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China-Africa relations was the subject of a recent debate on Twitter with US-based Kenyan scholar Calestous Juma. Prof Juma blames Africa for its development problems, saying nothing about the West’s imperialist looting and destabilization of African nations, particularly in panic reaction to China’s growing presence.

The other week Twitter became the unlikely host of a non-scripted online debate on Sino-African relations. Earlier on the week, the hash tag #OUCAN (Oxford University China Africa Network) carried the discussion on to Twitter - OUCAN was hosting a conference dubbed ‘African Development, the China Model and the politics of Industrialisation.’ According to the OUCAN Twitter profile, its agenda is the creation of links between academics and practioners in the field of China-Africa relations.

Before the steam of the OUCAN social media presence could die off, Twitter witnessed another discussion hashtag #jjuma #SinoAfrica pick momentum -- #OUCAN participants from the then concluded Oxford conference magnanimously joined in the conversation, which was an open Q&A between ‘tweeps’ and Professor Calestous Juma of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs. Julie Gichuru, Kenyan media personality and host of the African Leadership Dialogues, moderated the Twitter conversation.

The following three themes were captured in the #SinoAfrica Tweets.


a. What does China stand to gain by developing Africa?
b. Who sold us to China? There is no relation at all in the first place?
c. Is Africa setting itself up with a ‘kinder’ slave master in china by turning East?
d. How genuine is China's development agenda in Africa?

PROF JUMA: China and Africa do not have feelings; they only have interests. China has been very clear that it is in Africa to trade and treats Africa as it does any other country say Australia.

But the common whining by some Africans will not help to upgrade Africa’s manufacturing. Nations are not on sale. You don’t sell what you don’t have. Countries export what they have, not what they wish they had.

The more important question is what Africa stands to gain by trading with China. A related question is what does Africa stand to lose by not trading with China? It is not China’s responsibility to develop Africa. That is for Africa to do and negotiate.

Not long ago China exchanged raw materials for factories with Japan; there are lessons to learn there. Note, China did not get Japan’s money and paid Americans to build factories in China. China will not give Africa money to go look for another country to build Africa’s infrastructure. The priority is for Africa to learn about becoming an industrial nation. For instance, China’s growing energy trade with Russia has implications for Africa. Who is examining it?

@mcmaguta :A nation is on sale if its land and resources are up for grabs to the lowest bidders.
@wleerpcv :But Africans and Chinese have feelings? How do the people feel about the development?

TWEEPS: What is the best way Africa can build her infrastructure without depending on aid either West or East?

PROF JUMA: The priority for Africa is figuring out how to reinvest the revenue from its exports so it reduces foreign debt. I have argued elsewhere for engaging local armies to build low-cost rural roads.

TWEEPS: China definitely is not the devil, but we have known him before, how can Africa better bargain for favourable terms?

PROF JUMA: The assumption here is that Africa is not bargaining. This is false. Bargaining is learned in practice. The real issue is whether Africa is learning to negotiate better terms. Africans complain a lot about being victims. They have been victims before. The priority is for Africa to learn about becoming an industrial nation. Trade in ideas. The rhetoric of decolonization offers too few lessons for Africa in the 21st century. Strategic thinking is not just limited to Sino-African relations. It applies to all relations.


TWEEPS: Isn’t China to blame for the poaching menace and ivory trade?

PROF JUMA: Well yes, but I also think African countries are not doing enough to contain poaching. This diabolical trade has to side.

TWEEPS: Why has China been successful? Did they place Economics ahead of politics?

PROF JUMA: Politics and economy are one and the same thing. Separating them creates a false dichotomy. China did not choose economy over politics; it chose to be pragmatic – that is its politics.
Every country should follow its political path to development. African can learn for others, but cannot just copy. One thing for sure, no country has ever argued its way to prosperity. It takes doing things!
China has removed tariffs for most African exports, but African cannot export what is has not manufactured.


a. China’s 'infrastructural power' has a huge impact on Africa's development. How should African countries react to benefit from this?
b. China has in history invested heavily in Africa for geo-political reasons; do we have reasons to think otherwise?
c. Prof George Ayitteh (@ayitteh) thinks tied aid from China is too expensive. Is this true?
d. China puts $75b into Africa but goes ahead to receive foreign earthquake aid? What’s the deal?
e. China is now#1 fossil fuel consumer on globe, is FDI an attempt at securing Africa’s resources for itself?

PROF JUMA: China happens not to be Asia’s largest source of FDI, Malaysia is. China’s infrastructural investment will help Africa to trade better with the rest of the world. Africa could also increase trade within – Intra African trade is less than 15%.

@winslow_r: Interesting enough Chinese FDI into almost any other region is greater than it is in Africa.

@FahamuEP: China relies on African diplomatic support on issues in international arena, 54 votes in the UN--Is china pushing for top dog?


TWEEPS: How do we strengthen dialogue between Chinese and Africans? When is China planning to invest in Africa's education sector? Ignorance and good roads is no fair deal for Africa!

PROF JUMA: China is doing everything it can to learn about Africa. It is not relying on archival colonial records in Europe. In the last 5 years I have had as many Chinese vice ministers sitting in my classes for up to a summer – they learn. The skill sets used for the decolonization are too blunt instruments for transacting in the modern world at large. Only Ethiopia has aggressive effort to expand higher technical training, learned from China. Only a few African universities have centres that study Sino-African cooperation, most of which are in South Africa.

@idsrisingpowers : great question! We've shared insights from our programme on fostering mutual learning…

* Edwin Rwigi is Programme Associate, Tuliwa, Fahamu Networks for Social Justice, Nairobi, Kenya.