Two different approaches to Africa from the two big world powers

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You cannot generalise about Africa. It’s a big place, and you can find anything and everything you’re looking for (and a lot you’re not) there. But themes are emerging, nevertheless. And it seems as if China and America are choosing their paths into the “last frontier” continent in very different ways.

China has taken the route of resource extractor. I don’t think they’re attempting a new form of colonialism as some have suggested. They are coming into Africa with contracts in hand, and paying for all manner of resources to be taken back to China. If Africans feel cheated its mainly because they didn’t negotiate hard enough. And just yesterday, China announced a package of $20 billion of loans made available to African countries over the next three years. It’s in China’s best interests to help Africa build infrastructure, be stable and uplift its people.

The lesson from other parts of the world for Africa is a harsh one. Africans need to add more value to their resources before they ship them out of the continent. Beneficiation is the technical term that has been co-opted to refer to the process of adding value to natural resources. It’s a sad truth that Italian goldsmiths have earned much more money from their jewellery making than the African miners who risked their lives to extra the gold from the ground in the first place. Africans must learn to add value in order to increase the margins on their sales.

But it’s still good news that there is a willing buyer in the East.

The other major world power is taking a different approach.

One of America’s largest and most powerful industries is the Arms industry. They have a massive vested interest in ensuring there is always a war somewhere, and preferably a series of wars involving American troops. The UK’s Arms industry is complicit in this desire to keep the world destabilised. And it appears that their eyes are now turning to Africa.

The Washington Post recently reported that America is expanding its secret military bases across Africa. (Read an additional opinion piece in the South African Daily Maverick here).

I realise this is not the only way in which America is involved in Africa. I also understand that there are many Americans working selflessly in Africa for the good of the continent. I don’t want to besmirch their work.

But I do want to state my fear that the bully-machine that is America’s military-industrial complex is turning to Africa and will fuel local and regional conflicts, and engage in political interference to keep the continent unstable. This cannot be good.

The lesson for Africans is to make a stand against American military engagement in Africa. Let’s not be lured by whatever promises they make in order to establish bases in our countries and set their drones flying over our homes and rivers and mountains.

These are generalisations. They are also predictions. And warnings.

Africa needs to be strategic in the way it engages with the world’s major powers right now.

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