Africa Week Lecture Focuses on Econ

Brad Hock

To a packed Helen K. Persson Auditorium, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza asked the question, “Who are the real rogue creditors in Africa?” in his lecture “Dancing with the Dragon: Africa’s Courtship with China,” a lecture sponsored by the Africana and Latin American Studies program on behalf of Africa Week.

Africa Week, which runs from November 12 through November 16 this year, will include a gallery opening in the African, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center, Zeleza’s lecture and brown bag, an African Student Union lecture and a brown bag by Abraham Awolich titled “Sudan: A Future Beyond Genocide,” an African Food Day at Frank Dining Hall and a showing of the movie Blood Diamond in the ALANA lounge.

Distinguished professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, author of several books, of a multi-million dollar study on Africa and the diaspora, Zeleza was asking a deliberately biased question.

Considering that “every country seeks to maximize its self-interest,” as Zeleza noted, it would be hard to surmise a country investing in Africa that did not try to exploit African resources. Zeleza said that some say, “China cannot be good for Africa as America has been.” However, Zeleza was quick to dispel the popular notion that China’s interest in Africa does not necessarily lend it to be a rogue creditor.

China’s high stakes in Africa involve Africa’s utilities, resources and people. While admitting that China did not expel corruption, authoritarianism or poverty, Zeleza said that China was not exacerbating the problems in Africa. According to Zeleza, although China holds the “Three Worlds Theory,” which suggests that China is aware of the relationship between relatively developed and underdeveloped countries, China would not create a state of dependency in Africa or purposely hinder its development.

Zeleza said that China’s motivations are economic and political and have existed for some time.

“It is hard to make a case that Africa does not mean much to China,” Zeleza said, citing sources that dated back as far as 1988.

He referenced data on the amount China has invested in Africa, a figure that rose exponentially over the past few decades. China invests in minerals, infrastructural projects and services. Zeleza said that the high rate of investment reflects more the state of China than its interest in Africa because China invests heavily abroad elsewhere too.

The relative economic size of China is such that its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is comparable with that of the entire African continent. Zeleza gave the political caveat that China’s investment has been “nice for governments, but not for the misgoverned people.” He made the case that establishing good politics is more of a burden upon the nation than its traders. China’s presence, he said, has been neutral.

There have been an increasing number of meetings between Africa and China. Last year was the forty-second annual meeting over which African Presidents and Prime Ministers and representatives from China revised policies.

“Bilateral agreements between China and Africa have become commonplace,” Zeleza said.

Although he mentioned that Africa established a code of conduct for China’s operations because China was not meeting certain regulations such as environmental standards, he is in favor of the Eastern aid to Africa, suggesting that it “does not differ from Western aid.”