Africa can’t afford not to unite around China | Lula da Silva

Fires burnt as waters rose around a community where residents are desperately trying to save their homes in riverside camps in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, after the worst flooding in a decade Is Nigeria…

Africa can't afford not to unite around China | Lula da Silva

Fires burnt as waters rose around a community where residents are desperately trying to save their homes in riverside camps in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, after the worst flooding in a decade

Is Nigeria on the verge of producing a new wave of leadership? Nigeria has the largest African economy of the major “BRICS” countries. This is meant to be a development step. Yet the city of Lagos is suffering its worst flooding in decades as a result of rising temperatures and rising sea levels. No wonder there is rising concern in the finance sector about the long-term impact of climate change on African economies. Will the “BRICS” evolve from a concept to the neighbourhood’s strongest player? We also have to remember that Goldman Sachs is still under investigation for their role in the recent Central African Revolution.

When speaking to African leaders, in Africa and beyond, I’ve heard three recurrent themes, even if they are not tightly linked. The first was talking about what and how China should invest in Africa. The second was discussing the failure of international investment banks to invest in Africa. And the third was the growing sense of anger against the largely Western dominated financial system.

The Chinese embassy itself is a clear sign of this solidarity. From the outside, it’s decorated with Chinese imperial portraits. Two weeks ago, the People’s Daily released a 120-article collection of articles related to the “New Silk Road”—The Chinese Century. Dozens of African countries have received central minister status. This is an unprecedented increase. What’s more, the PRC is providing funds and set up cultural institutions such as an academy and a think tank. On 11 March the Silk Road Cultural Institute opened.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

The Chinese President Xi Jinping is on an African tour meeting with African leaders this week in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Senegal, Kenya, Chad, and South Africa. We should all count on his leadership and vision to help Africa succeed as it becomes the world’s largest consumer of resources.

At the head of this investment drive is the 14th Five-Year Plan released in 2016. One of the world’s leading powerhouses, China is accelerating its march as the world’s leading energy consumer. The resources it’s searching for are valuable; Africa is highly endowed, including diamonds, oil, nickel, copper, iron ore, uranium, coal, and platinum. They’re all Africa’s gold.

Earlier this year, China’s state broadcaster Chine Central Broadcasting Company said five-year investment plans would double by 2022; China’s central government will increase funding for railways and roads to boost the economy and provide construction workers.

But what are the concrete results of this investment and global effort? How many of these projects actually break ground and begin to go up? Most fail. The Africa Development Bank says 58% of approved projects from 2014 to 2017 are still in the development stage. The United Nations Development Programme reports that 31% of investments pledged in Africa to date are still in the approval process. Meanwhile, aid-dependent countries struggle to give their populations the benefits of the Chinese investment.

E-commerce, online payments, smart infrastructure, and improved health care—the China investment drive is actually just an attempt to consolidate and keep control. Chinese know this. A report by the international consultancy Teneo Intelligence concluded that China’s long-term strategy is to “build Chinese investors in Africa”.

China is not just building infrastructure, but its efforts take on political overtones. Two days ago, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa was in Beijing to discuss “involvement and investment in key sectors of South Africa’s economy”. These include nuclear power. Are these really investments in South Africa? Are they a way to keep the repressive regime in place? Or, are they the latest move by China to force concessions from democratic countries?

None of this speaks to the great potential of China’s huge investment in Africa. African leaders see these investments in their own country, in their own communities, as true investments. Many of them believe a new era of greater partnership can empower their people, as I hope it will.

Lula da Silva is a former president of Brazil

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