President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe with People's Republic of China Senior Military Commission Cheif Air Marshal Xu during a visit to Harare. The two countries have close ties going back decades., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
China offers Africa chance to author own narrative
Tuesday, 12 July 2011 02:00
By James Shikwati
RENEWED interest in Africa by emerging and existing global giants may develop the continent, but leave Africans underdeveloped.
To paraphrase Dr Sharon Freeman; people who do not take charge of their own narrative will be rendered ineffective.
The West has dominated the development and solution-giver narrative in Africa for over a century now. The emergence of China as a key global player offers Africans a window to take control of their own narrative.
The Chinese have prioritised "hardware" development as opposed to "software." Each African country has at least a "hardware" project from China, ranging from roads, stadiums, conference facilities and airports among others.
Europeans focused on "software" development through religion, governance and international non governmental organisations' value systems.
While Europeans created nations out of thousands of ethnic-based kingdoms, the Chinese appear keen to create a dominion called Africa. A great (but slim) opportunity exists for Africans to leverage their own software at this juncture when the European "software" has met the Chinese "hardware."
To borrow from Dr Sharon, Africans must (urgently) learn to master themselves; observe; adapt and invest less in facades. It is not enough for African countries to simply have governments that mimic the rest without evolving (their) own strategies to make them responsive to African people.
Africans can as well learn from an African Union soldier who asked top African academicians: "If you jump up in 2050, where will you land?" The force of gravity dictates that you land back on earth. The reverse is true for "geopolitical gravitation forces"; history shows the centre keeps shifting. At one time one would have landed in Portugal, Spain and Britain among other thousands of pull centres all over the world.
The continent's intellectual class ought to avoid "fire fighting" mentality and focus on (the) long term. Long term focus and strategy will assist Africans to take charge of their own narrative.
Development and solutions to the continent's challenges narrative has to feature Africans. It is important that Africans document, measure and articulate outcomes. The idea is not to shun the West or the Chinese, but rather to indigenise or domesticate all great aspects of their contributions to Africa. The Chinese surge globally is partly due to their domestication of Western strategies. What the Chinese did was simply to take charge of the conversation!
In the 90s, the World Bank (for their key stakeholders' strategic reasons) stopped financing higher education in Africa. The result was the mushrooming of institutions that offer courses to prepare a labour market for industrialised nations. In the 2000s under the Millennium Development Goals initiative - African governments surrendered their primary education initiatives to international players.
For Africa to drive its own narrative, the education sector has to take cognisance of competing global interests and prepare the youth to appreciate Africa and compete with others effectively.
The Chinese "hardware" is interoperable, as demonstrated by their ability to be both capitalist and communist. While it lasts, Africans ought to use it to surface their own "software". It is time for Africans to dialogue and brainstorm and act for their future.
To simply surrender to Chinese "hardware" and the West's "software" will leave Africa developed and Africans underdeveloped.
Africans ought to exploit the state of multiple pull centres to position themselves to benefit from the renewed global interest. If not, once the source of the "gravitational force" crystallises - Africans will once more be left to simply offer labour and natural resources to the global market system.
The author is Director of the Inter Region Economic Network (IREN Kenya). This article is reproduced from African Executive.