Connect with us

China in Africa: Has the Messiah come?

As Africans, we need to come out and play. But first things first: stop expecting that other people will take care of your interests. The Chinese are no different from the West. The basics are the same – they both come for what is in their interests It is now time for African countries to also map out their own interests. Let’s go into these negotiations and meetings with our own hidden agendas.

“China follows the principle of giving more and taking less, giving before taking and giving without asking for return”, various news channels cited China premier Xi Jinping as having said at the 3 September 2018 forum where he detailed a “win win-win” principle. It needs not be said that this principle being enunciated here is a phony.

For one, China stipulates in its agreements that Chinese corporations and nationals be employed to deliver most of the projects it undertakes. A significant share of Chinese aid actually comes in the form of natural resource securitised loans and is easier to pledge than to actually make good on. As we speak, Zambian copper mines are reportedly falling to the Chinese having failed to live up to lending conditions. Not that these are bad things from China: rather, these are clear examples of how shrewd the Chinese have been to place a veil of ignorance on those they deal with to make them believe that it is actually true that the Chinese are angelic in their dealings.

Be this as it may, African countries and their leaders have a moral and legal obligation to take care of their countries’ interests. Chinese leaders have the same obligations towards China. The basis of co-operation on any endeavour is then founded on this. Who wins or loses is an equation of which side is able to best carve out a deal that works for them. Talk, therefore, that China is taking advantage of African countries is not exactly correct. The nature of the game is to take advantage of whom you can.

African statesmen and their envoys should be the ones under the microscope: are they efficient and sophisticated enough to take advantage of China? If they are not as shrewd then we will get the raw end of the bargain. If they are, then China may lose. Better still for everyone, a win-win may be achieved if both sets of envoys are at par.

In analysis and corridor talk on Africa-China relations, there seems to be an expectation that China be “nicer than the west”. This is misplaced optimism. The foundation of relations in the international sphere is the pursuit of one’s interests, and such interests are often selfish. In internal state matters governments are ethical and concerned about moral perspectives and judgements. In international affairs, states and statesmen care about their countries’ interests primarily – the other party’s interests matter only as a platform from which to bargain.

Let me elucidate: Say China agrees to buy low grade coal from Botswana, or to construct a rail road across the continent. The underlying intent would not be to help Botswana grow its economy by buying the coal. The deal happens because China needs the coal; because the net benefit to Chinese industry is greater than the price it pays to get the coal. To Botswana there may also be a benefit in employment and resource tax but that would not have been China’s primary goal.

The primary goal is in the interest of China and this is perfectly fine. It is how it is. The same applies to a rail road across Africa – it would improve connectivity and the freighting of goods but that would not be the underlying motive from the Chinese. Their true motive maybe to ensure that they ease their unemployment burden through having their nationals come work on the rail road; through having their corporations come lay the rail road; or even to ensure that their strategic interests are taken care of. Even more, China may just be making sure that it ensnares African countries so much that they do not get anywhere close to recognising Taiwan or threaten China’s myriad of territorial claims in the South China Sea

Note for instance that the kingdom of Eswatini was the notable absentee as African countries queued up for the possible Chinese windfall. Eswatini is known to recognise the sovereignty of Taiwan hence its exclusion. It is probable that its exclusion was a demonstration, though tacit, to the present African countries of what happens to those that recognise disputed Chinese territorial claims.

As well, it is common discourse that the Chinese have their own trade disputes with the US and would seek to leverage elsewhere given that the US are their biggest trading partner. To lessen the likely blow of any fallout they may have to look to Africa – this would not have been clearly spelt out in the negotiations- you do not expect that it be. In short, what appears like a deal to mine copper may actually, to the Chinese, be a geo-strategic posture to protect an interest of theirs that is not even at the negotiation table at that particular time. This is perfectly acceptable, and to be expected.

And nothing is wrong with that in the practice of international relations. It is acknowledged that deceit, treachery and selfishness are a part of the trade. These are not holy waters. The neo-realist world order is no different from what it was under classical realism- states still seek to amass power, both hard and soft (arms and diplomacy) with which to take care of their own interests. There are times when mutually beneficial interests collide, and when they do you have a win-win. A great deal of the time though, each state looks out for its selfish interests as ought to be.

As Africans, therefore, we need to come out and play. But first things first: stop expecting that other people will take care of your interests. The Chinese are no different from the West. The basics are the same – they both come for what is in their interests It is now time for African countries to also map out their own interests. Let’s go into these negotiations and meetings with our own hidden agendas. Go into these negotiations with what you have on the table advancing your other interests that you may not exactly spell out to the other contracting party. The world is not a nice place. There is no point pretending it is when it is not.

African leaders should not just praise China for being a good partner whose aid comes without stringent conditions. They must pick development projects with high viability and commercial value; the policy options should also be on things that will help spur growth such that even when the Chinese harvest from their investment, the African countries also do the same. Let’s ensure that the projects the Chinese engage in have high economic growth value and insist on sustainability. After all, we clearly have a rare leverage over China, especially when we go in as a continental block and given the China’s own squeeze from the Trump administration in Washington. We are in a position of rare strength, but only if we recognise it.

The problem with some African statesmen has been that their biggest underlying motive in cooperation with China has not been development economics. It rather has been regime survival. China gives aid and loans- but pledges to not interfere in the political and development issues of African countries. In short, President Xi Jinping is saying we will give you support, but we do not care whether you’re corrupt, kill your own people or engage in electoral Gerrymandering to keep the opposition from competing for power or you take money from state resources and invest it in offshore slush funds for your personal gain.

This is a key difference. The Chinese no doubt have their own issues with corruption. But you see, their major underlying motives when engaging are around the interests of their expansionist ideals and their trade wars with the USA. Meanwhile, for some African countries, the underlying motives are neither development nor geo-strategic – they are for regime survival. In China declaring non-interference in internal affairs, such regimes find funds that they may not account for and regime longevity. If regimes and envoys would flip the coin and negotiate with the strategic interests of their people at heart the wins we get form this relationship would be enhanced.

For Africa then, it is not yet uhuru. China is a partner like the rest. But to get true benefits Africa has to look into the detail, become hawkish in its dealings and look more on sustainable developmental projects. The international sphere is not kind, do not expect the Chinese to be. There is no Messiah to come and save us. Lawrence Ookeditse is Consultant and Analyst in Politics and International Affairs. He is a former Director of Youth for the Botswana Government. This article first appeared in the Daily Maverick

Continue Reading


Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

Continue Reading


The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

Continue Reading


Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

Continue Reading
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!