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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Western countries should stop hypocrisy on China-Africa trade deals

7th October 2012
Editorial Cartoon

In our Saturday edition, we published a lead story about President Jakaya Kikwete, in which he strongly defended the foreign direct investments, massive loans and aid from China, saying Tanzania would continue to attract more investors from the Asian superpower despite the negative image painted by the Western media on its business deals in Africa.

At a joint press conference with his host, Canadian Premier Stephen Harper, the President said: “Despite the noises from ‘the Western media and other critics’, Tanzania will not reject investments from China.”

The President reiterated that mere trade deals with the Chinese did not mean that his government was looking up to the Chinese political situation as one of the conditions for trade deals to take place.

The President made these remarks when fielding questions from Canadian journalists who wanted to know why Tanzania was attracting investment from China—a country whose good governance, democracy and human rights record—is questionable and tainted with repression.

It’s appalling to note the hypocrisy of Western countries –and the media --when it comes to China’s growing influence around the globe.

Today, European countries are borrowing billions of dollars from Chinese banks to cure their ailing economies, even as they also woo Chinese investors.

The United States, arguably the richest in the world, today borrows billions of dollars from China to finance its development projects. This is owned up by none other than America’s Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Today, the majority of the biggest US companies have invested heavily in China, and some are queuing to do business there.

However, when China flexes its economic muscle and expands trade wings to Africa, it becomes a subject of debate -- with many Western countries and some of their media urging Africa to shun Chinese deals.

What are their reasons? One, there’s no democracy in China. Second, China has a tainted record in human rights, and third, the country doesn’t allow freedom of expression. This being the case, then African countries, Tanzania included, are being counselled to avoid Chinese deals because of the country’s abysmal performance in democracy, good governance, human rights and many more. Isn’t this a case of double standards? The Western countries receive massive loans and investments from China; in return, their companies also invest in the Asian country. In so doing, none of them rejects the loans or investments from China because of the country’s poor record on democracy and human rights.

The truth of the matter is that the Western economies feel threatened by the growing Chinese influence in Africa. For the past five decades, Western countries have used aid and loans to control Africa politically and economically. Now, with the growing Chinese influence in terms of trading with Africa, the West suddenly fears that it may soon lose control over its former colonies.

The most important thing is for African countries to ensure that their Chinese partners bring better business deals that benefit the people. This is what we should be debating, not China’s internal governance issues.

Africa should not focus on the cat’s colour; rather, it should judge the cat against its ability to destroy rats in the house. Africa has resources, but is still very poor, and when the Chinese are willing to bring fair and better deals, we shouldn’t bother about perceived Western fears.

In any case, what’s wrong with Tanzania borrowing $1 billion from a Chinese bank to construct a 522-km gas pipeline at an interest rate of 2-3 per cent? Where else would this country get a 20-year loan plus seven years grace period?

Granted, the Western-controlled Bretton Woods institutions, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have loaned Africa billions -- but on condition we kow-tow to their own best interests.

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