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China in Africa: The Real Story

Links I Liked: William Wallis on China, Europe, Africa

Deborah Brautigam

William Wallis, the Financial Time's Africa correspondent, reflects -- in "China Builds on Europe's Africa Ruins" -- on the new AU Headquarters. Wallis ponders the contrast between the Chinese approach and that of Europe, noting French president Nicholas Sarkozy's October 2007 speech in Dakar (which barely made a ripple):
“The tragedy of Africa is that the African has never really entered history,” Mr Sarkozy said to open mouths in the audience and a barrage of outrage on web sites throughout French-speaking Africa. “The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words. In this realm of fancy there is neither room for human endeavour nor the idea of progress.”

Buried though they were in broader remarks, the French president’s comments were reminiscent of the Hegelian underpinnings of colonial thinking and the notion that African history only began when Europeans brought “progress”. It was an extreme example of the kind of outmoded thinking which still influences debate about Africa in the west.
Wallis also notes (as I pointed out in The Dragon's Gift), China has been building Ministry of Foreign Affairs buildings (and some Ministry of Defense buildings) as diplomatic gifts for African governments in many countries. My thought was that this helps boost good will and soft power in a key ministry. Wallis wondered "has Beijing hardwired African diplomacy to its own advantage?" An interesting question. Perhaps these ministry buildings would benefit from a thorough "bug cleaning"?

A hat tip to Henry Hall at China Africa News.