- Chinese and African leader are meeting in Egypt this weekend to further cement their booming economic and political ties. China's engagement in Africa is controversial, but the billions of dollars involved cannot longer be overlooked.
Several state leaders are to attend the two-day Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which begins on Sunday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. FOCAC has since its modest start in year 2000 developed into one of the most important cooperation forums for African leaders, where rapid results and multi-billion deals can be reached.
China-African relations have boomed during this decade, with Beijing now being one of the lead players on the African continent. Direct Chinese investment in Africa leapt from US$ 491 million in 2003 to US$ 7.8 billion in 2008. Trade between the two parties has increased tenfold since the start of the decade. Last year, China-Africa trade reached US$ 106.8 billion - a rise of 45 percent in one year and on par with the United States.
Not only trade is booming. China is sponsoring great infrastructure projects all over the continent, paying for football stadiums across Africa and getting involved in health and education development.
But, critics hold, Chinese funds come too easily, there is no control on whether projects are white elephants or priority matters and there is no control whether funds are misused by corrupt officials. Even worse, China has no problem sponsoring giant projects by Africa's worst regimes including the worst dictatorships and the most corrupt governments.
Also when it comes to the trade boom, critics are found. Chinese imports from Africa last year were worth US$ 56 billion. But they were totally dominated by oil - US$ 39 billion - and other raw materials. In return, Africa was flooded with cheap Chinese consumer goods also worth US$ 56 billion, which helped Africans raise their consumption but which also choked many fragile attempts to create an indigenous African industry production.
The final criticism is that China combines its hunger for African raw materials with economic and political sponsorship of anti-democratic or corrupt regimes, thus undermining African successes in the fields of good governance and democratisation.
But this criticism is mostly pronounced in the West, by Africa's former colonisers and "neo-colonial" powers, promoters of China-Africa ties counter. Indeed, the large flow of dollars from China has plaid a vital role in the strong economic growth registered in Africa this decade, averaging 4-5 percent until the financial crisis.
Also in Europe, development policy-makers now rather focus on how to reform Chinese-African ties rather than limiting them. There is a consensus that increased trade is good for Africa's development, but China, Western aid workers hold, must be influenced to lift its standards when engaging in African projects, in particular when it comes to assure good governance and management.
For Chinese and African leaders, however, the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting will be yet another adventure in how to deepen relations and get rapid decisions on a number of multi-billion dollar deals. "African countries are looking forward to the forum, waiting for concrete results that are in the interest of the people," Abdelkader Hadjar, Algerian ambassador to Cairo, told the Chinese state media 'Xinhua'.
And China has already reacted to criticism and fears over its Africa engagement. This FOCAC summit will focus more on traditional African development issues than trade. "Human resources development, agriculture, infrastructure development, investment and trade" have been singled out as "priority areas" for the summit.
And China takes pride in its new leading role in Africa, striking back at any attempt to criticise its "hunger for raw materials" or "neo-colonialist" approach. "When an economy as big as China's US$ 4.6 trillion is interacted with a continent waiting for its turn to rise, the magic is ensured, and, it is win-win," columnist Li Hong in the state-controlled 'People's Daily Online' writes in a comment today.
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.