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Here’s How China Is Changing Africa’s Future

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JOHANNESBURG ― The contrast couldn’t be starker. As U.S. President Donald Trump’s government continues to champion isolationism and undermine decades-old international relationships, China is rolling out its Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, a project to build a new “Silk Road” that could change the meaning of globalization itself.
Africa is at the margins of both of these developments, but its future will be determined by them.

As someone who grew up in Africa, the project stirs a tangle of emotions. While it will directly affect East and North Africa, there is the chance that it could spur desperately needed development all along Africa’s eastern seaboard, where countries are still trying to recover from the proxy conflicts of the Cold War.

For me, it comes down to African agency: Are African governments doing enough to achieve gains that can be shared? Or are their citizens being left to pick up the tab? The issue isn’t just about an increasing amount of Chinese power in Africa, but about what local leaders will allow outside forces like China to do with that influence as well. The breakdown of trust between African leaders and the African population is being put to the test ― and even exacerbated ― by ventures like Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Breaking Down The Belt And Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative breaks down into two parts, one over land and another over sea. The former, known as the Silk Road Economic Belt, is made up of interlinked rail lines, communications networks, and oil and gas pipelines running from Chongqing in China to Duisburg in Germany that connect the economic powerhouses of the Pearl and Yangtze Rivers with Rotterdam and Hamburg.

The second section ― the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road ― is a series of linked shipping lanes from Quanzhou in China’s Fujian province to Piraeus in Greece. It is enabled by a selection of massive port expansions from Colombo in Sri Lanka to Mombasa in Kenya. From there, it passes through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, and then overland to northern Europe. The maritime part of the scheme officially ends in Greece.

Beijing hasn’t committed itself to a timetable, and the criteria for what counts as a Belt and Road project are sometimes vague. However, if the scheme is fully realized, it will involve 65 countries and impact about 60 percent of the world’s population. It will also be expensive. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that it will cost roughly $1 trillion, with about $250 billion worth of BRI-related projects already underway or commissioned.

Meanwhile, Beijing is hyping BRI extensively, with everything from aid to space travel being described as falling within the Belt and Road frame. BRI is thus way more than a development initiative. Rather, it presents a new China-centric narrative of globalization ― a story that can fit many disparate elements into a wider geopolitical logic centered on the Middle Kingdom.

Africa is particularly susceptible to this new story of globalization. After all, few places suffered more under the old, Western-centered version of globalization than Africa. China, in contrast, is a relatively unknown entity to many Africans and thus offers an appeal that the West doesn’t with its considerably more weighty historical baggage.

For Africa, BRI isn’t only a better connection to the Chinese market, but also to European and Middle Eastern markets closer by.

This, together with the promise of Chinese-funded infrastructure, has raised African interest in the initiative, even as some Africans have misgivings about the rise of Chinese influence.

The launch this year of a new Chinese-funded rail network, which will link the interior of Kenya to the Belt and Road port of Mombasa in the country’s coast, revealed this ambivalence. As leaders praised it as a massive achievement that will supercharge Kenya’s future development, popular opinion was more divided, with complaints that the project is too expensive and will lead to undue Chinese influence in the country.

China’s Impact On The Continent

According to the Chinese government’s official plans, BRI has two African hubs: Kenya and Egypt. But Chinese-funded rail and communication networks are also linking other East African countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda to the BRI route.

The most notable of these is Djibouti, the home of China’s first overseas military base, key to combating piracy along the African leg of the BRI sea route. The military base is only a few miles from America’s Camp Lemonnier base, opening up Djibouti to potential conflict. Yet, its government is already talking about turning the tiny country into a Dubai-style transit and logistics hub.

This is a prime example of the fact that while East Africa, where much of China’s direct influence is, makes up the southernmost corner of BRI and only represents a small fraction of the whole scheme, the initiative has massive implications for the continent as a whole. This is because BRI doesn’t only touch Kenya’s eastern seaboard, it links with internal infrastructure networks also financed by China as well.

The most significant of these is Kenya’s newly inaugurated Standard Gauge Railway.

This Chinese-financed and built network links Mombasa and Nairobi, and future extensions will connect to an existent Chinese-built line between Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa and Djibouti, as well as to other countries in the region.

Eventually this internal network could link countries as distant as Rwanda, Uganda and Djibouti to Kenya’s harbors, and therefore to both China and Europe, via the BRI route. The combination of port and anti-piracy expansion will arguably smooth long-distance trade with China, while facilitating African trade via closer BRI hubs, like the Greek port of Piraeus.

China’s inclusion of Africa in the BRI means the continent is suddenly confronted with a whole new set of opportunities and quandaries. On the positive side, some East African governments see the influx of Chinese investment in infrastructure and manufacturing as a way to bridge infrastructure gaps and to position their countries as new logistics and manufacturing hubs that could serve not only Africa, but also the Middle East and Europe.

There is a nagging fear that Africa will once again become a cog in someone else’s machine ― that the African future will be endlessly deferred.
Take Mozambique, for example, a country devastated by civil wars fueled by outside interests. Mozambique recently discovered offshore natural gas. While not officially a BRI country, it is positioned to benefit from BRI-related port and shipping expansion, in order to sell natural gas to China. The benefits to Mozambique here seem to be a net positive. However, even with all this hope, there is a nagging fear that Africa will once again become a cog in someone else’s machine ― that the African future will be endlessly deferred.

The complexity of these emotions is closely linked to individual Africans’ responses to China’s growing influence on the continent. Conversations with different Africans about the initiative run from some condemning the cheap Chinese imports undercutting local companies, to others talking about launching new careers on their new Chinese smartphones. As some complain about working conditions at Chinese companies, others are learning Mandarin in the hope of studying in China. BRI will intensify these contradictions: it is bringing more Chinese goods, more Chinese money and more Chinese people, all while Africa is still trying to make up its mind how to feel.

And on top of that, East African economists worry that BRI-related infrastructure is going to create a massive new debt burden and undermine domestic development priorities.

As the debates about whether BRI will increase the poaching of African animals to satisfy the demand of Chinese consumers, and whether Chinese companies are hiring enough local workers, rage on the continent, some critics doubt whether BRI is achievable at all. But in a way, its imaginative sweep still stands in contrast to the West’s current isolationism.

A New Phase Of Globalization And A Potential Proxy War

Throughout the last two centuries, the story of globalization has been a Western story. Globalization, as we came to know it after the Second World War, remains linked to Western colonialism, and our stories about globalization remain West-centric. Think, for example, of our hope that authoritarian countries like Myanmar will adopt Western-style democracy, or our fears that non-Western countries’ desire for a Western car-based, meat-eating lifestyle will fry the planet. These stories are largely oversimplified, but they are powerful because they often feel true. They give us a template to understand a dizzyingly complex world. Throughout the 20th century, the hegemony of the West also shaped these narratives.

Now there is a new story about globalization, one that links pre-Western globalization ― the Silk Road ― to a vision of future globalization where the West is at best an outcrop, far from the center. For the first time, the West is sidelined from a narrative it used to think of as its birthright. This raises many questions about how the West will react to its changing status, and what specific global role China will play.

In Africa, it raises questions about whether the continent can leverage enough support from various rising powers to avoid becoming a proxy in a battle between big powers. While Djibouti with its many foreign military bases is a key spark for this fear, the competing agendas of Chinese and Western funders, corporations and nongovernmental organizations on the continent means that African governments are already playing a careful game of balancing various foreign powers.

Beijing is marketing BRI in Africa as a ”win-win development.” However, many Africans have their doubts, worrying that it could bring new forms of domination. While these fears differ from country to country, they are frequently less about the possibility of outright neocolonialism and more reflect a chasm between African populations and African governments. The question isn’t simply what will China do to Africa, but rather, what will African governments allow powerful external and internal actors (of which China is only one, albeit a powerful, example) to do to African people?

In conversations with ordinary Africans, one frequently finds an assumption that their own governments are in China’s pocket. That elites will profit from deals with Chinese companies, while local populations will be stuck with the financial and environmental bill, gaining little benefit from their resources. It certainly won’t be the first time this happened to African populations.

That said, at least China wants to do business. For all the fretting in the West about “losing” Africa to China, Western governments seem unaware of the depth of Africa’s exhaustion with the West.

There is a pervasive sense in Africa that the West is incapable of breaking out of its paternalistic view of Africa as only a series of problems to solve. There is fatigue with the West’s bias towards aid rather than eliminating internal subsidies that would open markets to African agriculture, its phobia of boatloads of African migrants, its fixations with disease and military drones. There is also a sense that the problem of Western racism is intractable.

Despite the many misgivings Africans feel about China, they are also making a hard-nosed calculation that the continent can profit from a close relationship with China in a way it can’t with the West.

I recently conducted an impromptu poll of a group of South African students ― all young black women. I asked them where they would they go if I offered them an all-expenses-paid vacation. I expected many to answer New York or London, but in a group of 10 not one wanted to visit the United States or the United Kingdom. When I asked them why, one said she doesn’t want to spend her holiday being hassled by police.

This isn’t to say that China is much better with regard to racism. In fact, it might be the power of U.S. media that influenced this response. These students are passionate consumers of U.S. pop culture, and have a high awareness of current U.S. conversations around race. While they can see the U.S. in unflattering detail, China still feels more distant. When I pressed them, most opted for beach vacations in places like Brazil and Mauritius, and spiritual journeys to India.

The U.S.-China dichotomy in Africa isn’t as simple as it looks from the outside. It has a lot to do with perceptions of being unwanted, and these sometimes trump what you actually want. The West telegraphs what it thinks of Africans in a million small ways. I recently applied for a visa to travel to China.

The entire process took a brisk 45 minutes. I couldn’t help comparing it to applying for a visa to Canada a few years ago, which included being made to wait in the sun for two hours and then shoved against a wall and body-searched. And I’m speaking from a place of white privilege ― black Africans are treated so much worse. In this calculus, China at least paying lip service to win-win cooperation is enough to differentiate it from the perception of an Africa-phobic West.

Obviously, one can’t apply this anecdote to an entire geopolitical relationship. But African commentators have pointed out that little came of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative, and that the African Growth and Opportunity Act still mostly favors U.S. extractive industries.

And, of course, President Trump has yet to mention Africa in policy discussions at all. China at least has initiated a relationship. It at least offers the proposition of Africa being valued as a market, and increasingly, as a production hub. And it has proved willing to help build the infrastructure that would make that possible. So it is not a surprise that BRI rhetoric plays relatively well in Africa.

Despite the many misgivings Africans feel about China, they are also making a hard-nosed calculation that the continent can profit from a close relationship with China in a way it can’t with the West.

Whether China’s Belt and Road Initiative will ever be a reality, and what part Africa will play in it, remain open questions. But even so, it is already offering Africa a glimpse of an alternative future. This future is by no means certain, or even necessarily good. But compared to Africa’s toxic relationship with the West, it is at least different.

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KENYA

Kenya’s supreme court has upheld the reelection of president Uhuru Kenyatta

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Kenya’s supreme court has dismissed two petitions against the Oct. 26 reelection of president Uhuru Kenyatta. In a summary of their judgment, the six-judge bench unanimously decided that the petitions had “no merit” and upheld his win for a second term.

“Having carefully considered the above issues, the specific players in each petition, as well as the constitution and the applicable laws, the court has unanimously determined that the petitions are not merited,” chief justice David Maraga said today (Nov. 20). “As a consequence, the presidential election of 26 Oct. is hereby upheld as is the election of the third respondent,” president Uhuru Kenyatta.

As per the constitution, Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto will now be sworn in on Nov. 28.

The decision comes after violence in the capital spiraled out of control over the weekend, leading to deaths, protests, and destruction of property. On Friday (Nov. 17), at least five people were killed as police dispersed supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga, who were welcoming him back from a trip abroad. Four people were also killed over the weekend, while an opposition lawmaker was shot in the leg during scuffles with the police. The opposition National Super Alliance coalition said that “state-sponsored thuggery” was plunging the country into a crisis.
In a majority decision in early September, Kenya’s supreme court called the August reelection of president Uhuru Kenyatta “invalid, null and void” and ordered a new vote be held in 60 days. After blaming the electoral commission for stonewalling meaningful deliberations, Odinga bowed out of the repeat polls in October and urged his supporters to stay home. Kenyatta won the redo with 7.4 million votes or 98% of the total, with more than 12 million registered voters not participating in the polls.

Rejecting the results as a “sham” and “a meaningless exercise,” Odinga called for a campaign of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance in order to safeguard Kenya’s democracy. He also called for an economic boycott targeting companies aligned with the government and the ruling Jubilee party. The results were also challenged in the supreme court by two cases: one filed by a former lawmaker and another by two members of human-rights organizations.

The uncertainty over the repeated elections and court rulings have also deepened the political crisis in the east African nation and intensified the sense of resignation among citizens. Citing political and economic marginalization, opposition-aligned regions have started calling for secession. The political and legal quagmires have also come at a huge cost for the Kenyan taxpayer, with about $600 million spent conducting the two elections.

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Intelligence report reveals Kenyan Al Shabaab leader likely to leave the terror group

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An intelligence report has revealed that Kenyan-born Al Shabaab leader, Ahmed Iman, is contemplating to quit the terror group after major fall-out with its leadership.

The report says the Imam wants to quit the group and its activities after he became disgruntled with the persistent killing of Kenyan fighters within the group’s ranks.

The dossier further notes that the spate of elimination and execution of Kenyans and other foreign fighters has brought a sharp division within Al Shabaab leading to hatred towards native Somalis.

“The Al Shabaab video and online propagandist, Ahmed Iman Ali fell-out with its leadership. It is reported he is negotiating his way back from Somalia.

It is not, however, clear if he stands a chance of making it from Somalia considering that Al Shabaab kills whoever attempts to leave. Iman has been very vocal against the execution of foreign fighters and is now weighing out his options,” the report. It further adds:

“Some Al Shabaab leaders are, however, wary of losing Iman within the ranks as he has proven to be a good propaganda tool through his videos which he does with charisma taunting AMISOM forces in fluent Swahili.” Iman is the leader of ‘Jaysh Ayman’. He has been instrumental in recruiting youth into terrorism and orchestrating attacks in Kenya.
The split is further accelerated by the battle on whom to pledge their allegiance to with one group led by former UK-based Abdul Qadir Mumin, who swore allegiance to ISIS in December 2015 immediately becoming target of exclusion. Al Shabaab has always pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda. Online war Al Shabaab’s intelligence wing (amniyaat) has on several occasions targeted the pro-ISIS splinter group whose top commanders have been executed alongside their fighters.

There has been an online war of words on Twitter where ISIS linked page, Jabha East Africa, blamed Al Shabaab of killing and imprisoning their leaders and fighters.

The Al Shabaab and ISIS supremacy war was put to test during the Mogadishu October attack where more than 350 civilians were killed and several others injured.

Even though none claimed responsibility, it is evident that the pro-ISIS group were rescarried out the attack to show Al Shabaab on how strong they are in executing suicide bombings. When contacted, the Somalia Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Abdirahman Omar Osman said that the government has come up with a Comprehensive Approach to Security (CAS) architecture in consultation with stakeholders and international partners.

“We now have plans to scale down AMISOM forces so that Somalia forces can take over the security of our country. We are optimistic We Africans are not good at publicising our successes and if this mission would have been in Western, the whole world would have known the success,” Osman said.

The minister said the October attack in Mogadishu was an act of desperation because the Somalia military and AMISOM are winning. Largest number The Information minister insists that his security counterpart is committed to implementing initiatives that include stabilisation of security within Mogadishu and removal of heavy guns from the city’s streets.

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Chaos and gunshots as Raila Odinga enters Nairobi CBD

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Chaos, teargas, running battles and suspected live bullets marred Nasa leader Raila Odinga’s entry into Nairobi city centre upon his arrival from the US on Friday.

Mr Odinga left Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in a convoy of tens of vehicles accompanied by a host of Nasa leaders and hundreds of their supporters.

GRIDLOCK

Chaos started immediately the convoy left the airport, with the vehicle ferrying Mr Odinga taking the wrong side of Mombasa Road.

This was because the route heading to Mombasa had a gridlock stretching kilometres following violent confrontations between police and Mr Odinga’s supporters in the morning.
The Nasa supporters wanted to force their way into the airport but police lobbed teargas canisters at City Cabanas and other sections of the road to arrest their march.
The convoy later diverted from Mombasa Road to Jogoo Road but the chaos followed Mr Odinga and his team as police engaged youths in running battles.

Their plan was to march through Jogoo Road on to Haile Sellasie Avenue, then into Uhuru Park, the venue of their rally, but the violent confrontations just would not stop.

LOSSES

The clashes between Nasa supporters and police brought business to a standstill on the busy road that serves eastern parts of the capital.

The City Stadium roundabout was brought to a standstill as police blocked the road in their bid to stop the chaos from spilling over into the town centre.

For the better part of the afternoon, no traffic was moving as traders closed kiosks and fled for their safety.
A minibus belonging to Forward Travellers sacco, a police lorry and two pull carts were torched outside Burma Market on Jogoo Road.

Along the road, smoke from burning tyres billowed and competed with the teargas police were firing without stopping.

BULLETS

From Rikana Supermarket all the way to Muthurwa Market, the road was littered with the rocks Nasa supporters were using to engage the police.

The chaos took a different turn at Muthurwa after Nasa supporters were engaged by rival group believed to be Jubilee supporters.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s supporters are opposed to Nasa demos, which they argue disrupt businesses and lead to destruction of property and loss of lives.

Police used verbal orders, teargas and live bullets to restore calm and order on the road without much success.

They also sprayed the youths wit water canons but the Nasa supporters would not stop charging at them.

At some point, police resorted to using live bullets, with gunshots heard for a few minutes near Muthurwa Market.

A man was seen in writhing in pain on live TV after he was allegedly shot in the foot.

Reports indicate some protesters sustained fatal injuries in the clashed that lasted for over five hours.

JOURNALISTS HIT

Motorists and journalists were not spared as they were attacked and injured in the chaos.

A Nation car has been hit by a teargas canister lobbed by the police. The canister hit and smashed the car’s windscreen.

The officers fired the teargas as the car made its way through the Likoni roundabout to join Jogoo Road.
Inside the car the Nation reporters Silas Apollo, Brian Moseti, photographer Denis Onsongo and driver Nicholas Musyoka.

Earlier, police assaulted Mr Moseti at the airport and snatched him his staff badge.

RAILA

The officers accused the journalist of taking their pictures as they battled the protesters.

The attack on the car occurred in the convoy of Mr Odinga who was en route to the city’s central business district.

KTN journalist Duncan Khaemba was also hit and injured on the head as he reported the violence that was covered live by national TV stations.

Later, Mr Odinga, while addressing his supporters in Upper Hill, condemned the violence and accused President Kenyatta of sending police to disrupt his reception.

He vowed to soldier on with his quest for electoral justice and thanked his supporters for standing with him.

“This (police response) is a sign of a crumbling regime,” he said.

“The third liberation is unstoppable.”

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