I will start with two important premises. First, if you truly want to bring development to your people, then you cannot be dogmatic about your bed-partners. Secondly, the saying goes, "China's aid comes with no strings attached". Well, maybe the issue is what strings are attached and what those strings mean in the long run.
I want to look at aid from the perspective of the provider on one hand and the recipient on the other. More often than not recipients of aid look at short-term benefits. Multiparty politics especially in Africa, has re-defined development to mean a 4-5 year life span in which you have to show results if your party has to stand a chance of re-election. This means that dealing with western donors becomes a pain if they have concerns in the country's governance. Western donors' interests are varied. They peg aid against specific policy direction the country is supposed to adhere to, usually based on principles of good governance, respect for human rights, running democratic institutions etc. This is also pegged to creating high level, white collar jobs for the donor countries (Consultants, Advisers, suppliers of specific equipment and other services etc). Their approval processes are deliberately long as funds pledged can be spread across many years. For example, under the IMF Extended facility loans can be disbursed over a 3-4 year period after fulfilling specific conditions. That is a whole lifetime of a political term of office. The World Bank and DFID (UK Aid) have specific aid approval procedures such as pre-appraisal, appraisal, negotiations, Board consideration, Parliament ratification and procurement procedures that can run for months if not years. There is no guarantee that the process would be completed within the political life cycle.
What then is the interest of the Western donors when giving aid? First, they are employed to do that and their jobs depends on making it difficult for poorer countries to get soft loans (World Bank, IMF) and the organisations getting significant returns from the loans. Second, they are employed to serve their masters' political interest which includes creating jobs for their constituencies as well as protecting their long-term economic, social and military interests (e.g. DFID, AUSAID, USAID, NORAD, etc.).
Western aid is still based on the “Bible” and Gun” model which was used to colonize and extract resources from poor developing nations especially in Africa.
China is a country of more than 1.3 billion people and run by a Communist politburo of 25 persons. It has become the world's utmost manufacturing factory supplying all the world's needs at different prices. China’s factories can supply goods across the population spectrum, from the richest to the poorest man in the world. To achieve this, it needs massive resources both renewable and non-renewable. China has its own "Bible" which is the Gospel according to Beijing. Whereas western countries used the Bible and religion to soften hearts of Africans, China uses their Bible and religion to discipline its own people. Their religion teaches them that political, social, cultural, economic agendas are inter-twined and if used properly can service the 1.3 billion people in China. Their model of engagement with Africa is based on this religion. Their “Gun” is the cash and their “Bible” is the “Chinese system”. They have observed over the years the low productivity, low skills, indiscipline labour force of most African countries. They have observed the lack of interest and participation of the African diaspora intellectuals in their countries’ development. They have observed the vulnerability of most Africa governments/leadership when it comes to political stability. They have observed the short term political expediency of African states. They have observed the greedy nature of Africa's political leadership. Their aid model therefore aims at achieving the following 3 key elements and objectives.
• Maximum Extraction of resources in the shortest possible time for their own consumption as well as for supplying their factories to process, produce and sell consumer products into the global market;
• In return for resources, meet the short term and selfish needs of African political leadership by constructing quality infrastructure (mainly non-productive) within a short period of time. They can only achieve this by using their own cheap but highly productive and disciplined labor resources (there are many claims that China use prisoners) and high work ethics; and
• Create a market for their own goods through use of Chinese traders who live a simple low-cost life in host countries, retain Chinese community traditions, fully exploit weaknesses in the systems of their host country and more importantly form strong Chinese collaborative networks/supply chains.
This model has helped China to become the world's "Cash Kings" (in 2012 it is reported that China has stock-piled over US$3 trillion in foreign currency reserves)
Is this Neo-colonialism? Certainly it is. Neocolonialism is defined as "the use of political, economic and cultural or other pressures to control or influence other countries especially former dependencies". China has avoided adopting the "outdated Bible and Gun model" used by multilateral or western bilateral donors. This is still based on colonialism hangover and the fact that Western donors hold excessive power in all major global institutions. But their power is slowly diminishing and somehow limited because of the many interest groups that have emerged in the western countries. China however is not accountable to any “noisy tax payers” or interest groups such as those monitoring violation of human rights. Their political system and "religion" teaches them to trust their leadership and it’s designed to keep its population disinterested in external matters. China's dominance over the raw material base, supply chains and logistics now gives it a huge political power in many countries and basically re-colonised as they are the owners of Africa’s wealth.
Should Africa be concerned at all? Africa should be concerned that its leadership has not learnt anything from colonialism. China cares less about Africa’s development. China does not care how Africa will look like 50 years from now. China fully understands that most of the infrastructure it is creating in Africa is non-productive. The infrastructure will soon collapse as maintenance is non-existent in vocabulary of most African governments. China knows Africa is not a competitor. In exploiting the resources, China understands that Africa is less frenzied about the environmental catastrophe it is creating. To China, Africa is still sleeping and its leaders myopic and its intellectuals forgiving and unconcerned.
Unfortunately none of the African bodies seem to understand this. How can they understand when African Union Headquarters proudly sits in a Chinese gift in Addis? When a man builds a house for your wife, you should know that you are in trouble. You no longer own her. We can neither describe China or Western donors as Africa’s angels. They both have same objectives of owning resources and extracting as much as possible. There is need for African countries to come to their senses and design new models that will make Africa a credible partner. It does not matter whether the deal is with China or Western donors. What matters is the recognition that as a group our continent has countless resources and God has favoured us with a brain. But it seems we don't want to use it at all! What happened to NEPAD?