China's time is right.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:Interview

Adama Gaye is the author of China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich. Published in French last year--with an English translation to follow--the book gives an African academic's thoughts on the new Sino-Africa relationship. With the African Development Bank's annual general meeting taking place in Shanghai this month, following the first China-Africa Summit held in Beijing in November 2006, it is a highly appropriate time to discuss the relationship between China and Africa. Adama Gaye talks here with Stephen Williams in an exclusive interview for New African.

Stephen Williams: Can you give our readers a synopsis of your new book?

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Adama Gaye: The book came out of the observation that China is playing an increasingly important role in Africa and it was necessary to understand why. Beyond that, I wanted to make an effort to understand why, in recent history, China and Africa have taken such different paths.

In the 1950s, these two regions of the world were confronted with similar kinds of problems. Both were emerging from external domination, they each had economic problems including high levels of poverty and suffered from internal conflicts. Both were also experiencing particularly authoritarian leadership. Since then, they have taken completely different trajectories. China has become today the engine of the world's economy and a geopolitical power while Africa has remained paralysed by its own internal challenges. This is the paradox that I wanted to examine in my book.

Williams: What were your conclusions?

Gaye: The conclusions were, and this is reflected in the title of the book, that China is behaving much as the dragon it truly is. From 1978, under the enlightened leadership of Deng Xiaoping, it has taken the necessary steps to slowly and carefully reform its economy and open it up to foreign investors.

China did not embark on this process in a reckless way. Rather, it undertook these reforms making certain that the changes made were always in the national interest. It ensured that joint-ventures were the model employed, that government had the final say in the process and that manufacturing capacity was developed within the country.

This, I propose, demonstrated a dragon's attitude whilst Africa acted as the ostrich, burying its head in the sand and refusing to face its own challenges. We have seen this ostrich attitude through Africa's continuing refusal to practise what it preaches, for instance in terms of democratic processes, in terms of good governance and ensuring that it is truly opening its economies--guaranteeing, as China did at the end of the 1970s, what I call the macro-political conditions that facilitate investment.

Williams: Is the fact that China is a nation state in its own right, whereas Africa has been fractured by the effects of colonialism, key to explaining the different dynamics of the two regions?

Gaye: Yes, absolutely, because Africa has been, as we...

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