Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let’s build confidence in Africa - James Shikwati

February 18, 2009 - Business Daily [Kenya]

Henry Alfred Kissinger, former US national security advisor and later secretary of state, famously asked: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” Africa has just too many numbers for one to call.

Africa hosted China’s President Hu Jintao for a fourth time in a span of less than six years. China is pushing to fulfil its 2006 Beijing Summit on Africa Cooperation that pledged among others to double its assistance to Africa; provide three billion dollars preferential loans and two billion dollars preferential buyer’s credits to Africa; a five billion dollars China-Africa fund to enable Chinese companies invest in Africa; build a conference centre for the Africa Union; train 15,000 African professionals; establish five economic cooperation zones and cancel debts owed by the least developed countries in Africa.

Chinese involvement in Africa dates back to the times of the struggles for independence and is now steadily increasing through its landmark infrastructure projects and a $106 billion bilateral trade volume.

While Chinese interests appear to be well taken care of, the African ones are at a loss. A glance at press reviews summarises Chinese incursions to be a lifeline for African dictators. Africa’s traditional allies in Europe and North America have tended to define what is good and bad leadership for the continent.

At some point in time Robert Mugabe was touted as the best example to emulate and closer home in East Africa, it was Yoweri Museveni. The interesting phenomenon is that the so called ‘good’ always become ‘bad’ as defined by their very allies. Most probably, the Chinese leadership must be faced with the Kissinger predicament of looking for numbers to call in Africa.

Finding out that no one single number exists; China has crafted a well thought out pattern to call on all those that they can get. This year it was Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius.

The tour reportedly to emphasize that China is not in Africa for mineral wealth only — that it is here even during the global economic slowdown for Africa.

Building highways without building African interests will surely relegate the continent to raw material suppliers. One key interest that ought to inform Africa’s relations with the rest of the world is that of an engagement that helps to build confidence in individuals.

Lack of confidence and sense of purpose for the African’s future will only transform huge projects by foreigners into chains that enslave people’s creativity.

It is our own responsibility to build confidence as opposed to investing in leaders who simply seek high office in order to scheme off crumbs from donor projects.

Generation of wealth by Africans ought to inform its strategy of engagement with the rest of the World. With the continent’s immense natural resources; how can we promote African investors to tap into this wealth and export to countries such as China?

I propose that Africa attempts use of ‘Gold Standard’ approach. Gold Standard is a monetary system in which a country’s media of exchange are paper notes that are normally freely convertible into pre-set quantities of gold.

The Africa-Africa fund therefore ought to utilise paper money based on minerals and natural resource wealth that drives rich nations’ interests on the continent. Wealthy nations do not come to Africa because of its poverty, rather because of its wealth. 

Shikwati is Director Inter Region Economic Network james@irenkenya.org