Corporation.
This would obviously lead to a premature exit of other foreign companies like the French Razel and Arab Contractors from Libya.
With China going to provide another FCFA 34 trillion loan to Africa in these projects, it may sound lofty like a Father Christmas gift without anything in return.
However, international relations expert like Bumakor have argued that international relations is a game of interests and Africa must rise up to protect its interests.
However, China also presents a model for development for the world which Africa can be an inspiration to. Between 1980 and 2010, China succeeded in moving about 800 million persons within its territory (more than the entire population of Europe) out of poverty.
By 1980, the country accounted for about 2 percent of world trade, but today it accounts for about 17 percent. However, with Africa’s political economy remaining the same, aid may just help to transform the lives of a few and build elephant white projects which glorify regime barons.
Talking about the case of Cameroon, Immanuel Bumakor cited the cases of the Kribi Deep Sea Port and the Lom Pangar projects which he termed “elephant white” as they have helped to glorify the regime without changing the lives of the ordinary Cameroonians.
This to him is tantamount to “jobless growth as the deep sea port would have been more useful in Limbe than Kribi.”
For the past two decades, Chinese companies, business men and women have greatly found employment opportunities in Cameroon through road and seaport construction, bridge building and other small businesses.
Moreover, China has also been providing loans to Cameroon with the latest being the FCFA 75 billion loan to sponsor Paul Biya’s laptop project to students. However, the same laptops were manufactured in China which ensured that the loan goes to develop Chinese companies.
In the meantime, Cameroon remains a huge consumer of Chinese goods and services while China reaps the financial and material benefits.
Paul Biya has certainly found a friend in need and a friend indeed in China, which is why within seven months; he officially sojourns to the country twice.
China and the Chinese media have never bothered to scan Biya’s democratic baggage which is being exposed in the Western world, but has instead provided him with arms which he is using to crush descents as well as fight wars around the country.
In China, Paul Biya is safe and his longevity records are not challenged but embraced. In characteristic contrast, Paul Biya has avoided most international confab including African Union summits and even as close as that of CEMAC which is regionally. However, China seems to use Cameroon as an investment site where it pumps money to harvest later on and not a priority partner like Africa’s giants, South Africa.
Despite the plethora of documents on the website of FOCAC, Cameroon featured only in two stories.
However, Paul Biya knows that China has become his country’s livewire after promising to build some roads in the country. Moreover, with a debt burden of FCFA 3 trillion owed China, Cameroon has become indebted to China.
The FOCAC was one of the heavily attended conferences of African leaders in recent times with all except Swatini formerly Kingdom of Swaziland not sending a delegation because of its ties with Taiwan which China abhors.
Old-aged leaders like Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea were there, military dictators like Al-Sissi of Egypt didn’t miss, medically unstable Presidents like Buhari of Nigeria were also strong enough to make the Chinese trip, even the leader of South Sudan who is still yoked in a peace deal with rebels couldn’t afford to miss a gathering where manna from the East was being shared.
AU Chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat was also present to witness the sharing, while Antonio Guterres and his entourage of UN diplomats also took part in the forum.
Even at the level of AU, it is difficult to find a cream of African leaders in confab like FOCAC, but China, a single country succeeded in bringing these leaders together for a two-day meeting.
This is already an indication of the influence China is indirectly having on African leaders and their policies. However, with the gift of an imposing AU building (the tallest in Addis Ababa) housing the headquarters in Addis Ababa at the cost of $200 million entirely provided by China, the Asiatic giant has become one of the rare countries in the world to have an AU permanent representation in its capital, Beijing which was inaugurated in the sidelines of the summit by AU’s Chairman, Mahamat and the Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi.
It is a regular practice in Africa and Cameroon in particular that goods and services puts the donor in a superior position and can easily be exploited to disfavour the receiver who remains at the mercy of the former. China may not openly speak of neo-colonialism, but its relation with Africa in the past few years is a testimony of a country scrambling for what others have been enjoying.