[OPINION] There’s a new player in modern scramble for Africa
Having infamously scrambled for the continent 120 years ago, Western leaders are today seeking to dance here.
British Premier Theresa May twice skipped the light fantastic during her three-nation safari. She danced her robot mash with Cape Town schoolchildren and with boy scouts and girl guides in Nairobi.
French President Emmanuel Macron boogied with musician Femi Kuti at the New Africa Shrine in Lagos last July. Neither posed any immediate threat to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But it showed the lengths they were prepared to go to make friends in Africa.
May was in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. She sought to reassure the African heavy hitters that Brexit will not affect their economic ties with Britain.
Macron’s visit was billed as more culture than policy. But his return to Lagos, where he spent six months as an intern in 2002, was obvious. He wishes to keep the lines of communication in good order.
Angela Merkel was also in Africa in the last week of August. She did not pack her dancing pumps for Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria. Her preoccupation was securing deals with her hosts curbing the stream of irregular migrants from African into Europe.
All these leaders mentioned Africa’s enviable economic growth and the market potential presented by its growing young population. But they dared no raise hopes either at home or at their African destinations. There is a new player in the modern scramble for Africa - and it is one that dwarfs them.
China’s dominance of the African market will be demonstrated at the Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). Meeting in Beijing, it is expected to feature a number of eye-watering offers from China to help Africa’s infrastructure deficit.
At the previous FOCAC in Johannesburg, this amounted to $60 billion. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has recently embarked on his own safari. He stopped Senegal and Rwanda before arriving in South Africa for the BRICS summit.
Then he visited Mauritius on the way home.
China’s belt and road programme, designed to give Beijing better access to foreign markets, dominated.
Africa, providing strategic resources, played a major part in transforming China into the world’s second-largest economy. It does business differently from Africa’s traditional partners.
It does not impose values like an observation of human rights and rule of law. It provides credit freely. Approaching $100 billion dollars has been loaned by China for building African roads, railways, ports and major buildings.
Critics say Beijing’s constructing an elaborate death trap. Beijing responds that the critics are none other than the former colonialists, who have an axe to grind. Who can blame cash-strapped countries being attracted to China’s credit honeypot?
South Africa is among the latest, taking a $2,5 billion loan for ESCOM. All above board and properly thought out, is the assurance from President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Question: could that loan have been secured safely and on better terms from the more rhythmic recent visitors?
Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish