07:57 am
24 May 2017

You know them by their words: What African leaders said when they met a powerful man from a rich country

THE Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), in recent years upgraded to a summit, drew some 48 African leaders to the meeting co-chaired by host South Africa and the convenor, China.


The headline figure from the emerging “comprehensive” strategic partnership was the $60 billion package offered by China, a medley of loans that were either interest free, concession or lines of credit, debt relief and skills training among other deals and which will be parcelled out along a three-year 10-point plan anchored in a five-pillar theme.

There were also some subtle but significant shifts to the meeting including the new focus by China on its security role on the continent, and the narrowing down on industrialisation.

The summit is keenly watched as a wind vane on power geopolitics—India earlier this year held its own summit, while the first US-Africa Leaders’ summit last year was in some quarters seen as a reaction to Chinese activity on the continent.

The EU-Africa Partnership continues to plod along, as do others such as Japan’s Tokyo International Conference on African Development summit with the continent.

As expected of conference diplomacy, leaders had much to say about China-Africa ties at various times around the two-day summit in Johannesburg, as they reflected on a relationship that saw bilateral trade worth $220 billion last year and one which is either highly praised as a partnership or criticised as neocolonialism.

However, what the continent’s presidents said reveals quite a lot about how they govern their countries, where their priorities lie, and whether they have the policy smarts to replicate the “China miracle”:

“Western countries had been in Africa for centuries to rob Africa’s resources. They should be admitting what they have done. Some (Western countries) are rich because of the resources they took from Africa. They never thought of helping Africa to develop.” —South African President and host Jacob Zuma.

“The perception that China is the new coloniser is a complete misrepresentation of Beijing’s activities here in Africa. Achievement of mutual benefits is the basis of Sino-African cooperation.” —Kenya president Uhuru Kenyatta.

“We should respect each other’s choice of development path and not impose our own will on others…China strongly believes Africa belongs to the African people and African problems should be handled by the African people.” —China president Xi Jinping.

“China’s sustained development has created opportunities and brought prospects for African countries for their sustainable self-development.”—more from president Xi.

“Here is a man (Xi) representing a country once called poor. A country which never was our coloniser … He is doing to us what we expected those who colonised us yesterday to do. If they have ears to listen, let them hear” —Zimbabwe president and current AU chair Robert Mugabe.

“Africa belongs to Africans and we must be allowed to chart our own development path.”—AU Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“Africa expects Chinese investment flows to the real sector of our economies to promote African enterprises. Our overriding objectives are to tackle the challenge of unemployment, wealth creation, food security and industrialisation.”—Nigeria president Muhammadu Buhari.

“[This] shows a new day in China-Africa relations, which will show the world a new phenomenon that has Africa playing a large role in world affairs.”—Senegal president Macky Sall.

“We have a lot to learn from China’s development model and expertise. In fact, the transformation of our (Ivorian) economy will be accelerated if we can increase export of finished products to China.” —Ivory Coast president Alassane Outtara

“China is now a vital partner for the development of our continent. To confirm this, just keep in mind that since 2013 China has become the largest trading partner of Africa and has increased by more than 44 percent of its direct investment in the continent.”—Angola president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

“ For Zambia we need to learn what China did some years back to be where they are today. And there are a lot of lessons….I think the most important fundamental is that we cannot continue to be completely dependent on foreign aid or co-operation.”—Zambia president Edgar Lungu.

“China now has the Chinese dream that the Communist Party of China is promoting. But Ethiopia has its Ethiopian Renaissance, and we want our people to achieve that end…China and Ethiopia are similar in terms of having a strong government that leads the development process.”—Ethiopia prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, ahead of the summit.

“I would like… to commend President Xi Jinping on the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives he has launched.Given its geographical location, the Kingdom of Morocco could play a constructive role in extending the Maritime Silk Road, not only to ‘Atlantic Europe’, but also and especially to West Africa nations, with whom my country has multi-dimensional ties.” Morocco king Mohammed VI in his speech read by Government chief Abdelilah Benkirane.

“In recent years, we have seen that China is on the ground, providing massive support to development efforts in African countries. There are statistics to prove this, the projects are visible, from one country to another.”—Republic of Congo’s President Denis Sassou N’Guesso.

“Unlike some global actors who have been concentrating on using cotton wool to mop up oozing blood from a wound, the Chinese have agreed with us, certainly in Uganda’s case, that to heal the injury, one needs to repair the internal primary systems; the blood circulatory system, the nervous system, the digestive system etc. Electricity, roads, the railways, the ICT backbone etc. are the primary internal systems of a modern economy.”—Uganda president Yoweri Museveni.