Diplomatic relations across the world have always been dominated by the powerful countries. The United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and many other European states. Our focus is on China. In its attempts to push its agenda into the main world narrative, it has always found a viable outlet for such ambitions in Africa, and it is well capitalizing on that.
China's relations with Africa stretch as far back as the days of Africans getting independents and the raging liberation wars of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. There have been countless arguments defending China's interests in Africa and also criticizing them. In one view, China presents endless possibilities for Africa to finally register its own success and development. On the other hand, China's presence in Africa is a manifestation of the apparent neo-colonial forces at hand.
There's an inaugural China-Africa defense and security forum on the cards which China has announced that it will host later this month. The primary focus of the summit will border on regional security issues, financing and upgrading Africa’s security capacities, and improving defense cooperation, military officials have said. The proposed forum is clear evidence of the strong engagement which China possesses as regards to Africa.
Almost in all facets of life, Chinese relations with Africa have been on a sharp rise and markedly improving. In telling the African story when it comes to developmental issues, the exclusion of China would create gaps and holes in such a story. By establishing and improving on solid engagements with African nations, China seeks to impose itself in a positive light on the global stage which is often fraught with some inflexible diplomatic tensions. In Africa, China has created a "win-win" economic cooperation, mutual assistance in security matters, and solidarity in international affairs.
It is not a secret that some African nations place high importance on security matters over any other issue but then at the same time their budgets are constrained when it comes to meeting such needs. This is where China steps in and this is where it maximizes. In a way African nations become indebted to China, China's image is altered in to a favourable manner.
By indulging itself in Africa, China also seeks to make some much-needed power moves with its strategic needs abroad. This includes the One Belt One Road initiative, which calls for $1 trillion of investment in infrastructure and other projects along trade routes linking China to Europe, Russia, Central and Southeast Asia, and Africa.
There is another dimension stemming from China's increased need for more influence at the United Nations. Over the last decade, China has immensely contributed its troops to various peacekeeping missions in the world, particularly Africa. Of the five permanent security members of the United Nations Security Council, China contributes the most troops. China's defense and security issues are handled in a way that they know they will benefit from every expedition their troops undertake. China has contributed troops to the UN missions in South Sudan, where it has oil interests, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which supplies it with cobalt and copper, and Mali.
Partnering with Africa in terms of defence and security is a segment of China's desire to be seen as "standing in solidarity with developing nations". China wants to project itself into a trajectory where it is largely seen as the leading nation in assisting developing nations with their developmental issues and thereby as providing a formidable leading role in Africa.
China is fully cognisant of the budgetary problems which African countries face and the country is fully banking on that. African countries can barely finance their own security agenda, and many nations face deficits when it comes to countering terrorism, piracy, and natural disasters. At a time when the US and European countries are adopting isolationist policies, Beijing is making power moves abroad, for example by opening up its first overseas military base in Djibouti.
The voice alluded to in the beginning of this piece which argues that increased influence of China means increased neo-colonialism, as well as other nuanced forms of colonial ambitions, is gaining traction. Theodor Neethling, who heads the department of political studies at the University of Free State in South Africa, says that this should not be a concern, "China is certainly acutely aware of the pitfalls associated with the politics of interventionism and neo-colonialism," he says, "especially in the developing world."
From whatever angle, Africa is in every aspect under the increased influence of China. It is a fact which presents many opportunities for meaningful co-ordination and collaboration, while at the same time this creates a complex maze of predicaments which could afflict Africa. The solution is to stress on the importance of meaningful collaboration, while our leaders stand their ground if other forms of colonial ambitions present themselves.