EU-China-Africa Relations: A Fairer Deal for Africa
By David Maimela, Researcher at Political Economy Faculty
The idea of European Union-China cooperation ‘in’ Africa is problematic. It suggests Africa has no say. Despite the weaknesses Africa often exhibits and the fact that the trilateral idea originated from the EU, Africa has a role to play. A more useful approach would define cooperation as ‘in and with’ Africa.
The term ‘cooperation’ is also awkward. It implies equal partnership, mutual respect and mutual benefit. Yet between Europe, China and Africa, the situation is unequal and often unfair towards Africa. The term ‘relations’ fits better.
There are many ways of looking at relations between Africa, the EU and China. There are political and cultural dimensions, but the focus of this article is on economic and trade relations. Most of Africa’s economic relations with the developed world are conditioned by colonial structures of production, accumulation and trade, in other words, neo-colonialism.
By the turn of the last century, the image of Africa as a hopeless ‘dark continent’ prevailed in many parts of the world. In 2000, the World Bank asked ‘Can Africa claim the 21st Century?’ That same year, The Economist described Africa as ‘The hopeless continent’ in a cover story. It followed up in 2001 with another damning headline: ‘Africa’s elusive dawn’.
A decade later, narratives began to change. In 2013, The Economist led with ‘Africa Rising: the hopeful continent’ and the McKinsey Global Institute in 2010 issued a report entitled ‘Lions on the move: the progress and potential of African economies’.
Changing narratives do not always reflect changing realities. Debate is still raging over whether ‘Africa Rising’ is fact or myth. Despite commodities’ inspired growth and the success of some countries – like Kenya – outside the primary sector in fields such as technology, a compelling case can be made that unfair trade and the untransformed nature of national economies continue to inhibit Africa’s development and competitive potential.
When discussing EU-China relations ‘in and with Africa’, it is important to position Africa in an ever-changing geopolitical reality. The interests of Africa should not be undermined by a geopolitical narrative that dismisses the continent as a non-space among the major world powers.