IT is just human nature: when you send out invites for a party you keenly scrutinise who shows up, weigh up if the apologies add up and ,more importantly, make a mental note of who did not put in an appearance..
This past weekend the second summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) drew some 48 African leaders, resembling a fully-fledged African Union summit.
With the near-full house, it is much easier for foreign affairs functionaries—especially Chinese—to spot some of those who did not attend. The majority were from North Africa where living standards are higher than the rest of the continent. But there were also some interesting, if unexpected, absentees:
Despite China being a major player in Tanzania, especially in natural resources and energy, new president John Magufuli sent his deputy, vice president Samia Suluhu Hassan, instead.
Magufuli has been catching the continent’s imagination, and recently passed an edict on foreign travels—a favourite category for many African governments—in a bid to save taxpayer money.
Only six members represented Tanzania, a list that Hassan had again trimmed from the initially budgeted-but-still-slim 12. For Magufuli who has barely been president for a month, the Johannesburg summit would have been a good opportunity to meet peers. Is this a sign of things to come?
For a recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta Magufuli chopped a delegation of 50 people down to just four, while just three, from 20, represented the country at the Paris environmental talks.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Kenya there is a storm over the frequency of presidential travel, where the combined delegation to the three summits could have run into the hundreds. Nairobi says it is only playing its role as a regional leader.
Ian Khama is just not a fan of continental travel—he is not known to have attended any African Union summit. While he does not appear in any FOCAC summit photos he did attend a Commonwealth summit in Malta, and environment talks in Paris earlier in the week—and he holds a honorary doctorate from a Chinese university awarded in October.
Sudan was represented by First Vice President Bakri Hassan Salih, with president Omar al Bashir having been asked by the co-chairs, South Africa and China, to stay away, for fear of diverting attention.
Bashir, wanted by an international court for war crimes, was last in South Africa, where he lit a fire under president Jacob Zuma’s government that is still smouldering.
Despite Egypt hosting FOCAC in 2009, and the country saying it was the first African nation to recognise the Chinese republic in May 1956, the president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, did not attend, sending premier Sherif Ismail.
Ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is rarely seen in public, and the country as usual sent PM Abdelmalek Sellal to represent him instead.
King Mohammed VI, who rarely ventures south, was also absent, sending government chief Abdelilah Benkirane in his place.
Beset by internal security problems, the country’s delegation was led by Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche, according toTunisian media.
President Yahya Jammeh has been appearing to be repositioning the country towards China after severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 2013, but he was hard to spot in Johannesburg.
The country has just elected a new president, but also is one of the 20 or so countries that recognise Taiwan, as does Sao Tome and Principe, which was also unrepresented in South Africa.
Locked in a war of words with the West over his plans after his current term expires, the China summit would have been a good time to make a statement, but president Paul Kagame sent his prime minister instead.
But all in all Beijing will be patting itself on the back for a successful party. There couldn’t have been much left uneaten or undrunk.