ECONOMIC & TRADE DEVELOPMENT NEWS

Monday, 3 September 2012

‘The winds of change’ blow over Africa — again. This time from the East. Is anybody paying attention to this world-altering trend?


Author’s program note. On February 3,1960 my distant cousin and British Prime Minister the Right Honorable Harold Macmillan delivered to the Parliament of South Africa a speech that changed not merely Africa but the entire world. It came to be called the “Winds of Change” speech thanks to a (generally misquoted) line in the text:
“The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”
When the speech was reported, “the wind of change” became “the winds of change”, and even the author himself came to use the misquoted version. The first volume of his memoirs (1966) was titled “The Winds of Change” and rightly so since this single speech and the ruling Conservative Party’s 180-degree shift on the grave issue of decolonization and self-rule was the result of many winds, not just one. And these winds not only continue to blow; they blow now with new intensity and force. This time from the East, from China. We are all feeling these winds. They are important already… and each day they become more so as they build to gale force and a world we will hardly recognize, our own hegemony an historic fact, no longer an active reality.
For this geo-political transformation of the first magnitude, I have selected as its musical theme one of composer John Barry’s most moving compositions, “Out of Africa” (1986) for which he received the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. It evokes a world now gone forever. Find it in any search engine…
“Nature abhors a vacuum”.
According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC), “Nature abhors a vacuum”. He based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air. Thus as the great nations of Europe departed Africa (as symbolized by plantation owner Baroness von Blixen-Finecke, brilliantly portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film), a half century of political chaos, genocide, and flagrant misrule made the Dark Continent even darker.
Having done everything to eject the Europeans, the new gimcrack regimes, needingeverything Europe had to offer, now begged for assistance from their former masters. On the principle “Once bitten, twice shy”, the Europeans largely demurred, passing up the opportunity to be promised much, getting little in return except the joy of being derided as “neo-colonizers”. It was left to the one remaining world power to help… and in the belief that they were fighting godless Communism America entered Africa with an open check book making local dictators who had the brains to prate the right platitudes immensely rich, powerful, and ruthless.
This farrago of good governance went on until the Berlin Wall fell (November 9, 1989) whereupon Soviet Russia was forced to acquiesce in the freedom of all its former subject states, including Russia itself. One of the consequences of this sea-change was the speed with which America dropped its no-longer imperative Africa mission. “Here today, gone tomorrow” pretty much summed it up… Thus as Uncle Sam’s representatives packed and left, quick foot, a vacuum opened… and Beijing, having bided its time as only the Chinese can do, cautiously decided on the most bold and audacious of advance policies. “Out of Africa” by others became the perfect time for the Chinese to go “In to Africa.”
And they have, exhibiting a derring-do not seen since Henry Stanley went deep in the heart of Africa to say, “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” (November 10, 1871) If that famous meeting occurred today it might instead be Chinese president Hu Jintao shaking hands and “I presuming” foreign secretary Yang Jiechi. Both would have dazzling smiles on their faces, the size an indication of the success occasioning them. For make no mistake, China’s economic and foreign policies over the past 20 years are dazzling, brilliant, perhaps (but only perhaps) even better than they might have wished or expected. Beijing has become one of the two great capitals on Spaceship Earth. You may guess the other…
Unthinkable just twenty years ago.
When I was growing up in the ’50s, we regularly had missionaries to our church and home. These brought tales of a China on her knees, weighed down with all the baggage of any third-world country. If one of the three children wouldn’t eat one thing or another, my father would intone his standard admonition for such circumstances and remind us that our peers in China were starving to death and would eat with gratitude every morsel we disdained. No one, absolutely no one would have predicted that this vision of China was already severely flawed and outmoded… or that the biggest turn-about in history was already underway…. What had changed?
The Chinese people and government made a deal with the Devil. In return for retaining political power and control, the Communist Party ceded economic power… in other words, they conferred the right to be plutocrats on people who now had every trait needed to advance, including a work ethic, patience, and focus that shamed the rest of the world. China grabbed French king Louis Philip’s famous aphorism “Enrichez vous”… No one in this industrious nation needed to be told twice. To keep this voracious money-making giant happily fed, China began to cast a covetous look at Africa, a place where the raw materials it needed could be found in abundance…. and easily gathered…. so long as they adjusted their approach and language so there was no whiff of the former detested regime. It was a trivial change, and China made it without regret or equivocation. Thus began a story of the greatest possible importance. The numbers now tell the tale.
“The thousand mile journey starts with a single step.”
There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “The thousand mile journey begins with a single step.” Thus in 1980, China’s trade with Africa was just $1 billion USD. In 1999 it was $6.5 billion USD; in 2000 USD $10 billion. These were the baby giant’s warm up steps… one of the most determined people on Earth was just getting started… They had crafted their model, created their plan. Now they worked it with a vengeance:
Total Chinese-African trade reached USD $55 billion in 2006. US trade with Africa that year was $91 billion USD… just 4 years later, 2010, China surged well ahead, with $114 billion USD. It was a whole new ball game… and so the winds of change were well and truly blowing as the zestful, indefatigable bureaucrats of a new kind of Communism brainstormed strategies to control Africa’s most valuable oil lands in Sudan and Angola… copper from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They unhesitatingly made the deals they had to make to control the nations they had to control to keep the forges of China working, working, working, day and night, never ceasing, always growing, and still too little noted or understood.
Another $20 billion to advance China in Africa, the announcement of the biggest loan yet.
Thursday, July 19, 2012 was a red-letter day in Beijing. Every politician whatever his stripes likes to be in the happy position of giving away money, and Chinese president Hu Jintao is no exception. Thus July 19 must have been among the best days of his industrious life. For on that day he announced that his government would lend $20 billion USD to continue China’s mission to Africa.
His audience was a gathering of African leaders smiling at so much money (twice the amount pledged at the last such meeting in 2009). Many must have been wondering just how much they could pocket how fast. It is the African way of business… The Chinese way is different… Not to take a little, but to give as much as possible, and thereby get even more. And so this day Hu Jintao gave and gave and gave… including roads, pipelines and ports… He gave Africa training for 30,000; he gave Africa 18,000 scholarships; he gave Africa 1,500 medical personnel. The crowd, the creme de la creme of African leadership, first smiled, then clapped, then were on their feet shouting their approval for such largesse… largesse without stint, without condescension, without strings, and best of all, without end. This is the Chinese way, and it works.
South African president Jacob Zuma praised China’s approach, saying it was preferred to Africa’s experience with Europe. “We are particularly pleased that in our relationship with China, we are equals and that agreements entered into are for mutual gain.” It is a measure of the Chinese magic that their clear objective, their distinct neo-colonizing habits have received no rebuke whatsoever from Africans so very sensitive on this subject. That is how supremely well the Chinese play this all-important game determining the fate of millions.
“Why America Slept.”
In 1940 a young John F. Kennedy published a version of a thesis written in his senior year at Harvard College (1938). Titled “Why England Slept” it examines the failures of the British government to take steps to prevent World War II. It also examined the build-up of German power. It is a remarkable book for one so young and might well have found a publisher on its own merits had the author’s father not pulled the strings pulled so well to make it happen.
I hope now some perceptive student is at work on a similar dissertation about how our Great Republic lost Africa. If not, one should seize this opportunity to research and write such a timely book. It could well make you famous and even perhaps awaken our own leadership to the looming catastrophe for us already so well advanced. Otherwise we are out of Africa for good and the winds will blow from the East forever.

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