In a much-publicized statement
apparently aimed at China, during her latest visit
to Africa United States’ Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton warned against a "new colonialism in
Africa," where it was "easy to come in, take out
natural resources, pay off leaders and leave."
While these concerns require
attention, Africa's most important challenge is to
reconstruct its relations with the rest of the world
through its long-term economic objectives. China's
trade with Africa was worth 10 billion dollars in
2000 and is projected to exceed 110 billion dollars
India too has significantly
increased its presence on the continent. India's
trade with Africa was three billion dollars in 2000
and is projected to rise to 70 billion dollars by
The surge in interest in Africa by
China and India requires a different approach that
does not view the continent as a helpless victim of
foreign influence. To that end, African countries
are seeking to replace classical foreign policy that
focuses on access to markets in return for raw
materials with a new vision of economic diplomacy.
Africa has started shaping its
economic diplomacy through regional economic and
trade integration. For example, in September 2011,
Africa launched negotiations to merge three regional
trade blocs into a "Grand Free Trade Area" spanning
the continent from Cape Town to Cairo. The trade
area will cover 27 countries with a combined GDP of
about one trillion dollars and a combined population
of over 700 million.
The trade will involve adding value
to natural resources, expanded manufacturing, and
investing revenue from natural resources in economic
foundations such as infrastructure and technical
training. The lessons learned through intra-Africa
trade will inform the way the continent relates to
the rest of the world.
Africa's determination to become a
global economic actor will focus diplomatic
relations with China and India on issues such as
infrastructure, skills development, market access,
and agricultural land.
Achieving Africa's trade integration
goals will depend on the extent to which it can
invest in adequate infrastructure including energy,
transportation, irrigation and telecommunications.
It is estimated that the continent will need to
invest over 50 billion dollars a year in the next
decade to meet its economic growth objectives.
China has a head-start on
infrastructure investment in Africa and India has
offered to deploy its railway expertise.
Infrastructure investments will require greater
consideration of issues such as corruption,
ecological damage and cost escalation. Very soon,
many of the investments being made will come under
closer scrutiny and their governance will be called
The second area of cooperation
involves Africa's determination to build the
requisite technical capacity to upgrade the labor
productivity of its people.
This is an area where China and
India have demonstrated experience. India's long
tradition in building technical institutes and its
new effort to create a new species of universities
that focus on innovation and entrepreneurship will
align well with Africa's emerging focus on technical
China, on the other hand, has shown
remarkable creativity in linking universities to the
productive sector through regional development
efforts. The lessons from these efforts, as well as
its focus on engineering education, could form its
second-generation cooperation with Africa.
Africa is currently focusing on
expanding internal regional markets. But quite soon
it will be starting to look outward. Access to
foreign markets for Africa's manufactured goods will
become a key feature of the continent's economic
It is estimated that Africa's
manufactured exports will double in the next decade.
But with enhanced focus on engineering and business
training, growth in this sector could be faster than
currently estimated. Access to foreign markets and
competence in international trade will become an
essential part of Africa's relations with other
Finally, there is the contentious
issue of foreign investment in Africa's agricultural
land by Chinese and Indian firms.
Many of the deals have been aptly
referred to as "land grabs." Many others represent
foreign direct investments that attract technology,
build local expertise, foster food security,
generate foreign revenue and create employment. Good
practices that advance the latter will help improve
the image of China and India in Africa.
Africa is relating to China and
India separately through summit diplomacy. This is
normal in the early stages of such arrangements. The
time has come to explore the prospects of convening
Africa-China-India tripartite consultations. This
might also help diminish the perception that China
and India are competing for Africa's resources and
create a transparent platform for economic