Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Africa looking East

The British government is eager to keep Africa on the agenda and make sure the promises of Gleneagles last year are kept. Whilst during the original life aid campaign of the 80's headed in the Bob Geldof the then Thatcher government wanted to earn tax on the donations, the New Labour government is genuinely interested in eradicating poverty in Africa, or is it?

At the G8 summit in Gleneagles it was difficult to get firm commitment from the participating governments. A package of debt relief was promised, but soon everybody back paddled and a convenient way of not having to pay up was attaching conditions. Debt cancellation had to be subject to reform and progress on human rights – the old stick and carrot approach.

Now, suddenly, there is renewed urgency. Tony Blair launched the Africa Progress Panel chaired by Kofi Annan and funded by Bill Gates. Did Africa weigh heavy on the conscience of Britain, the colonial power who after withdrawing direct rule successfully kept the continent enslaved through burdening them with unpayable debt? There might be a much more sober explanation for the flurry of renewed interesting Africa: Africa has turned her back on Europe and America. In fact, Africa doesn't need them anymore.

After having raped the continent for decades, the colonialists are beginning to realise that Africa has attracted a new suitor, China who is courting African countries and distributing carrots rather than beating them with a stick. Already, China has cancelled $1.3 billion of debt in 31 African countries. China is interested in resources, but is providing infrastructure and consumer goods and is gradually expanding her political influence where Western arrogance had assumed everlasting control. At a African-Chinese trade summit more than two years ago Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe urged African leaders to turn their back on Britain and the US and focus on better relations with China who respected African countries. This call is now being heeded to such a degree that even the Council on Foreign Relations is concerned about it.

China's multi-billion dollar investment in Africa is free from interference and with not strings attached, but it is not non-political. China is also selling arms to African nations, gradually shifting their dependency from the West to the East. Quietly, away from the public eye, resource rich Africa has once more become the battle ground for world domination. Rather than the sudden concern of politicians like Tony Blair about starving children, it is probably the competition by the new rising super power which prompts the self-declared International Community (which has a heavy Western tilt) to want keep Africa on top of the agenda.

China has sat back and watched how the power game is played. Slowly they are getting better at it than their teachers. Which also puts an interesting twist on the Anglo-American venture in Afghanistan. Russia was defeated by Afghan guerrillas armed by the US. If China clandestinely supplies the Taliban with equipment, the Brits, who have only just gone back, will find their stay even more deadly this time than when they first ruled India, and America will slowly bleed to death.


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