In Africa, China has created a new window beyond the old Western one
Published: Jan 18, 2023 10:12 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

From the end of the 15th century, along with Portuguese exploration and expansion, Western missionaries began to land in Africa, bringing with them the God of the West.

More than 500 years later, this legacy of God is still shaping the continent's progress into modernity, and the West still considers Africa as a "territory" attached to them ideologically, that is until Chinese aid and investment started to enter Africa more often.

Following Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang's trip to Africa, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is heading for an 11-day trip to Africa starting this week.  

Last August, Washington released its Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, which explicitly lists China as a key target to strengthen US engagement in Africa. The policy paper states that "the People's Republic of China, by contrast, sees the region as an important arena to challenge the rules-based international order, advance its own narrow commercial and geopolitical interests, undermine transparency and openness, and weaken US relations with Africa."

The Bloomberg story "Yellen Heads to Africa With US Seeking to Counter China's Influence" quotes an African studies expert recently as saying, "The U.S. wants to build on this progress. They are trying to emphasize that there is an alternative model of development other than reliance on China." What is the difference between this so-called alternative development model and the political and economic models that the Western powers have pursued in Africa for centuries and that they have left behind in Africa? 

Is America's renewed focus on Africa a way to send an alternative God to Africa?

Obviously, it is not an "alternative," but rather an old way to preserve the West's "leadership" over Africa since the era of the expansion. 

What they fear most is that as African people show more interest in China's development model and philosophy, their God will lose its absolute authority.

I once read in a pamphlet about the impact of Christianity on Africa: "Africa was once called 'the Dark Continent.' This may stem from racial discrimination or because we didn't know much about the place. But… it exudes a wonderful spiritual light, both in the establishment of the church and in the degree of effort of its members to make and keep the covenants."

The West brought their "spiritual light" into Africa with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other, but that light did not allow Africa to grow. After the colonizers left, some African countries are still experiencing unrest, while some Westerners blame Africans for not being able to govern their countries better. But what they should be asking is: Why didn't these Western colonizers lay the groundwork for Africa's development in such a long period of time?

Of course, the proud colonizers did not consider and arrange the political and economic structures according to the reality of Africa and the needs of Africans. In many countries, the "rule of law" they left behind, including the institutional legacy, has become a "strange circle" that undermines the development and stability of Africa.

The only way to solve Africa's development problems now is to dismiss the political legacy designed and left by the colonizers and find a new way to keep stable, inclusive and participate in the reform of the division of the world labor. 

Cooperation between China and Africa in recent years has certainly sparked Africa's interest in the Chinese development model. However, this does not mean of course that African countries can fully copy China's model.

The key to China's model is that a country should figure out a development path that suits it according to its own conditions. Since China can walk a path of stable and peaceful development based on its own practices, other countries could be able to do so as well. 

While it is difficult for these countries to fully replicate China's model, the efforts embodied in this model represent a new direction for emerging countries.

The increasing cooperation between China and African countries has opened a new window for them, a China window beyond the old Western window, from where new choices can be seen.

This is what worries Washington the most, which has the great mission of transforming the world into its own image. If its God fails, then its hegemonic status will be shaken.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina