Posts Tagged ‘Development’

Deborah Brautigam on China in Africa

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Although it has the feel of a propaganda puff piece, Blue Ocean Network’s (BON Live) recent story that featured leading Sino-African affairs scholar Deborah Brautigam is worth watching.  Brautigam’s point that the Chinese have a real chance at helping Africa raise its overall living standard with the surge of infrastructure and other investments is very interesting.  Specifically, she says, the Chinese are employing a development strategy that is entirely incompatible with Western policy but one that may actually produce far more lasting results.

[AUDIO] China in Africa Podcast: “Aid, Trade & Some Indignation”

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

China in Africa Podcast: Aid vs. Trade in Africa

Sure, there’s a vigorous debate over just how many hundreds of billions of dollars the West has sent to Africa in the form of “aid” over the past half-century since colonial independence.  Some estimates put it in the trillions, while the OECD and others claim it’s merely in the 800 billion dollar range.  Regardless, the sums are huge.

That said, the amount of money is not what’s in question, the more pressing issue is what has all this “aid” actually accomplished?

The “aid” business

Each year NGOs, state actors and multi-lateral organizations like the UN pour ever greater sums of money into African states and rarely, if ever, are they actually held to account for the effectiveness of these costly programs.  Despite ever growing aid and development budgets, many of the key poverty indicators across Africa remain stubbornly high.

Aid industry critic and NYU professor William Easterly argues that the aid business itself is partially to blame for the problems.  The high level of professional incompetence on the part of too many young and inexperienced aid “experts” mixed with the economic distortions that result from the billions of aid dollars that flow through these countries often combine to form a toxic mix with debilitating consequences.

Enter the Chinese

Ten years after the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit that marked Beijing’s renewed enthusiasm for African engagement, the surge of Chinese investment, migration and influence across the continent is unmistakable. Like the West, the Chinese are pouring billions of dollars into Africa.  However, that money is largely going to support an aggressive agenda to acquire natural resources with complex cash and infrastructure deals.

Beijing’s so-called “No Strings Attached” trade-based approach has sparked the ire of Western governments and the aid industry who largely dismiss the Chinese as neo-mercantalists, even neo-colonials. That indignation, though, is prompting a growing number of analysts to raise their eyebrows.  Fellow African Boots.com blogger and Beijing-based policy analyst Bradley Gardner highlighted in a recent article, “Aid, Trade & Some Indignation,” the inherent contradiction of EU/US states generously subsidizing their agricultural sectors that ultimately deprive developing world farmers of selling their goods at fair market value; subsequently impoverishing these states only to make them more dependent on Western aid.

The recent shooting of Zambian mine workers by Chinese supervisors and the well-documented corruption that accompanies many of China’s massive natural resource deals are indicative that Beijing’s African foreign policy is troubled in equally challenging ways.  However, the Chinese rejection of the Western aid model and the emphasis on trade deserves our attention.  After all, in a shorter period of time, China pulled more people out of subsistence poverty than any other society in human history — with only minimal international assistance.

The China in Africa Podcast: U.S. vs. Chinese Approaches to Aid in Africa

Monday, May 24th, 2010


300_300The idea for this new podcast series was born from the constant frustration of talking with Western “development experts,” diplomats and aid workers in Africa. In every instance, Westerners were either strikingly ignorant of Chinese engagement there or summarily dismissed the Chinese presence in Africa as “counter productive” because China is not a democratic country. There was little nuance to their opinions about the Chinese in Africa and it reflected a broader ignorance within the aid community as a whole about non-Western methods of development.

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Chinese Aid in Africa: No Strings Attached

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation sent their Beijing correspondent to do some rather extensive reporting on the surge of Chinese investment in Africa. In contrast to much of the other recent coverage of the topic, Anthony Germain’s reporting from Zambia was refreshingly balanced.  The highlight of his reporting centers on the f-china-africa-2426-306question of how China is taking full advantage of the failures of 50 years of Western aid.  Several of his sources pointed out that despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Africa, Western aid programs have very little to show.  The Chinese, by contrast, move quickly and efficiently and demonstrate visible results from their engagement.  That said,  Germain rightly points out that Beijing asks for very little in return from its African partners in the form of political accountability and transparency.   While I fully appreciate the importance of this kind of political pressure, it always strikes me as ironic to hear this perspective from Western critics, most notably through the Western media.   Specifically, the West (and by default the Western media) appear to be rather selective with their demands for political accountability.  While the international aid industry spends billions of dollars each year in the very same countries that China is (more…)

The West’s Tragic Blindspot in Africa

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

I have been living in Kinshasa for almost three weeks now and since I landed here I’ve been asked countless times what I find the most interesting/bizarre/unusual about life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For me, the answer is clear. It’s not the vibrancy of Congolese culture, how incredibly warm most people are, or even the tragedy of the endemic poverty that defines life here for so many. No, the biggest surprise so far comes from the attitudes of the many American aid and development personnel I have met. These are the people who work in both the large multinational relief organizations or in the development sector of the US government itself. Pretty much, anytime you socialize with these folks the conversations almost always centers on who is more dysfunctional: Congolese society or their employers at the major NGO/government agencies. Beer after beer goes down while they detail the overwhelming bureaucratic challenges they confront each day just to do their jobs. They complain passionately how their management rarely cares if anything actually gets done just whether or not reports are written and rules are followed.

picture of HUSo it’s in this context that I raise the issue that I consider to be the proverbial elephant in the room. If you accept that a global battle of ideas is currently underway among three competing ideologies: religious extremism (the Middle East, North Africa, the Persian Gulf and arguably even in the United States itself), the so-called Western democracy agenda promoted by the U.S. and Europe and then what’s referred to as the “Beijing Consensus.” This “Beijing Consensus” at its core is an ideology modeled after China’s own 30-year economic success that emphasizes social/economic issues over civil/political rights. China is exporting that philosophy across the developing world, especially in Africa, where governments are being lured with billions of dollars in low interest loans, debt forgiveness and massive infrastructure projects in exchange for access to natural resources. The Chinese bring to Africa their own development experience from working in comparably disadvantaged environments. Specifically, the Chinese have developed low-water agricultural expertise, enhanced irrigation techniques and an unrivaled efficiency for building infrastructure projects. Yet none of this — and I mean NONE — matters to the Western development staff that I have met so far. The Chinese, in their minds, are “communist dictators” who don’t value “democracy” and “transparency.” Just like that, the conversation ends. They have no patience to talk about anything the Chinese are doing other than fueling corruption, importing poorly made products and exporting dictatorship. What I find so interesting about these discussions with supposed “professional development specialists” is how remarkably unsophisticated they are about alternative models from non-Western countries. There is a confidence in the American/Western method that borders on evangelical.

The real tragedy here is that none of what I am observing here in the DRC among Western aid officials is new. Experts having been sounding the alarm over this blind spot for years. Prominent Sino-African relations scholar Professor Deborah Brautigam raised the issue in 1998 when she too singled out western aid agencies for their nativism. “Ignorance about China’s development aid program [in Africa] is even more complete among development analysts,” she wrote. Professor Brautigam explains some of the reasons for this ignorance, attributing it to the language barrier, China’s former diplomatic isolation and “the Chinese work style which emphasizes productive labor over report writing” (source: Deborah Brautigam, Chinese Aid and African Development, 1998). While the Western development agencies bury themselves in reports, spreadsheets and analysis, the Chinese are out there seven days a week building roads, dams, bridges, hospitals and more. Simply put, traditional Chinese pragmatism is getting things done while the Western model dithers and dithers and dithers with endless paperwork. After dozens of conversations with Congolese on this subject, it is abundantly clear that either the Western development officials either don’t see or don’t care that they are in fact losing the ideological battle for hearts and minds. The Congolese can see firsthand the immediate impact of Chinese development. They can feel it, touch it and understand it. The same cannot be said for American and European aid where the complex world of spreadsheets, templates and development models is lost on the very people they are trying to help.

The Chinese live in a practical world, a world the Congolese can identify with. Westerners may have once been as pragmatic and practical, but no more. The mere fact that these aid officials can’t even discuss it illustrates how serious the problem is.