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'Mutually beneficial' better than 'win-win'?

Updated: 2014-08-15 09:22
By Jacques Messi Bala (China Daily Africa)

'Mutually beneficial' better than 'win-win'?

Over the past few months, Cameroonian media coverage of the first summit between the United States and Africa canvassed the question of whether President Paul Biya of Cameroon should even attend the event. That was based on the website of the US Secretary of State saying that recent Cameroonian elections had not been fully democratic.

Of course, that is now academic, because Biya did indeed attend the summit, and the daily Le Jour asked in a front-page headline on Aug 12: "What takes Paul Biya to the US?" Hope by Cameroon, like many other African countries, to gain maximum benefit from the summit, replied Martin Badjang Ba Nkeng, the state-owned daily Cameroon Tribune's man in Washington.

US President Barack Obama has pledged to invest billions of dollars in Africa. In the process, Americans are showing renewed interest in the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which aims to open the US market for goods from Africa. On security, Obama promised that his country would help Africans in the drive to make them safer.

Reporting of the summit predictably included coverage of various meetings between leaders, but analysts agree that the summit was largely devoted to business.

Specifically it entailed promoting US investment in Africa and creating jobs in the US, thanks to new business opportunities that emerged from the summit.

A columnist for the newspaper the Cameroon Tribune, Maurice Nkendem Forbinake, also the paper's correspondent in Washington, said: "The summit was aimed at looking at ways of improving trade, and it came up with what many African leaders had least expected: the immediate availability of a whopping $26 billion announced by President Obama to boost trade and investment. Even if, understandably, the money is to help Americans sell to American businesses to provide jobs for Americans, increased trade will definitely benefit many Africans and open up new windows of opportunity."

'Mutually beneficial' better than 'win-win'?

Reading between the lines, editorials in Cameroonian government newspapers appear eager to sell the idea that the summit is helping form "a mutually beneficial partnership".

Badjang Ba Nken highlighted the need for African countries to develop their infrastructure and the legitimate ambition of a commercial and capitalist power like the US of wanting to expand job opportunities for its workers and profits for its companies.

However, when most Cameroonians hear or think of "mutually beneficial partnership" they think of Chinese diplomacy and of "win-win partnerships". In all of this, of course, Chinese investment is promoted, but there will be add-ons such as loans at concessional rates and a provision that the arrangement comes "without preconditions and interference in internal affairs".

Thus far, any US strategy to woo African countries has had stipulations that activities are carried out under a US model of democratic governance. That is why Badjang Ba Nkeng writes: "those at the summit in Washington believe that the practice of democracy and good governance is a prerequisite for economic development and the establishment of free societies. Barack Obama and his guests have found that there are efforts in this direction in many African countries, but that violations of human rights and democratic rules remain a reality.

They agreed on the importance of encouraging all countries to establish the rule of law and institutions to monitor compliance with these rights, the strengthening of civil society, and protecting human rights of citizens and communities."

It added that summit participants agreed on the need to act together against corruption that costs African economies tens of billions of dollars a year that could have been invested in development projects; to combat money laundering and strengthen transparency that is essential for growth.

"Another way, a truly diplomatic one, is to link billions of dollars in investments with tying down 'The American way of life'."

The author is a journalist with the Cameroon Tribune, Cameroon

(China Daily Africa Weekly 08/15/2014 page9)

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