West still harbors colonial attitude toward Africa: former South African diplomat
Published: May 24, 2022 06:20 PM
Staff members unload China-donated COVID-19 vaccines at an airport in Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 18, 2021.Photo: Xinhua

Staff members unload China-donated COVID-19 vaccines at an airport in Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 18, 2021.Photo: Xinhua

Editor's Note:  

For the Chinese people, the past decade was epic and inspirational. The country, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China with Xi Jinping at its core, has made great endeavors in boosting its economy, deepening reforms, improving the rights of its people and acting as a responsible power globally.

China has been emphasizing the significance of bringing China-Africa cooperation to a higher level with more extensive fields. Global Times (GT) reporter Yan Yuzhu talked to Gert Grobler (Grobler), a former senior diplomat in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and senior research fellow with the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, on the significance of China-Africa cooperation, different attitudes toward Africa between China and the West, and how China's experiences can help Africa in the field of poverty alleviation and other areas. This is the sixth of the series.

GT: In 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the China-Africa Cooperation Vision 2035, which not only incorporates the China Vision 2035, but also corresponds to the AU Agenda 2063 and the development strategies of African countries. What does this mean for China and Africa to strengthen further cooperation and build a stronger China-Africa community with a shared future?

Grobler: The Chinese government released its 1st comprehensive and constructive White Paper on China and Africa cooperation, titled "China and Africa in the New Era: A Partnership of Equals" on 26 November 2021. This was followed by the productive 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on November 29 and 30, 2021. It is a credit to the Chinese and African leaders that the outcome of the FOCAC meeting in Dakar with its comprehensive, measurable, practical and forward looking outcome, was generally viewed as a success. Not only has the FOCAC withstood the test of time in an uncertain international landscape but has, in fact, increasingly become a model of international cooperation.

African leaders welcomed President Xi's "community with a shared future" because it is a reality that China and Africa have long forged its own strong community of a shared future. It is therefore nothing new to Africa. Africa has in fact already adopted President Xi's vision of "building a community with a shared future for mankind", and it represents a key pillar in the rapidly expanding friendship between Africa and China. 

What was of significance was that this impressive range of programs announced by President Xi was the result of joint consultation and preparation between China and Africa This has further enhanced the notion and acceptance on the part of Africa, that it is indeed an equal partner and that China "listens to its voice".

China and Africa with its strong commitment and solidarity will continue to increase the role, influence and cohesion of the FOCAC, as its platform for collective dialogue and a mechanism for practical cooperation, in its endeavors to escalate its strategic partnership to the next level, toward the building of a China and Africa community with a shared future. 

GT: The Biden administration proposed the "Prosper Africa" initiative in 2021, which is said to offer a different path to prosperity than that of China. How do you evaluate Biden's plan? How does it differ from the China-Africa Cooperation Vision?

Grobler: According to the US, the Prosper Africa imitative is committed to fostering a two-way trade and investment partnership with Africa - based on dignity, equality, and mutual respect. In addition there is also a further Biden / G7 initiative namely the Build Back Better World (B3W) and as well as the EU's recently announced Africa-Europe Investment Package, which are all steps aimed at trying to reduce Chinas influence in Africa and to compete with Chinas highly constructive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China based on its positive track record, however, has a huge advantage over the US and EU. It is a fact that Africa has a growing positive view of the tangible benefits of FOCAC as well as that of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) because they continue to deliver tangible benefits to the people of China's partners.

Most African countries reject the perspective of the US that doing business with China is to their detriment. China has, in fact, become the most important partner and contributor to Africa's economic growth and development. The US, in contrast to China, particularly under the Trump and Biden Administrations, has made a halfhearted attempt to develop its ties with Africa and has, at best, been lukewarm in extending a hand of friendship to the continent. It is, however, no wonder, given broken economic promises and the lack of the required commitment in the past, that Africa views these US and EU "support packages" with a degree of skepticism and perhaps as "old wine in a new bottle" or "a game of numbers."

Africa is of the view, as is China, that the world's two largest economies, should ideally work together in providing support and assistance to vulnerable countries and contribute to the resuscitation of the global economy. Countries like the US should therefore work to build rather than tear down bridges, promote connectivity rather than decoupling, seek mutual benefits and win-win results rather than isolation and exclusiveness.

GT: Africa is a victim of Western colonization. Do you think the West still maintains a colonial master mentality when it comes to African affairs, even though Africa has been free from colonization for many years?

Grobler: I recently spent a few of years in China at the Institute of Africa Studies at ZJNU in Jinhua, in the dynamic Zhejiang Province which inter alia provided me with enriching insights into China, its culture and how China and its people view Africa. In fact, from the outset, I sensed a strong fraternal bond and solidarity between the people of China and Africa on a daily basis. I detected a true, genuine feeling and wish on the part of China and its people to work with Africa and deepen its friendship and cooperation with the continent.

I further got the impression that China as a victim of colonialism itself, a developing country which once experienced widespread poverty but which had phenomenal success in lifting its population out of poverty, had a very sound understanding of Africa, its culture, its developmental and economic challenges and that China in fact listened to Africa's voice. As a South African diplomat, I worked in a number of Western countries, some of which were former colonial powers. In my interactions with their leaders and officials on cooperation with Africa, it was unfortunate that I sensed an underlying sentiment from time to time that smacked of paternalism and condescension. An approach that still reflected a "colonial" attitude that "we know what is best for Africa"!

Nowhere in my dealings with those countries, did I ever find the kind of strong and unwavering commitment to work with Africa on a basis of mutual respect, equality, good faith and a win-win basis, as I experienced in China.

GT: Now that the West is using various means, including the so-called "debt trap" issue, to sow discord in China-Africa relations. How should China and Africa work together in the new era to break this narrative?

Grobler: As regards the future of China and Africa relations, the West, in particular the US, continues to fabricate the so-called "new colonial" and "debt trap" fallacies to smear China and to undermine China - Africa cooperation. These counterproductive and malicious attacks focus heavily on impeding China's successful international economic cooperation with Africa and further afield. It is also aimed at deliberately misleading and manipulating public opinion on China's true intentions in Africa and globally. Africa strongly disagrees with the narrative of the US that doing business with China is to its detriment. Africa is a sovereign and proud continent and will not be dictated to, as to who its international partners should be.

All sectors in China and Africa should deliver a very clear message that there are concrete benefits "for the people of Africa" from China and Africa cooperation. This approach is important given the US's intention "to return to Africa". It can also be expected that apart from the US under Biden, there will be increasing "renewed" interest shown in Africa, in the "post-COVID era" by other partners such as the EU, India, Russia etc.

In this process, it is critical for Africa, to demonstrate to its people, that it has the ability to pursue its own preferred home grown development and hence cooperate with China and other international partners, in a manner that increasingly enhances Africa's key priorities.

GT: The US intervenes in African affairs at every turn under the pretext of democracy, human rights, etc., and tries to impose the Western model on Africa. How do you view this power politics? Has the Western model really brought prosperity to Africa?

Grobler: Africa generally viewed the Biden administration's recent "Summit for Democracy" with a great deal of skepticism. The Summit was also seen as an US concocted event which did not necessarily look at the challenges faced by the US and its democracy, which is clearly in jeopardy, but rather one that sought to point fingers at other countries and undermine domestic democratic processes there. The Africa point of view is that there is no one form of democracy that is superior and that there is no "size that fits all". 

In fact, apart from Africa the international community by and large criticized the Summit which was seen as a selfish and dangerous political ploy by the US creating division and confrontation in the world. Calls were thus made to the US to refrain from "forcing American democracy onto other countries". It was stressed that the US would do well to pay attention to fixing its own political system before attempting to lecture the rest of the world about democracy. As the saying goes, those "who live in glass houses should not throw stones"!

Africa has, with great concern, witnessed several US interventions, under the pretext of "transfer of democratic principles", the "war on terror," and "human rights" which led to the invasion not only of African countries like Libya and Somalia but also countries like Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

As for the US malpractices in creating "human rights crises" in other countries, Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University said "Americans must first fix what has gone wrong at home and rethink how they deal with the rest of the world".

The US has a lot to account for both in their own country and in the rest of the world. China and Africa must continue to create the conditions to sift the truth from the myths and to put the interests of its people first.

GT: In addition to trade, China provides skills training to many African countries, and has trained more than 300,000 practical talents in the past decades, covering a number of fields involving national economic and social development. What are the main roles these talents are currently playing in Africa?

Grobler: The ability to create, acquire and adapt to new technologies is a critical requirement for competing in the international marketplace. Africa as one of the biggest emerging markets in the world has, however, not kept pace with technological advancement in a global marketplace which has become increasingly liberalized and competitive. Africa has therefore committed itself to harness science, technology and innovation to promote its economic and social goals on the continent.

By 2030, Africa's population will grow to roughly 1.7 billion and the continent will be home to one-fifth of the world's population. Africa, furthermore has the largest youth demographic globally. In 2019, 60% of Africa's population was under the age of 25.

It is against this background that Africa welcomes the fact that its cooperation with China has significantly deepened on education and skills training, capacity building; the promotion of technology transfer and the enhancement of technical training especially for the youth.

Africa is aware, that China with its phenomenal economic achievements, has made exceptional scientific and technological progress and that it possesses a dynamic digital economy sector which has fueled innovation and production in China. Africa furthermore knows that China is prepared to share its expertise with its African brothers and sisters.

China and Africa's cooperation in science and technology specifically on digitalization and the development of Africa's digital economy amongst others communication technologies, such as telemedicine, tele-education and 5G are particularly vital. They will assist Africa to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and to take advantage of the new and emerging digital technologies such as Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, all of which will enhance industrialization, create jobs and attract investment.

Huawei, which has long-standing ties with Africa, has commendably through its "Seeds of the Future" program in South Africa, trained thousands of young people for a career in digital economy over the past six years.

There is no doubt that China and Africa will continue to deepen innovation and skilling platforms, promote the exchange of young entrepreneurs and scientists, undertake joint research, initiate training programs etc thereby increasingly integrating China and Africa into global innovation, entrepreneurial, science and technology networks and thereby injecting new impetus into the comprehensive strategic cooperation between Africa and China.

GT: Over the past 40 years, China has contributed close to three-quarters of the global reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty. As poverty reduction is also an important topic for the FOCAC in 2021, what lessons can China's experience offer to Africa?

Grobler: Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, China has launched targeted poverty alleviation initiatives and made remarkable progress.

Africa has witnessed these profound changes and progress which China has made over the past 70 years, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Africa views these people centered policies, which is unmatched worldwide, as a miracle of development and as an essential first step toward the building of a society of Common Prosperity. Such an accomplishment is not only a milestone in the history of the Chinese nation's development and the history of global poverty reduction, but also a vivid illustration of the understanding of human rights with Chinese characteristics that "the rights to subsistence and development are basic human rights of paramount importance".

Africa recognizes China's historic achievements in eliminating absolute poverty and is furthermore aware that China stands ready to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with other countries on poverty reduction.

In fact, China's growth model and success have inspired and gave confidence to African countries and other developing countries in their ability to achieve development and continues to give momentum to their approach toward modernization and enhanced prosperity. China's strong opposition to hegemonism in whatever form as well as against unilateralism, protectionism and trade bullying and its consistent position that it will not seek to progress at the expense of others, is appreciated by Africa.

It is against this background that Africa wishes to continue to draw on China's development experiences. Africa therefore welcomed the fact that cooperation on poverty reduction featured prominently during the FOCAC discussions in Dakar in 2021. It was also of significant importance that the meeting specifically linked poverty reduction with Africa's agricultural development program, which will assist in unleashing African countries' huge potential in agricultural development in support of the AU's efforts to reduce poverty and toward the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the AU Agenda 2063 toward a "better Africa".