Addis Ababa. The Chinese are massively expanding their involvement in Africa. They position themselves not as brazen colonizers or debt collectors. They are doing business that the Europeans think is too insignificant. Andthat is why with each passing day their presence grows stronger.
"Confusion Square" was an African nightmare: the most horrible intersectionwhere all kinds of random cars, buses, trucks, donkeys, and herdsmen with flocks crossed paths – an eyesore in Ethiopias capital Addis Ababa. Then came the Chinese. With hundreds of workers. With machines. With engineers. "Confusion Square" gave way to heavenly peace: potholes were replaced by smooth asphalt; an eyesore became a vision of roads and overpasses that would be the pride of Beijing, Madrid, or Miami.
Such projects make it clear: China has discovered Africa. It talks with good democrats and bad dictators. It even regards Ethiopia as important, one of the worlds flophouses where oxen and donkeys are themain means of transportation, where people earn on average $ 200 a year, and where the earth conceals no fabulous treasures. Every day China′s presence is a little more obvious, with each plastic bowl that replaces the traditional porcelain, wood, glass and metal vessels; with each technologically obsolete, but newly built motorcycle that roars through Addis.
Chinas ambassador is a puzzle for the other diplomats. Again and again French, German, Italian and British representatives invite their Far Eastern colleague to dinner for informal conversation, but in vain. And when he does come he stays politely quiet for hours.
It is, however, quite likely that the diplomat is rather more communicativewith Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. From a European perspective the prime minister can hardly pass as a true democrat. The last national elections in 2005 were anything but clean: opposition leaders were arrested, demonstrations were violently broken up.
A clear political strategy
Heribert Dieter, a China expert at the Wissenschaft und Politik Foundation,explains why Beijing is so interested in a supposedly unimportant partner:"This is a clear political strategy. Since the early 90s China has been gathering allies around itself in Africa. And that always goes hand in handwith regarding the respective government as an equal partner. China doesn′t look down on the Africans, as the Europeans did for so long. The philosophy of non-interference is the key to Chinas success."
And China is for the African states a shining example. Heribert Dieter says: "They see a success story. China is the proof that you can become big and strong independently of the west." The result? Since the year 2000 the trade volume between China and Africa has increased fivefold. As early as 2010 it could be worth US$100 billion. That would mean that China had overtaken the United States in trade with Africa.
Even the Turks and Indians mingle with
There are a handful of other major "players" crowding onto the continent: Indians are among them and - and more recently, the Turks. Turkey has opened twelve new embassies in Africa; Turkish Airlines flies several times a week to Addis Ababa.
The chairman of the African Association of German industry, Hans W. Meier-Ewert, recounts the "thoroughly positive" involvement of Indians in East Africa. "This led to the emergence of a solid middle-class business community. Why should it be any different with the Chinese?"
One of the few big emerging markets
Africa is one of the few rapidly growing markets in the world. "Even in thecrisis, economic growth averages 3 percent; previously it was 5 to 6, in Angola and Uganda, as much as 10 percent," says Meier-Ewert. The fact that compared to China Germany and also France and Britain are more hesitant withregard to Africa trade has, according Meier-Ewert, something to do with the peculiar German perception of Africa: "When the Germans think of Africa, they still think about war, disease, and natural disasters. The enormous economic growth, the decline of the crises and wars – those they don′t pay attention to."
Hans Bailer of Welthungerhilfe stresses that there is also no room for the old prejudice that China does not deliver value from labor. "The roads that the Chinese build in Ethiopia are fine. They are certainly better than those built by the Japanese. "
85 percent of African exports to China from five oil-exporting countries: Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, and the Sudan.
Many years ago China abolished tariffs on hundreds of products from the poorest African countries.
Last year, China concluded a trade agreement with the Republic of the Congoworth US$9.25 billion. The Congo provides copper and cobalt and receives clinics, schools, dams, roads, and railways.
Der Westen, Politics, 11 August 2009, Matthias Korfmann
We are grateful to Muhammad Abu Nasr for the translation