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China in Africa: The Real Story

Being a Constructive Critic: "China's Growing Role in African Peace and Security"

Deborah Brautigam

On being a "constructive critic":  Saferworld, a UK-based non-governmental organization, has just released their report on China's Growing Role in African Peace and Security. They sent me a copy last week.

I read the Executive Summary, which seems overall to be a balanced and helpful treatment. I'm not (at all) an expert in the security area: I always recommend Ian Taylor's excellent work. However, the report frames Chinese security engagement within Chinese engagement more broadly, and here there are a few mistakes. Below, my comments to the authors:
It looks good! There were a few areas where I saw some room for improvement:
p. 1  "China ... has started to deliver development assistance..."
As you know, I'm sure, China "started" to deliver aid to sub-Saharan Africa around 1960. Recently aid has increased, but it's still fairly modest and not new. This is important because it helps dispel the myth that China just arrived as part of a desperate search for resources. This engagement is much more complex.
p. ii. "China has developed close relationships with African regimes that the international community, or more specifically, Western countries, only engage
with in a manner that is conditional on improvements in governance."
Perhaps you mean Western governments only provide aid "in a manner that is conditional on improvements in governance"? (even this is debatable: see Egypt for example...). Western companies have lots of engagement except when specifically banned, which is extremely rare (Sudan). And Western governments "engage" with all sorts of poorly-governed and/or non-democratic countries: Angola, Nigeria; Egypt; Chad; DRC; Guinea; Equatorial Guinea ... and even Sudan and Zimbabwe.

One statement is quite inaccurate:
p. ix  "As part of China’s wider participation in Africa’s infrastructure development, Chinese finance and companies had been involved in the construction of 25 dams in Africa by 2008."
I've seen the report you cite. The authors did a good job of compiling media reports. However, the figure of 25 is far from the real story.

Here's how these 25 projects break down:  4 refer to projects, usually quite small, completed between 1982 and 1996; 3 refer to repairs or expansions of hydropower plants (i.e. new turbines, etc.), not dams; 2 have construction contracts signed recently & seem to have financing lined up, but haven't started construction & so could still fall apart (Ethiopia-Neshi; Togo-Adjarala); 10 appear at the present moment to have been MOUs or expressions of interest that went nowhere; as of 2011 only 6 of the listed projects are dams currently under construction or completed recently (Ethiopia-Tekeze; Ghana-Bui; Congo-Imboulou; Sudan-Merowe; Botswana-Dikgatlhong; Gabon-Grand Poubara).

Some of these points are small, but as you know, as a constructive critic, it's important to present things as accurately as possible -- it shows you know what you're talking about, and this matters for Chinese readers as well as us in the West.