This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in what China is doing in Africa. And most people should take notice. There is no doubt that Africa is the next frontier. The Chinese have already seen this and are securing their position on that continent. However, should we be critical of the Chinese? Without knowing the history between China and Africa, we cannot answer this question. This is in essence what Francis Stevens George has done in this book.
Francis Stevens George has written a short and simple historical narrative that is significant to the China Africa story. Francis points out, correctly so, that much of the debate today on China and Africa seems to ignore the history between the two. Indeed as he points out, the criticisms in particular have almost lost sight of the history underlying some aspects of their relations. For example, he points out that China’s non interference in African countries is a direct response to the history of colonialism and imperialism. The Chinese, like the Africans experienced imperialism and as such were very sensitive to the need for African countries to maintain their full sovereignty. For china, helping the African countries should not be a pretext to interfere in their internal affairs, as many Western countries did and still do.
Francis also reminds us of the massive aid that China has poured into Africa since the early 1960s. And there was a time when China got nothing back from African countries. Francis provides a very illuminating history of Chinese aid and reminds us that it was not until 1976, upon the death of Chairman Mao, that we see the Chinese cut back on Aid. And indeed, the reason was that Deng Xiaoping, thought it was “too much”. China could not afford to continue to give aid on such levels without getting anything in return.
Relationships and conflicts among countries have an historical aspect. Those countries that understand the historical aspects have a better chance of managing this relationships and managing their conflicts, which may sometimes be inevitable.
Francis points out that, for many Africans, the history of colonialism has colored their view of anyone foreign. As one journalist puts it, “to the African everyone foreign is white”. As such for many Africans, young and old, the Chinese are sometimes seem as just other “white” people grabbing their wealth of the continent. This, as Francis points out, can lead to misunderstanding, and unwarranted criticism.
Although this is a short book, it is nonetheless full of important lessons and leaves the reader with a much better understanding Sino-African relations. One may disagree with certain assertions of the author, but not the principles he discusses.
I would strongly recommend this book for all the reasons above and the fact that it is written by an African. Even more so that Francis first wrote on the subject, 25 years ago. The conclusions he reached in 1989 have more or less manifested themselves today.
Dr. Geofrey Mills
Professor at New England College of Business