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China helping African consolidation

Updated: 2013-01-04 13:08
By Andrew Moody and Zhong Nan ( China Daily)

"She was probably reading a book," he jokes. "It was not an accident. There were no designated places to give birth. Whenever labor pains came, the word was sent round and the midwives would be sent to wherever you happened to be. There is a tradition of naming people in Kenya where they were born," he says.

A bright pupil, he attended the local Musingu High School, eventually going on to the University of Nairobi, where he studied for a Bachelor of Education degree.

After a spell teaching, he founded Inter Region Economic Network in 2001, which has since become a prominent African think tank.

"A lot of our revenues are generated from consultancy. The think tank is a vehicle that reflects my personal vision of trying to position Africa on global matters," he says.

A recent paper of his, The Optimization Trap: Why Africa must extricate itself from Western and Asian Development Strategies, published in June, argued Africans were suffering from a "corrupted mindset" but that the West and Asia's "competitive quest" to access Africa's natural resources gave Africans an opportunity to remold themselves and take charge of their destiny.

He believes the West through international aid agencies, which he describes as huge bureaucracies, have taught Africans to be "beggars", and also that Western government intervention has always taken a hectoring attitude to the continent.

"Whatever kind of engagement they have, they want the Africans to obey, whether it is about politics, culture or economic models. They want us to have American democracy or European democracy. They want to create a mirror image of themselves in Africa."

Shikwati says the Chinese approach is different, adhering to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence first outlined by then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in the 1950s by not interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

"This is a very different form of engagement and is underpinned by the setting up of FOCAC," he says.

The think tank director, who had made numerous visits to China, including a recent one to some of the country's more rural areas, also believes that unlike Britain, France and Portugal, the Chinese don't see Africa as segmented into Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone areas.

"The British are heavily represented, for example, in areas where they were the former colonial master such as in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. You won't get them into Ethiopia. The Chinese will send a Chinese who speaks English to an Anglophone area and one who speaks French to a Francophone area. They just treat Africa as one," he says.

With some countries in Africa experiencing more than 20 percent growth in the first five years, some have predicted the continent will be the next Asia and will become increasingly economically important in the 21st century.

"I think there are two scenarios. The first is that 50 years from now, we are going to see a well-developed African continent, that is able to manage its resources and become more integrated. The other is that it fails to achieve this," he says.

"I think it is purely a matter of how Africa manages to navigate its relationship with China and the West. We are in a unique position to gain from both sides. We don't need to kick anybody out."

(China Daily 01/04/2013 page24)

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