US expert challenges myths about China in Africa

By John Sexton 
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, July 23, 2010
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After 27 years of research and field work, U.S. Africa expert Professor Deborah Brautigam is in a position to challenge prevailing Western orthodoxies about China's role in Africa.

Speaking in Beijing on Thursday, Professor Brautigam attacked lurid accusations commonly seen in the press that "the Chinese are the new colonialists, their aid is toxic; they are making poverty worse, and are undermining democracy and good governance."

She said she preferred the assessment of a Financial Times editorial that "Beijing has thrown down its most direct challenge yet to the West's architecture for aiding Africa."

"China's core ideas about development are quite different," she said. "It's not about colonialism. It's globalization with Chinese characteristics."

China's message to Africa is "Leverage what you have," said Brautigam. "Leverage the natural resources you have and use those to secure loans, to swap for loans, to build infrastructure." This approach, she said, reflects the Chinese slogan, "If you want to get rich, build a road."

China grants resource-backed loans that effectively fund infrastructure projects in Africa in return for raw materials. According to Professor Brautigam, the model is based on a Japanese US$10 billion loans-for-oil deal with China made in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution.

Brautigam said China learnt valuable lessons from its experience as a recipient of loans and is applying the lessons in Africa.

She emphasizes that Chinese involvement is about mutual benefit rather than aid. Loans are made at commercial, not concessional, rates and money is not handed to the recipient government but to the Chinese firms contracted to build roads, sewage systems, sports stadiums and so on.

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