China-Africa cooperation is one of the most iconic relations in the world. Broadly and well-known for its significance in contributing to the changing landscape in Africa, where it is existentially engaging challenges of practical integration in the continent, like filling the historic infrastructure gaps, the cooperation is, however, about the most scrutinized in the world. Scholars, journalists, diplomats, consultants, and even reckless wanderers are all on the trail of China-Africa cooperation.
Because the cooperation between the two sides is constantly evolving, several myths, fantasies, gossip, and even mischief have been occasionally woven around it both by detractors and overzealous commentators.
A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary with an eye-popping screaming theme “Africa-Eye: Racism for Sale” has been in circulation. Based on a video of a renegade Chinese man, who tricked young Malawian children into chanting racial abuses of themselves, was an exceptional case in smearing China-Africa cooperation. China herself endured years of racial abuses, especially in the period of the “Century of Humiliation” spanning between half of the 19th and 20th Century before the founding of modern China in 1949.
As a founding and leading voice in pan-Africanism, Mr. Willian Du Bois, said during his visit to China in the early 1960s, “China is coloured and knows to what extent the coloured skin in the modern world subjects its owner”, and exhorted Africa then, that “China is the flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood.” China and Africa have endured terrible times of Euro-American racial abuses.
In the long trajectories of China-Africa cooperation spanning from solidarity, shared experience in combating colonialism, racism, and imperialism to the contemporary time of pragmatic and practical cooperation characterized by win-win and tangible results, there has been no juncture or corner that can be associated with racial arrogance or prejudice, like the type that defined and still cynically dots all corners of Africa-Europe-U.S. relations.
Despite that China-Africa cooperation is open, transparent and the most scrutinized, the Western media establishment scavenges every corner to smear and bring odium to it. The absolute reprehensible video, shot by a renegade Chinese man is in no way representative of the existing people-to-people cooperation currently at the heart of China Africa cooperation which has been a major driver of contemporary China-Africa relations, and seeking to smear and disrupt it as the BBC documentary showed, is the key obsession of the detractors of China-Africa cooperation.
But evidence abounds that China-Africa cooperation has not only been broadly win-win and mutually beneficial but has delivered practical and tangible results. In a white paper published last year under the title “China and Africa in the New Era: A partnership of Equals,” it was reported that “in the new era, China has scaled-up assistance to Africa. Foreign aid from 2013 to 2018 totalled 270 billion RMB. Of this sum, 45 percent went to African countries in the form of grants, interest-free loans, and concessional loans. From 2000 to 2020, China has helped African countries build more than 13,000km of roads and railways and more than 80 large-scale power facilities, and funded over 130 medical facilities, 45 sports venues, and over 170 schools. It also trained 160,000 personnel for Africa and built a series of flagship projects including the A.U conference center”.
Since his ascension to the presidency in 2013, President Xi Jinping has visited Africa four times, and even his first-ever overseas trip immediately after his presidency was a two-leg visit to Moscow and Africa.
While the leader of the “free world”, the former US president, Mr. Donald Trump, infamously referred to Africa as a “shithole” and never set foot on the continent, his British counterpart Mr. Cameroun called Nigeria “fantastically corrupt” without hinting at the flow of illicit money from Nigeria and other Africa countries that grease his country’s banks and fuel their property boom.
China-Africa cooperation is a work in progress and as the Chinese well-known statesman, Deng Xiaoping said of the China reforms in the late 1970s to the effect that an open window meant for fresh air may attract some insects but wisdom requires that such a window of fresh air should never be shut because some few insects flew in.
China-Africa cooperation is a window of fresh air for both sides, and it is only reasonable that such a window of mutual opportunities and win-win cannot be shut because some few insects flew in.
Charles Onunaiju, Director of the Centre for China Studies, Abuja