Co-op with China boosts African infrastructure

Updated: 2012-10-04 15:46

By Ben Ochieng and Chrispinus Omar (Xinhua)

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NAIROBI -- China's engagement in Africa is helping change the face of the once branded "Dark Continent", lighting up more streets, building more new roads and generating more new professionals.

Kenyan experts have said China's cooperation and interest in Africa has added more value to African products and rejuvenate its commodity market that once tottered on the brink of collapse.

"Chinese activities do not fit the bill of new colonialism, in which foreign capital is used for exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world," said Nairobi University lecturer Jacob Lukaka in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Lukaka, who once studied in China and now teaches at the University's Confucius Institute, told Xinhua recently in Nairobi that accusations that China's engagement in Africa amounts to "colonization" are far-fetched and based on the past guilt of over-exploiting African resources.

China's participation in global trade has tilted its imbalance in favor of African countries that produce minerals, including oil and copper, rejuvenating their faltering mining industry.

When East Africa suffered a severe drought and famine in 2011, the worst in 60 years, the Chinese government donated rice, flour, cooking oil and other basic necessities to Kenya.

"If this (humanitarian aid) is not a genuine gesture I wonder which one is," Lukaka said.

Although some critics often charge that Beijing's interest remains concentrated on the extractive sector, the China-Kenya trade, for instance, has currently increased to $2.43 billion, a 30-percent increase from the figure in 2000.

Africa is now the second largest overseas project contracting market and fourth largest overseas investment destination for China, said Han Chunlin, the economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Nairobi.

Kenya has benefited from Chinese funding of its medical sector and training of human resources in a number of sectors. This covers a wide spectrum that includes economy, education, agriculture and communication.

China offers credit financing that makes it easier for countries like Kenya to access concessional loans to support its infrastructure projects and build new highway corridors, hydro-electrical plants, hospitals and modern airports.

Lukaka pointed out that unlike "new colonialism" which entails the geopolitical practice of using capitalism, business globalization and cultural imperialism to control a country, Chinese engagement was not designed as a neo-colonialist venture. China-Africa trade reached a record high of $166.3 billion in 2011.

China remained Africa's largest trading partner for the third consecutive year, with Chinese direct investment totaling $14.7 billion.

"China will continue to propose new economic and trade measures for strengthening China-Africa cooperation, further supporting Africa in developing economy, improving people's livelihood and raising capacity building levels to usher in new opportunities," Han wrote in a Kenyan newspaper recently.

Economic and trade cooperation between Kenya and China rose to its highest level in the last three years compared to anywhere else around the African continent.

China has vigorously executed the eight new measures announced by the Chinese government at the 2009 Fourth Ministerial Conference of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation, a platform and cooperation mechanism established by China and friendly African countries for collective consultation and dialogue.

Kipruto Kirwa, a special envoy of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, said China has grown to a "real force" in Africa.

"Just look at the number of presidents and officials from Africa who troop to Beijing on a regular basis," said the ex-Kenyan minister.

There are over 800,000 Chinese professionals working in Africa as China expands its technical aid to the continent.

Experts say that unlike China, the West has practiced new colonialism in Africa under the guise of selective "humanitarian intervention, enhancing freedom and democracy to oppressed people."

"On an opportunistic basis, they target countries for intervention that are not their 'international partners' caught off guard perhaps by popular revolt like what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya," Lukaka said.