Aljazeera: tsunami of Chinese commerce is sparking tension and even violence in some parts of Africa

Earlier this month, Aljazeera screened a movie titled The Colony by Brent Huffman and Xiaoli Zhou. Huffman and Zhou explored the “onslaught of Chinese economic might and its impact on long-standing African traditions.” This economic colonization, hence the title of the film, is not without its pitfalls with minimal assimilation, integration, or perception of mutual benefit. As Huffman notes,

Although there is communication between the two sides at a certain level, it is rather limited. Despite various differences in language, culture, and work ethics, the Chinese are not making enough of an effort to integrate into Senegalese society.

Although the Chinese businesses have brought some benefits to the local low-income consumers, their overall presence is viewed with suspicion and hostility by many Senegalese.

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Aid: The Double-Edged Blade

By Simon Anholt

Foreign aid, in many ways, gives with one hand while it takes away with the other.

I have often commented in the past about the unintended damage done to the international standing and, consequently, the long term prospects of poorer countries by well-intentioned charity promotion, and in particular the negative ‘branding’ of Africa by aid celebrities like Geldof and Bono. Over the decades, with the best intentions in the world, their relentless depiction of Africa as one single, hopeless basket-case has harmed the long-term development prospects of the whole continent even as it has boosted donations. After all, while many people would happily donate money to a basket-case, few will think it prudent to invest in a basket-case, buy products or services produced in a basket-case, go on holiday to a basket-case, or hire somebody born and raised in a basket-case.

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Toilet is the new mobile phone

From the letters to the editor in the 7 June 2010 edition of the Financial Times:

Sir, As you report, “Today, more Africans have phones than toilets” (“Attitudes change to business in region”, June 4). Entrepreneurs throughout the continent have also noticed this strange truth. In some countries, a toilet is the new mobile phone – something that shows that you’ve made it. Businesses are responding to growing demand by enduring improved supply, better customer service and lower prices.

The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council is encouraging this trend. The Water and Sanitation Program, hosted by the World Bank, estimates that every dollar spent on sanitation and drinking water generates between $3 and $34 dollars [sic] in economic benefit and that ensuring access to basic sanitation for all citizens could raise a country’s gross domestic product by several percentage points. Like phones, toilets have the potential to “revolutionize lives and transform society.”

State Department Inspector General criticizes the Africa Bureau

state_oig_af_Page_01The State Department’s Inspector General released an important report on the Africa Bureau (689kb PDF), or “AF” in State’s lexicon. Of particular interest is AF’s resource troubles and problems with integrating and supporting public diplomacy.

As the report notes, there were significant expectations with regard to Africa policy with the election of President Obama. It is important as both the President and the Secretary of State have recently completed high profile trips to the continent.

The troubles at AF could indicate deeper problems at the State Department at a time when Congress is asking why America’s public diplomacy wears combat boots. The report includes a little data on the military support to public diplomacy that may surprise Congress and shows State must do more to not only fix its organization but to solicit more funds.

The report repeatedly highlights the failure to incorporate public diplomacy into AF operations ten years after USIA was abolished. However, it never addresses the reality that AF public diplomacy has, at best, only an informal relationship with the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs office, known as “R”. This is a widespread but hidden issue many, especially in Congress but also pundits on public diplomacy don’t “get”: the Under Secretary actually has severely limited direct authorities over not only money but staff and programs. The report fails to mention that public diplomacy taskings from “R” to AF do not go through official channels to AF’s leadership but through informal channels that bypass the leadership, both in the Bureau and in field, does not always know what the public diplomacy officers are working on or their impact.

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Guest Post: China’s Image Marketing: How Well Can Confucius Do?

By Tiger Zhang

Only 35 years ago, Confucius was widely condemned in China’s public rhetoric as a representative of the “corrupt segments of traditional culture” and a reactionary speaker of the hierarchical society that prevailed in China for at least 2 500 years. Not anymore. Today, he’s begun to serve singly as the “cultural diplomat” for China with such new titles as “the great mentor,” “representative of China’s traditional culture” and “advocate of a common faith and social order.” As part of China’s public diplomacy efforts, over 300 Confucius Institutes have been established in more than 80 countries so far. The number is expected to reach 500 by the end of next year and finally around 1 000 in all major cities around the world.

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Broadband hits Africa

From Foreign Policy, a map showing increased connectivity and the importance of investing in Information & Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) in Africa.

As interconnectivity between African countries increases, economic benefits are expected, especially in Kenya, which has a fast developing IT sector. Other potential impacts include education and access to media.

Increased interconnectivity also means increased importance of online media.

See also this 2007 global map by Alcatel-Lucent (5.6mb PDF).

Event: AFRICOM and Beyond: The Future of U.S.-African Security and Defense Relations

From the American Enterprise Institute:

The October 1 operational launch of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), on the eve of a new American presidential administration, provides an unprecedented opportunity to reshape U.S. strategy toward Africa. Significant attention has been devoted to the structure and functions of AFRICOM–and to its strategic communications challenges. Less thought, however, has been given to identifying the core security interests that should guide U.S. strategy on the continent or to defining the new kinds of partnership with a more self-assured Africa that are most likely to advance those interests.

With its capacity for political as well as military engagement and for conflict prevention as well as traditional war-fighting, AFRICOM has the potential to serve as a model for future interagency security cooperation efforts abroad. But what AFRICOM does is more important than how the command is structured. What is the strategic rationale for increased U.S. security engagement with African countries? What are the emerging threats and challenges in Africa, and how should they be addressed? AEI’s Mauro De Lorenzo and Thomas Donnelly will host two panel discussions with African security experts to answer these and other questions.

When: Wednesday, October 1, 2008  10:30 AM – 1:30 PM

Where: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036

Register here.

See also:

China and Peacekeeping

Stratfor published a useful chart depicting China’s increased participation in peacekeeping operations.
This is a semi-regular topic on this blog.  Back in 2003, the PLA Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Army, stated the intent to increase participation in peacekeeping operations to raise China’s global profile.  In other words, peacekeeping would be a tool of both public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy.

In 2005, China was the 15th largest contributor of forces, moving earlier this year to 12th, which included increasing its contribution to 1,000 in Lebanon in 2006 for the declared purpose of raising its profile in the Middle East and in Europe.

Not surprisingly, China prefers to send its peacekeepers to Africa over other destinations.  This fits with Chinese stated public diplomacy strategy (and here for more specific example).  However, as was the case in Haiti, China doesn’t play exclusives and will go where it feels it can get a big bang for its disaster relief and humanitarian aid renminbi.

In addition to being seen, this has the added benefit of practicing for deployments away from their very-near abroad.

I’m sure we will see more Chinese peacekeepers.  The UN maintains about 20 operations at any one time with a new rotation starting every 6 months.

The Top 5 “peacekeepers for hire” have little in the way of international interests and get paid about $1100 per man per month (and require on top of that transport, equipment, and support).  These Top 5 collectively contribute nearly 50% of all UN forces, while the top 3 are 39% of the total.

If China ramps up its peacekeeping, will it have a ripple effect to these poor nations counting on the cash?  Will that create new opportunities for the Chinese to provide aid, in the variety of forms they provide “aid”?

Stay tuned.

Image credit: Stratfor